Canada punches over its global weight in terms of sports. Invented hockey. Best at hockey. Won’t stop talking about hockey.
We’ve won a few things. Set a few world records. Led more than a few charges.
They probably won’t make a Heritage Moment out of the latest one, but they ought to - that time in 2020 that Canada decided to cancel the Olympics.
Over the weekend, the International Olympic Committee alerted the media to a special announcement to come. Everyone anticipated a postponement.
Instead, what they got was the higher, faster, stronger motto applied to dithering. The IOC committed to locking in their deadline to decide if they would postpone the Tokyo Games. They gave themselves four weeks.
Right now, things change every four hours. And they aren’t changing for the better. Four weeks might as well be four years.
But the IOC is in charge so they get to say.
Or, it may now be fairer to say, they were in charge and once got to say.
All that was required to break this cycle of opportunism was for one participating nation to put its hand up and say, ‘Yeah, that doesn’t sound so smart to us. We’re going to go ahead and decide for you.’
To our collective credit, that country was Canada.
Late Sunday evening, the Canadian Olympic Committee sent out its own press release announcing it would not be participating in any Olympics beginning in July.
“We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport,” the statement read in part.
And that’s that. The IOC just had its power cut.
This isn’t just because one dissenter has had the courage to make the necessary call, though it’s partly that. Our decision lets everyone else off the hook. No one has to go first any more. Expect a drumroll of cancellation announcements to follow.
It’s that the dissenter was Canada - the global community’s dispassionate voice of reason. A country not big enough to treat the Olympics as an extension of its power, but also not small enough that it is a pipsqueak in the competitive equation. An Olympic ‘tweener. A country with just enough to lose that it doesn’t seem like its own sort of opportunism.
If a country like that won’t comply, there is no way other countries that aspire to leadership and common sense - your Germanys and Frances - can.
Soon enough, the go-hard-or-go-home nations - America, Russia, China, et al - will have to follow suit or seem callous or foolish or both.
And it is increasingly hard for Japan to insist on hosting a party no one wants to go to for fear of their lives.
Hours after Canada made its call, Australia dropped out as well. Going by the last Summer Games in Rio, that’s already 51 medals off the table.
Even if only a few other nations take Canada’s lead, Canada didn’t just tip the first domino in this scenario. They set the dominos up. One of the planet’s richest, smuggest cabals just got undone by a few bureaucrats from Toronto. All they needed to pull the caper was a keyboard and a WIFI connection.
What comes next is predictable. First, there will be the plaudits, such as you are reading here, and the online woo-hoo’ing.
Shortly thereafter, there will follow the dissent to the dissenting. You’ll hear that Canada exceeded its portfolio, or were too quick to decide. Some of those calls may come from inside the house.
Shortly before the COC made its decision, sprinter and CBC host Anson Henry did a video Q&A with five Canadian track athletes. He asked them if - assuming nothing had changed for the better - they would still go to Tokyo.
He got two Yeses, two Maybes and one No.
The reasoning of the Yeses was that they could go to Japan, compete, then self-isolate afterward. Even if they grew ill, they trusted in their youth and vigour to protect them.
Except they’re not going to flap their arms and fly to Japan. Someone has to take them there on a plane. Once there, someone else must house them. Someone else has to feed them. A whole bunch of other someones will have to maintain the fields of play and drive the buses that get them there. That’s a lot of someones who are not as invested in a gold medal as they may be.
In the interim, they have to train. Some competitors can do that solo, but it’s hard to practice for women’s eight rowing without eight women. Some can work out in the park - which, to be clear, no one wants you going to any more - but some need specialized facilities. Are the athletes going to be the ones cleaning up and making sure the furnace works? I doubt it.
No athlete is an island, at a time when we are all being asked to be just that. We must all temporarily be islands, so that people we do not know and will never meet do not die because of us.
In those circumstances, doing all the things that need to be done in order to stage an Olympics isn’t just untenable, it’s selfish.
Neither Canada nor anyone else is suggesting the Olympics will not go forward. Just that they will not go forward until COVID-19 has been brought to heel.
If a theatre caught fire while you were inside it, no one would think it wise if the actors continued performing while the firefighters did their thing. If the performers told you not to worry and stay in your seats, you wouldn’t comply. You’d leave until the building was declared safe.
That’s the decision the IOC could not bring itself to make. So Canada made it for them.
This moment won’t be remembered when we compile our national sports highlights of the decade or the quarter-century or what have you. Nobody likes to celebrate the downers and, however you approach it, cancelling the Olympics is an awful disappointment.
But it ought to be memorialized.
We are in a time when people are being asked to give up something. Some are giving up much more than others.
Canada just made a small, collective gesture in that direction on behalf of the whole world. At a time when leaders are called for, at least in this instance, Canada led.