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28 Feb


2010 Olympics: A Canadian rallying point for social change

February 28, 2010 | By |

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical leading up to these Olympics.   It’s not that I was set against them, more that I just didn’t really care.  Surely there were more important things to devote time and energy to, than to watch people from (the rich) half of the world pushing themselves to their physical limits.  What difference could really be made by these Games?  It pretty much all boiled down to a big party, political fanfare and corporate sponsorship, right?  And don’t get me started on nationalism – stereotyping at its finest – it fosters prejudice, creates division, and alienates others, doesn’t it?

Now, before I start getting hate mail – the past 17 days have actually drawn me in more than I ever imagined.  I cheered, I cried, I held my breath with the best of them, and as I sit watching the closing ceremonies, it’s with a sense of optimism instead of indifference.

It’s true that a majority of the world is severely under-represented in the Winter Olympics.  But unknown to most, there were actually athletes from seven African nations who participated.  The athletes were predominantly self-funded, most had lived and trained outside of the continent at some point, and none of them won a medal, but their presence does make this a global event in every sense of the word.

Kwame Nkrumah-AcheampongMost well known of these athletes by far, was Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, “The Snow Leopard,” from Ghana who found his way into the hearts of many, and was supported by the entire communities of Comox and Mount Washington on Vancouver Island.    Although not as big of a headline as the 14 gold medals, I think it’s something to be equally, if not more, proud of.  These communities directly contributed to this skier achieving his goals.  It was one of the many reminders that the Games are about more than partying, politics and purchasing power.  This story was about what people can do to support one another to create opportunity and achieve their best. Sounds suspiciously similar to human development, doesn’t it?

My optimism is rooted not directly in this story per se; supporting one lone skier is a far cry from solving the challenges of the world.   What I am most excited about is the taste that Canadians have had experiencing how powerful it is to be part of a common goal. This is the secret ingredient I had forgotten about regarding national pride: people pulling together, uniting and taking action for a common objective.

In a timely manner, the Canada’s World Initiative, a three year project of intense cross-country dialogue and debate focused on Canada’s role in the World, is currently coming to a conclusion.  Through this dialogue Canadians from all backgrounds and locations have identified that we want to see our country lead by example in five areas:

  1. Fostering innovation
  2. Advancing a green economy
  3. Championing good governance
  4. Promoting human development and gender equality
  5. Embracing diversity

With Canadian pride running at an all time high, many would read that list and suggest those are the things that for which Canadians are renowned. As illustrated in this Canada’s World video, the reality is we have a strong history in these areas but are not currently living up to our reputation. In fact, we have a long way to go in order to meet our expectations.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here.  Despite the fact that we’ve fallen short of a number of goals in recent years and we’re not actually living up to the perception that many Canadians have of our current role in the world, the Canada’s World dialogue has shown that the will and desire for change is there.

More importantly, Canada’s World has also identified that coherence, collaboration and community are what it will take to make these goals a reality, and I feel that all three of those received a huge vote of support throughout the 2010 Olympics.  Whether it’s celebrating in the streets after the gold medal hockey game or the vast gathering of people at torch ceremonies across the nation, our communities have come together in ways I have not seen in the past.  The media is saying that the coherence of our nation has never been stronger.  Without collaboration, the games would not have attained the level of success being attributed to them.

Based on this experience, my hope is that the spirit of the Games witnessed over the past 17 days doesn’t end with the closing ceremonies.  Let’s not just unite in being Canadian, but in the role Canada can play in the World.   I hope this new sense of collectivism and collaboration ignites action to make the changes we, as Canadians, want to see for our country and our global community.   Now’s the time Canada!  Let’s not make the 2010 Winter Games just our legacy, but the starting point for things to come.


  1. Andrew

    Great post, Alyssa. I was one of those people you mentioned getting caught up in the pomp, ceremony and fellowship of the Olympics. I am not sure at what other moments in my life I felt more ‘Canadian’. I will even sheepishly admit I downloaded the official Olympic song to try and prolong this amazing high and still occasionally play the 1988 Calgary Olympic Theme when I need boost (I am a geek, I know). Now, so many days later I am reading articles about VANOC auctioning off resources from the Olympics, employees joining the ranks of the unemployed and so on and wonder now that the games are officially disintegrating how is this impacting our preceptions. As you wonder, was the high enough to promote a better Canadian image worldwide or to prompt Canadians to think about these issues? I don’t know. I think, in the coming months (and years) we’ll see the fruits of these labours. I am hopeful!