Column: Canadian athletes take exception to CBC article

Journalists know they can’t please everyone with their words and don’t expect their audience to always agree with them. However, there is a line writers shouldn’t cross from a fairness perspective.

To some Canadian athletes, Paul Gains, a freelance writer at CBCSports.ca, might have crossed that line.

His story about Canadian athletes struggling to succeed at the 2011 IAAF world track and field championships titled: “Canadian track athletes have a lot to learn” published on Aug. 31 offended a certain number of athletes, even those who aren’t competing in track.

Gains expressed his discouragement in an aggressive tone about Canada falling further behind the other countries in track and field following a fifth day with no medals (that was before British Columbia’s Dylan Armstrong won silver in the shot put).

He wrote that Canadians might as well forget about being successful at the 2012 London Olympics next summer.

“Brace yourselves. The London Olympics are only a year away and, if it’s medals that are the yardstick of sporting success and entertainment, we Canadians are in for a dull time next summer. Might be better to watch re-runs of Canadian Idol.”

He also says that Canadian track athletes must spend less time on their mobile phones and social media networks such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter in order to train harder and learn from the best.

“The social media phenomenon is a Western one”, he wrote in an e-mail interview with the Toronto Observer. “I’m pretty sure that the athletes from third world countries like Sudan, Botswana, Kenya, Iran, Grenada, etc who were taking medals that the U.S. and other Western countries normally got aren’t writing blogs, twittering what they had for breakfast and the like.”

Gains believes that if athletes were training harder, they would be finishing in the top eight.

“Canada had three athletes out of 32 who advanced to the finals [In Deagu, South Korea]. That’s one of the worst showings ever at world championships”, he said. “Even more sobering is the fact that this is a pre-Olympic year.”

Olympian and swimmer Julia Wilkinson didn’t like what she read and replied directly to Gain on her blog on CBCSports.ca.

“I have to say that, when I read the article, it was the journalistic equivalent to a slap in the face, even though it was a commentary about Canada’s track and field team, not the swimmers,” she said.

Gains, who was a middle distance runner at Colorado State University in the late 1970’s, has been covering the world track and field championships since 1987, and has written about the sport for numerous newspapers and magazines.

He’s also a regular contributor to the IAAF website and magazine. His knowledge and experience in track and field might be indisputable, but the approach and tone used in the story seemed mean-spirited.

It’s fine to say that Canada is struggling in track and field, because it’s a reality.

While it’s okay to comment on the struggles of the Canadian track team and to speculate about the potential Olympic performance, many feel his tone towards the group of participants was malicious and unnecessary.

However, there is no need to use a negative tone and speculate about how social media habits affect training, motivation and performance. It might be true, but there have to be facts to support this claim, because we don’t know.

We don’t share athletes’ lives and we can’t measure this, therefore it’s not a solid fact to support an opinion.

It can be used as an acceptable suggestion explaining that the communications in the sports world are changing and impact athletes in certain ways.

It is wrong to suggest that Canadian track athletes focus more on shoe contracts and having the top facilities to train in than putting in the work, and that they don’t have the desire to succeed.

Like Wilkinson said, it’s a slap in the face of athletes to be told they don’t have the desire to succeed and train when that’s pretty much all they are doing.

6 comments:

  1. Succeeding and medalling in any event depends upon a host of factors. All boiled down however, it depends upon your own abilities to the rest of the field, having a career week/day and hoping/praying that your competition does not have their career day/week at the same time.

    In the 2012 Olympics, Canadian athletes will be stunned by the presence of European nations in the events that we have traditionally done well in- rowing, kayaking, wrestling – both men’s and women’s events, however we may have had a slight edge in women’s events as compared to the “rest of the world” so far to date. This could be erased this time round just like our Canadian women were likewise surprised in the recent World Cup of women’s soccer- didn’t make it past preliminaries.

