Winter Olympics Mass Scrimmage

As we can with most of the rest of the world’s newspapers, it looks like those of us who can read German can currently enjoy extensive on-line coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics . . . yes, from the Financial Times Deutschland! Okay . . . but just as would be the case if Sports Illustrated ever decided to expand its news coverage to international bond markets, you have to wonder how successfully the publication in question can bring off the task of either finding or cultivating internally the sort of expertise needed to report in a credible manner on such subjects so far outside of its core competence. In the FTD’s case things are not helped by the apparent lack of reporters’ by-lines attached to the Winter Olympics articles.

Prompted by these concerns – and, to be honest, also by my essential indifference to the pure sport element of the events now happening in and around Vancouver anyway – I’d like to highlight for your consideration this interesting piece covering one mass outdoor sporting activity in which the FTD does boast extensive experience: scrimmages between demonstrators and riot police. A further consideration prompting me to do this is the concern that coverage of such ugly scenes on the Games’ periphery will be downplayed or even omitted entirely by the media (especially TV) that my readers might rely on for their “mainstream” news coverage.

So yes, from this FTD report it does seem that we’ve reached the remarkable point where the Olympic Games have now attained the same sort of infamy in the eyes of the world’s disaffected as other events like meetings of the G8 or G20, which prompts these inveterate protestors to make the pilgrimage to rail against the Capitalist System and the like at the spot to which the world’s news cameras are all temporarily aimed. Let me give you the lede here, a minor masterpiece of succinct summary (although not particularly alliterative in and of itself):

Eye-witnesses speak of “rather drastic scenes”: Right on the first day of competition it came to violent demonstrations in the Olympic-city. Glass store-fronts were shattered, autos and buses demolished and spray-painted. The police intervened in combat-gear.

And make no mistake, this was happening right downtown in Vancouver, with the mob of masked, black-clothed rioters numbering up to 200.

Who are these people specifically? They are youngsters for the most part, calling themselves the “Olympics Resistance Network.” They parade as their immediate complaint the high cost to Canadian taxpayers of staging these games – and they may very well have a legitimate grievance there – but out on the streets their rhetoric soon takes up the usual anti-capitalist tone. The Vancouver police chief is quoted as estimating that at least half of them are the usual-suspect anarchist groups (“traveling criminals”) that turn up regularly to riot at any event commanding world-attention, at least within the Western Hemisphere.

Ski Abu Dhabi!

Want another article about the Olympics that studiously avoids anything actually having to do with winter sports? How about one on the weather? As Michael Eder points out writing in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Where to, Winter?) weather questions have unfortunately been anything but routine. While the American Northeast is still digging out from record (and repeated) snowfalls and Northern Europe also can’t seem to get rid of the stuff, Eder points out that at Vancouver it’s been nothing but rain – for weeks now, virtually uninterrupted!

But that’s OK: the ice-related events take place inside vast, dedicated halls anyway, so it’s just neighboring Cypress and Whistler Mountains where snow is needed for the downhill events – snow, that is, or else some reasonable facsimile thereof. What they get is the latter, of course: white, icy stuff hurled on the slopes where it is needed by massive “snow cannons,” which is then preserved from unseemly premature melting by the application of dry-ice.

This may make winter sport purists unhappy, but the Olympic show must go on no matter what hand the weather-gods are willing to deal out to the host city when the time comes. What about Sochi, Russia, the resort-city on the Black Sea where the next Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in 2014? Is there snow there now? Eder poses the question, but does not even bother to go find out the answer, because his point is that that answer is irrelevant in the face of modern snow cannon/dry-ice technology. So why even continue to restrict Winter Olympics candidates of the future to those cities in indisputable cold-weather zones? Technology clearly matters now more than mere weather; why not England, why not the Netherlands? Indeed, why not Abu Dhabi, where the oil-sheikhs have in fact already built indoor skiing and skating facilities and would surely be delighted to build more, this time to Olympic standard, should they be chosen to host the Games. Mountains, you say? Yes, there are mountains available in that area, namely along the United Arab Emirates’ border with Oman. And, as we have seen, snow for selected slopes on those mountains can now be made-to-order as well.

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