David Miller is former mayor of Toronto.
Do you like the Olympics?
I love the Olympics. Events that you participated in as a boy. Events you never really get to see the rest of the year, or every four years.
I’m a bit anachronistic. I loved the days when it was amateur and you would see somebody carry the flag of their country who was not the best in the world at their event, but was the best in their country and would still compete.
Is that Olympic ideal of the pure amateur a long-forgotten dream?
When the Olympics actually happen, it feels like it is pure sport for pure reasons, just for the athleticism and pure excellence.
Have you ever attended an Olympic Games?
Yes. I went to Montreal in ’76. No only did I go, I ran in the torch parade. Our school didn’t have a track team. My friend was an amazing long-distance runner, so we created our own track team to apply to run with the torch. We got it! I didn’t actually get a chance to hold the torch. We accompanied the torch up Mount Royal in Montreal. It was just fabulous!
I got to go to the opening [ceremony]. When Canada, the U.S. and Israel came in, the applause was unimaginable. Magical. It was the first [Summer] Olympics post-Munich. I’m getting goosebumps right now.
You mentioned your own athleticism, back in the day. Did you ever harbour dreams of standing on the top step of an Olympic podium?
I harboured a secret dream of running in the Olympics. My race was the 440 yards – now the 400 metres – and I didn’t see the obstacles. I just saw that I was pretty good and why shouldn’t I run in the Olympics? But my school didn’t have a track team so I pursued team sports like rugby and soccer.
What events in the Summer Olympics particularly interest you?
I really like track. I like cycling; the velodrome. It is a little bizarre, as I’ve never done it and don’t fully understand all the rules. I think it’s amazing. It’s another sport that you don’t see the rest of the year. The distance running as well. It amazes me how incredibly fast the distance runners are.
Are there any events that don’t interest you?
The ones that have professional athletes. And I’m not a fan of judged sports. I like the pure sports that you win or lose through your own skill.
National pride is fine, but is there too much jingoism associated with the Olympics?
For me, the joy is seeing a Canadian put in an extraordinary performance. If they receive a medal or win, it’s even better. I don’t think it’s jingoism, but I feel it is something shared because we are from the same country, have a connection and the pride is extraordinary. To have a Canadian perform their absolute best on the day, win and hear the national anthem, there is nothing like it.
Do politics have any place in the Olympics?
With respect to the athletes, I don’t think we should ban them from having opinions and expressing them. That’s their prerogative. Countries that use the Olympics to make political points, I think that’s misguided. It’s unfair to the athletes. It is supposed to be a celebration of the best in sports. When we focus on that, I think it’s at its best and has a value in bringing people together.
The global focus on the Olympics make them a magnet for terrorism. Are you fearful as the Games approach?
I think it is very sad how we have to create massive security apparatus around international events. Extremely sad. Terror wins by forcing us to change the way we are. To compromise our ability to walk freely in our own countries.
The Games seem more lavishly presented every time. Should the Olympics have a fixed site, say Greece, to keep costs down and the focus on sport?
There is a certain attraction to having it in Greece, but I like the fact that these events go to different countries. I thought it was fantastic when South Africa hosted the World Cup. It is part of a country taking the international stage. That’s what it felt like in Canada in ’76. [Our family] emigrated from England in 1967. My uncle, who we were going to live with, took my Mom and me to Expo the next day. I was proud to be a Canadian, even though I had only been here a day.
Would you be proud to be a Torontonian if the city ever hosts the Games?
Well, I think those [past] bids tell the story if Toronto will ever get them. We had good technical bids, but we didn’t have the political heft internationally. I don’t think they should be a focus of a city’s economic development strategy. They cost so much – I really think the economic arguments are demonstrably false. Pride is another thing. When you host the world, you showcase your country and there is an incredible pride in doing that. That is why I think they should move around.