The International Olympic Committee is grappling with an issue familiar to Canadians; bilingualism.
The IOC’s officials languages are English and French. During the Games, the language of the host country becomes a third official language.
Not surprisingly, the London Olympics have been conducted predominantly in English. But even British reporters have noticed the almost total absence of French.
French has been spoken only a handful of times at IOC press conferences since the Games began and it is rarely if ever heard at venues. Nearly all of the Olympic signage is bilingual, but organizers, volunteers and staff communicate exclusively in English.
By contrast, when the Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver in 2010, French got largely equal billing beside English. However, that had more to do with Canada’s official bilingualism policies than the IOC’s
In fact, English appears to have become the working language of the IOC and the Olympics.
Take badminton for example. The sport is hugely popular in Asia and most of the fans and reporters attending the competition in London are from Asian countries. But when the Badminton World Federation held a press conference last week to announce that eight players had been expelled from the Games for purposely losing matches, the entire briefing was conducted in English. Even though many reporters from China and elsewhere struggled to be understood they stuck to English for their questions. All of the answers were given in English. No other language was spoken.
Basketball games feel almost like NBA outings, with rap music, flashy lights and loud announcers. But not much French. Same at beach volleyball, archery, triathlon and judo.
There has been a smattering of French at the Olympic stadium during track and field events. But even there, English is far more dominant.
The IOC’s Olympic Games Executive Director Gilbert Fellim was asked about the lack of French on Sunday and he acknowledged it is not always front and centre.
“It depends the sport,” he said when asked about the use of French at venues. He added that French is supposed to be used during the opening ceremonies and medal presentations. “But sometimes describing something in a sport, it doesn’t bring anything to say it in every language.”