    Not hoping/wishing for bad luck or fortune for Canada at London 2012. Just recognize that the “rest of the world” is catching up to us in some of the events noted above and the so called “newer” events. And BTW, was Alex Baumann leaving go back to Australia just coincidence or family/health related- or alternatively he saw the ship “listing ” to starboard so to speak with no giant hope of success righting that Canadian ship? Just a thought- BTW- I thank him and others like him for their dedication to Canadian high performance amateur sport.

  2. Author is bang on with his comments about distractions. This is affecting all walks of life, even crossing the intersection! (no pun intended). Our education system in Ontario is building systemic addiction to devices and parents are failing to appreciate they are doing the same in supporting the use of these devices and social media. Maybe other provinces are doing the same. Good luck to all sports in their win objectives when they are competing against all these parent/school-supported distractions.

    Per:
    He also says that Canadian track athletes must spend less time on their mobile phones and social media networks such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter in order to train harder and learn from the best.

    “The social media phenomenon is a Western one”, he wrote in an e-mail interview with the Toronto Observer. “I’m pretty sure that the athletes from third world countries like Sudan, Botswana, Kenya, Iran, Grenada, etc who were taking medals that the U.S. and other Western countries normally got aren’t writing blogs, twittering what they had for breakfast and the like.”

  3. I agree with the previous comment. The Canadian athletes no longer have the drive and commitment to be world class athletes. Back in the glory days we had persons such as Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin and Charmaine Crooks et al who were true trailblazers and knew what hard work is about. These athletes these days still have it relatively easy and are more concerned with being on facebook and twitter.

  4. Track and field in Canada is in a mess-we do have some fine young athletes coming up the pike but the orgnaization at the top is nothing more than a mafia for a select few-it is who you know not what you know! Athletes are being forced to leave their own coaches and move to training centres if they want funding. These national centre coaches are the good old boys and their friends. I can think of one who is an outstanding coach-the rest? Well the coaches who got those athletes to that level know far more but are being left in the dust. This has created a feeling of anger and resentment at the grass roots level.

    Perdita is toast-she was an amazing athklete at one time and hats off to her. She does spend and inordinate amount of time on social media-amazing how much time some of these athletes have! Oh yes they are resting, recovering whatever.
    After the 2012 Olymoics, where only Dylan will get a medal, the funding will pretty well disappear. Once again it will be the club level coaches who will be relied upon to develop the talent-then big old AC will swoop in take the kid away and claim all the glory (should there be any). I love track and field and pour athletes are wonderful-the system stinks and we are paying the price with no depth, poor performances. Don’t get me sr=tarted on the hunderds of thousaands poured into our men’s relay team (with a full time coach for god’s sake). How did that do in Daegu? 17th. heyt at least they were DQed like they usually are.

  5. Why are we so upset about what Mr. Gains wrote. Let’s face it, we are struggling (re track and field in Canada). We need a better system, support. We need a shake up without sugar coating. The good old boys club are those that make up the coaching staff of basically every national team. We complain about our athletes going to US schools, yet we don’t make it possible for them to get the right training here in Canada. Oh, I’m sorry, our Canadian schools do offer “Grants”. What that it equates to, $2500.00. If you are not smart enough to go to University as oppose to College here in Canada, you can’t even get this “Grant”. This is not to imply that the US schools accept just any students but support is there at every level.

    Nothing has changed since I last competed in 1992. Nothing has changed in the way we develop our sportsmen and women. Nothing has changed in the way we develop our coaches. Most coaching conferences are held in the Western provinces where we coaches in Ontario cannot afford the costly flights, hotels and conference fees.

    Perdita, well her performance speaks for itself. Holder and George, they are shining stars who both will continue to rise given the right support. Mr. Armstrong is a total blessing. All three are examples of our present and future. Congratulations to you all on your performances at the 2011 Worlds Championships.

    Mr. Gains, while I am not a Canadian Idol fan, I agree with you to some respect, next summer will be best spent watching something else other than our industrialised nation flounder against third-world nations. It will be my plans to watch athletes from Iran, and Mozabique and my home country Jamaica and the Carribean as a whole perform at levels that enlightens us. It’s time for Canadian athletes and the coaching community to put up or shut up. Stop whining and start winning!!

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