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Feb 20, 2003

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Olympic Games bring benefits to SFU
By Wilf Wedmann

The Olympic games are what we make them. They are multi-layered, and not one-dimensional. It is the eye of the beholder that defines them.

Thirty years ago as a student, I wrote in The Peak about my Olympic experiences in Mexico City. As I remember it, I shared a rather negative perspective.

Two years ago, when I arrived back on campus I strongly advocated SFU's involvement in the 2010 Olympic Bid as a means of securing a new facility for our university. During the past six months as Vancouver's Olympic debate progressed, I've spent considerable time reflecting on my paradoxical Olympic perspectives over the last 30 years.

I read numerous books and articles about the Olympics, attended lectures, searched the internet, and followed the Olympic debate in the media. After all this, I have to admit that I've been confused by both the proponents and opponents.

But it was the kids in my family who reminded me again what games are all about. They found a tennis ball. Two jackets were dropped. A goal was created. A game was under way. They knew intuitively that a game was whatever you made it.

Games are just artificial constructs based on the mutual agreement of the participants. There is nothing inherently good or bad about them. It's up to us what the games are.

The Olympic games are also just a dynamic creation based on mutual agreement of the participants. They are not some monolithic entity, but a tool - their success depends upon the wisdom of the minds that crafted them and craft them anew each time.

Last October, I had the pleasure of listening to former Vancouver mayor and B.C. premier Mike Harcourt speak about the 2010 bid. He too seemed to see the Olympic games as a tool. He urged us to “think boldly and big, to use the event to turn it to our permanent advantage.” He advised us not to overload the games with all the priorities of our times, but to tackle a few of them and let the games inspire us to address the others later.

Harcourt's powerful, positive speech was similar to the thinking of 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic games organizer Henrik Andenaes who wrote after the games: “Perhaps the most important long-term impact of the games will be their effect as a catalyst. In various ways the work that went into the winter Olympics has set in train processes which will be further pursued and yield valuable results in years to come.”

His fellow 1994 games organizer, Peter Ronningen, added: “As far as can be judged at this moment, the final outcome will vindicate the decision to spend as much as we did on the project. It will be 10, 15, maybe even 20 years before we shall be able to see and assess the true value to Norway of the 1994 Olympic winter games. But with a financial result which has allowed the setting up of a post-Olympic fund, the bottom line should make even better reading than it promises to at present.”

The Olympic games are what we make them. They are multi-layered, and not one-dimensional. It is the eye of the beholder that defines them, and the hands that use this powerful tool that determine its value.

While it would be great to welcome the world to Burnaby Mountain, what excites me about the 2010 Olympic games is what they could do for us in the years before the games and the many years after the games. It is the legacy that can be crafted from the games that draws me to them now.

I'm attracted by the possibility of the games bringing a $70 million Olympic speedskating oval to our campus, with a $100 million endowment fund to offset operating expenses. After visiting and studying the Calgary and Salt Lake City speedskating ovals, I think the oval could benefit SFU in the following direct ways:

    • Expanding and diversifying the recreational opportunities of our 8,000 registered recreation members;

    • Boosting the CLAN's programs to a higher performance level;

    • Serving as a catalyst for the expansion of our physiotherapy clinic;

    • Being a catalyst in the creation of a SFU sport institute that draws upon the expertise of our faculty in kinesiology, psychology, computing sciences, business administration, communications, education, the health institute, etc. to the study of sport and physical activity and to the provision of innovative research applications for use by our staff;

    • Becoming a national high performance training centre for Canada;

    • Serving as a major international event site; and

    • Providing recreational opportunities for the expected 10,000 residents of our UniverCity village.


I know from personal experience and observation over the years, this Olympic tool has also been ill-used. But it is not the tool that is inherently good or bad, it is the users of the tool that determine its usefulness. I believe we have the wisdom at SFU to craft the Olympic speedskating oval for the benefit of our SFU community for many years after the games have faded into memory.

I also believe if our Lower Mainland communities and our province are wise in the use of this tool, we may be able to strengthen the spirit and confidence of our people for the benefit of our communities for years to come.

Frank King, a 1988 Calgary games organizer, has spoken repeatedly of the games' legacy being “the knowledge that this city has the talent and potential to do just about anything it puts its mind to.”

Utah governor Michael Leavitt echoed the same sentiment during a recent visit to Vancouver: “Now the third thing that happened to us is that we learned to believe in ourselves. We found not only can we compete at the international level, we can compete and win. That's a very important lesson for a community to learn.”

Mark Twain is reported to have said: “Anyone who has had a bull by the tail, knows five or six things more than someone who hasn't.” I think it is therefore wise to look to Calgary and Salt Lake City which have both hosted the winter Olympic games. Calgary was Vancouver's major competitor for the right to bid for the 2010 winter Olympic games. Utah governor Michael Leavitt responded to the question of whether his state would be willing to host the games again: “Yes, a thousand times yes.”

Hopefully, we will all be wise enough to listen to these successful hosts and likewise say “yes.”


Wilf Wedmann is SFU's first Olympian and Rhodes scholar. After 16 years of working in Ottawa as CEO of several national sport organizations, he returned to SFU as its third director of recreational services and athletics.













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