Chuck in China, Part II
We’ve got a second installment of a Parent’s Eye View from Chuck Hayden, father of Canadian Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden, the world champion in the men’s 100-metre freestyle. To keep in mind what kind of gamer Chuck is, he’s doing all this – and heading to Beijing – having just come off a knee replacement.
Chuck writes about the tyranny of ticket buying today. The Vancouver Sun had a story last week about the difficulty parents of swimmers have had in getting tickets to see their kids compete at the Beijing Games.
They are definitely not alone. It’s been a real nightmare for most parents. The parents of Canadian water polo goalie Robin Randall are making the trip from tiny Drinkwater, Sask., all the way to China – without yet having tickets.
Anyhow, Chuck gives us the inside scoop on what it’s like for parents …
We are about a week and a half out from departing for Beijing. The excitement and nervousness is just starting to become palpable. But my wife, Marilyn and I seem to have an unsaid agreement not to talk about it and keep busy with preperations.
Obtaining tickets to watch our kids swim was an interesting and, not completely successful, exercise.
Last November, Swimming/Natation Canada (SNC) sent out an order form to all swim families who thought their son/daughter would possibly be going to Beijing, asking for their ticket requests.
The total number of tickets requested was about 575. In the past, SNC purchased these tickets up front from the worldwide outlet CoSport. Then each family purchases the tickets they requested from SNC. It's a great way to purchase ones tickets to see their kids, as it circumvents what is a common occurrence of parents vying for tickets with other parents on e-bay and other sites and sellers.
Except, of the approximately 575 tickets requested, SNC was able to obtain 27. That's right: Twenty-seven tickets for ALL Canadian families to watch their kids. I understand this number "27" is a somewhat magical number; for Israel, Great Britain and others were given the same number.
Under Olympic rules, and tradition, 40 percent of all tickets must be kept for visiting Olympic Committees, such as the Canadian Olympic Committee, etc. So, where were the tickets?
This was a major problem and was brought up by the IOC to the Beijing Olympic Committee. They didn't really have any good answers, except something about systems crashing under the high demand for tickets.
Not good enough, for the rest of the world still has no tickets to watch the main Summer Olympic events. This ticket scarcity spread across many sports as well. A friend of a friend has a daughter on the USA Women's Softball team – and they have no tickets!
By March this year, some more tickets began to magically appear. Now SNC had approximately 115 tickets of the 575 originally requested. Better, but still many families will not see their swimmer swim.
After our Olympic Trials, which nominated a total of 27 swimmers to the Team, our ticket needs were over 600 tickets. Shortly thereafter ticket availability rose to about 315 tickets. So we have approximately half of the tickets requested and needed to watch our kids.
What followed was a rather complicated but mutually agreeable to all formula to distribute tickets in a fair and equitable manner. This was undertaken by three parents from across Canada, who spent literally hundreds of hours divvying the tickets up. Then there is a rather complicated system for dispersing tickets when one’s swimmer does not advance to a semi-final or final heat.
The Hayden family did quite well: We received all the tickets which we requested, except one. Conversely, one of the families who worked on the formula and distribution received almost none. It totally depended on tickets available for which days and events and which days your son/daughter was swimming.
For the tickets we received, we are over the moon. I had resigned myself to the fact that I most likely would not see my son swim in Beijing at the Olympics, and that his mother may see him once or twice.
But, we know that Brent will swim the way he swims whether we are in the stands or not.
One thing I must say about tickets is that aside from the absence of tickets, those that are available are extremely reasonably priced. For three of us to attend all of Brent's events, with "B" or "middle of the road" tickets, comes to $900.00 (Cdn) on the nose. That's for 12 sessions times three people.
By comparison, Athens Olympics 2004, the same "B" tickets for 12 sessions times three was $3,550. The Commonwealth Games 2006, in Melbourne, Australia, was $2,100. And, those were "C" tickets; or, the 'cheap seats'. So, thankfully, this time the tickets are not breaking us.
The Hayden family is not rich, but we do okay. To say we sacrifice to go and watch our son compete would be misleading. Yes, we do make choices and forgo some things. But it is a joy and something we could not be kept from.
However, not all families are as fortunate. Very good friends of ours, whose daughter narrowly missed being on the Canadian Olympic Swim Team for both Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, are financially unable to go to Beijing to support and cheer on their daughter. A while ago, circumstances completely out of their control caused this.
They are devastated, but putting on a brave face. I told them at the Canadian Olympic Trials in April this year, that we would be there for their daughter. Two days ago, I received an email from them literally begging us to represent their whole family in Beijing for their daughter. I could feel their pain, their sorrow, their tears.
I also know of one family in another sport who are going for five days only because their son was able to sacrifice and put together a quick trip for his mother and sister to be there.
There are, I am sure, many families of athletes who have put everything they have into just keeping their son/daughter in their sport; and have nothing left to be able to afford to go watch their athlete compete in Beijing.
And no, no one gets a free ride.
Support for amateur athletes in Canada, though improving tremendously, still has a long way to go. Most funding that I know of is "from the top down". That is the top performers get the greater share of the funding. As long as this philosophy is followed, Amateur Sport in Canada will never have any depth.
The plight of our friends is weighing heavily.