The Olympic spirit may be alive and well in Vancouver, but it was an altogether different story in the Quebec press over the weekend. The francophone media kicked of their coverage of the Games with a collective uproar over the not-quite-French-enough opening ceremony in Vancouver on Friday.
A headline in La Presse cheekily declared, " French is as rare as snow in Vancouver." The article quoted Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, who described the opening ceremony as a "show conceived and performed in English with a French song tacked on at the end."
Quebec politicians were quick to criticize the Vancouver Organizing Committee for failing to include more French in the ceremony. Premier Jean Charest told reporters that he would have liked to have seen " a stronger presence" of French during the ceremony.
Mr. Charest's comments echoed concerns voiced by Abdou Diouf during an interview earlier in the week. The Senegalese Secretary-General of La Francophonie told Le Devoir he was worried about the status of French - one of the official languages of the International Olympic Committee - at the Vancouver Games. Mr. Diouf said he hoped that at an Olympic games hosted by Canada - an officially bilingual country - the French presence would be especially strong. " But I was wrong," Mr. Diouf said.
The Bloc Québécois didn't hesitate to pile on. In Sunday's edition of Le Droit, Gatineau Bloc MP Richard Nadeau said he was " disappointed and shocked" by the opening ceremony and blamed the French language's low profile at the Games on a "lack of political will."
While it may not be surprising to hear Bloc MPs demanding more French, even federal Heritage Minister James Moore had to admit that " there should have been more French" during the opening ceremony. In a post to her blog on Sunday, Chantal Hébert called Mr. Moore's comments an " intelligent reaction" to the situation and wondered if the "relative unanimity" from politicians on the matter might lead to a more French-infused closing ceremony.
Insufficient French wasn't the only criticism of the opening ceremony in the Quebec press. In a report from Vancouver, La Presse's Jean-Francois Bégin wrote that what was "equally, if not more shocking" was the organizers' decision to " snub Gaétan Boucher." Mr. Bégin deplored the fact the former Olympic champion speed skater did not make an appearance during the ceremony. He quoted an email he received from Canadian flag-bearer and speed skater Clara Hughes, in which she called Mr. Boucher's absence "an enormous error" on the part of the organizing committee.
In his Journal de Quebec column published Monday, Donald Charette lamented an overall lack of recognition of la belle province during the ceremony. "It would have been nice if they had done more than just translate the official speeches," Mr. Charette wrote. He suggested that VANOC should have made a greater effort to "show the world that this country was founded by two great peoples, that Quebec represents a quarter of [Canada's]population."
Mr. Charette reminded his readers that Quebec City had been in the running as a host for the 2010 Games and contended that, if it had been successful in securing the Olympics, "Quebec would surely have done things with the utmost respect for the rest of Canada."
Tirade of the Week
In what was surely the angriest (and most surreal) response to the opening ceremony published in the Quebec press, La Presse sports columnist Réjean Tremblay decided to write part of his column in English, in mock-deference to VANOC. In a sarcasm-drenched fury, Mr. Tremblay praised the opening ceremony for so accurately representing Canada through depictions of "the Rockies, the Prairies and the Maritimes, while jumping right over Quebec."
In reference to the ceremony's sole Francophone performer, Mr. Tremblay wrote (in English) that he was "proud that Garou sang off-key. It only went to prove that we were not where we belong; it was their party."