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Muriel Marjorie shows off her gold medal during the Poverty Olympics, held to protest against the amount of money spent on the Winter Games, on Feb. 7, 2010 in Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK)
Muriel Marjorie shows off her gold medal during the Poverty Olympics, held to protest against the amount of money spent on the Winter Games, on Feb. 7, 2010 in Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK)

Gerald Caplan

The grinch steals the Games Add to ...

I am suddenly feeling my cherished Canadian sense of liberty being chipped away.

I can't lend money to a fellow Canadian, Abousfian Abdelrazik, who is accused of terrorism but is guilty of nothing. He has been made a non-person by a disgraceful UN witch-hunt that the United States initiated and Canada refuses to fight. As a result, Mr. Abdelrazik, who has already had his life ruined by the last two Canadian governments, is living in a prison without walls. He is not allowed work, open a bank account or receive money from anyone. How is he expected to live? Who cares? Well, lots of Canadians do, and we are determined to help him, even if it means we're breaking the law.

I can't criticize the government of Israel, even when it is extremist, chauvinistic, racist and brutal without being labelled a self-hating Jew, or -who knows? - maybe even an anti-Semite. An unholy alliance between the Jewish establishment, which does not represent the views of thousands of Canadian Jews, and the Harper government, which does not represent the views of a majority of Canadians, has created a new code of free speech for Canadians: We are not permitted apply the same standards of conduct to Israel as we do to all other countries in the world without being charged with anti-Semitism. I say those who use phony anti-Semitism for crass political purposes trivialize the threat of real anti-Semitism.

And I apparently can't write this column critical of the International Olympics Committee without the threat that mysterious police officials will question me, my family and friends about whether I'm a danger to - who knows what? That's exactly what's happened to other critics. This kind of harassment, persecution, arbitrariness, authoritarianism and suppression of ordinary Charter rights is only too accurate a reflection of what the Olympics - athletes aside - seems really all about.

Those who wonder why all the benefits invariably promised by every Olympic host city - new public housing, new public transit, useful sports facilities - couldn't be afforded before and without the Olympics, are barely heard. Those who predict that all cost estimates will prove to be bad joke and that the public will eventually have to pay - almost always proved right - are rudely dismissed. Media coverage of these concerned citizens often as not discusses their tactics without saying a single word about their objectives. The public rarely has a clue what they're protesting. Then a small destructive group will do something illegal and idiotic like breaking a store window, and the entire protest loses whatever chance it had of promoting their cause.

A runner, flanked by security, carries the Olympic torch through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside before the 2010 Winter Games on Feb. 12, 2010. The relay was rerouted twice by police after protesters blocked roads.

So many aspects of the Olympics seem to me questionable. So much seems to contradict the lofty notion of the Olympic spirit. As athlete and journalist Laura Robinson reported in a fine, angry article in the most recent Literary Review of Canada, "One World Trust, an independent British think tank, recently ranked the IOC as the least transparent of the 30 non-profit organizations it measured." A cherished gold medal for the IOC, eh?

Looking at the entire Olympic spectacle beyond the media hoopla and beyond the athletes, one finds crassness, greed, monopoly, nepotism, unholy backgrounds, vicious competitiveness, secrecy, corruption, unaccountability, venality, arbitrariness, deep-rooted sexism, fraudulent bookkeeping, dishonest numbers, and remarkably little good sportsmanship.

In the name of good sportsmanship and the Olympic spirit, the host nation enshrines patriotism über alles. We believe in our athletes, though every country believes in its athletes too. It's like the competing football teams that pray to their own gods for victory; one of them is going to become a non-believer . Canada - lovable, fair-minded, tolerant, decent Canada - has allowed its athletes to practice at venues denied to other countries' athletes. Other countries are furious at Canada's poor sportsmanship. If it were us being discriminated against this way, we'd scream about unfairness. How about that dumb Time magazine naming six Americans among the 11 athletes to watch? How dare they! In the name of free enterprise, a dozen of the world's largest multinationals spend a mint becoming the official brands of the games - the drink, the credit card, the clothes, the food, the watch - and demand that no competitor dare attempt to compete. The IOC brooks no competition, no opposition, no questions, no dissent. But why should its writ encompass every facet of a democratic society? Who gives it this power, this authority, this veto over our lives?

There's an entire small industry dedicated to exposing and demystifying the sordid politics behind the actual competitions, and it's a good thing too, for you're unlikely to find any of this in the mainstream media. Happily, much of it is easily available online. That's where you'll find, for instance, the latest pure example of what the International Olympic Committee considers ethical behaviour and fair play.

Just this week, Lee Kun-Hee, former head of the giant Samsung corporation, has been reinstated as an IOC member despite his conviction for tax evasion. The amount he tried to get away with - $108 million (U.S.) - was appropriate for the man who ran South Korea's best known and most profitable conglomerate. Makers of everything from TVs to mobile phones to textiles, Samsung is a major official sponsor of the Olympics, hoping thereby to enhance its brand profile even further.

Mr. Lee had given up his position as an IOC member in 2008 after his conviction, but was pardoned by South Korea's President two months ago. Why? So he could help with the country's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. How's that for good-old fashioned chutzpah? And don't for a minute doubt they'll get away with it.

An IOC spokesman made clear last week in Vancouver that Mr. Lee had violated crucial principles of the organization. "Lee received the strongest sanction. He violated ethical principles and tarnished the reputation of the Olympic movement."

So he was duly punished - by being reinstated as a full member of the IOC, for which no explanation has been offered, while Wayne Gretzky and other Canadians are wandering around the Olympic village wearing clothes brandishing the Samsung logo. Do they know? Do they care? Have they a choice? Or is this just another day under the Olympic tent? Mr. Lee's is not the first such case and the IOC is stuffed with grossly unsavoury characters, to say the least. As Laura Robinson told me, it's touching that they have affirmative action for criminals.

Me, I'm pulling for Rwanda to score an upset in Olympic skeleton. I believe.

Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national campaign director and is author of The Betrayal of Africa

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