Russell: CBC's Olympic deal a big win for Canadian sport

Today's announcement that the CBC will continue to spearhead the Olympic narrative in this country through the 2020 Games in Tokyo is a recognition that what young Canadians do on a wide variety of fields of play really does matter, writes Scott Russell.

Public broadcaster lands 2018, 2020 Games

Short-track speed skater Charles Hamelin has thrilled Canadians with his three gold medals over the last two Olympics. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Today the CBC made great strides in the right direction while Canadian sport scored a major victory.

The announcement that the public broadcaster will continue to spearhead the Olympic narrative in this country through the 2020 Games in Tokyo is a recognition that what young Canadians do on a wide variety of fields of play really does matter.

But there is more to this than merely the acquisition of rights to broadcast an important and prestigious property.  

Much more than a business transaction, this amounts to a fundamental understanding that all of sport, including amateur, high-performance sport, is a building block to the evolving cultural landscape of our country.

It should never have been in doubt.

Now what’s required is a strategy, on the part of CBC and its partners, to reflect the importance of the athletic pursuit in our everyday lives.  

It will never be good enough, nor will it be in the best interest of all Canadians, to just show up at the Olympics for 16 days every two years when the spectacle is in full bloom.  

There has to be a deeper commitment. 

The best reality TV

Sport is a way to bring the country together and share in a national celebration. It is also our comfort zone, as we witnessed in the wake of the attack on the nation’s capital. The outward expression of Canadian solidarity came to life in sporting arenas where we gathered with kindred people.  

We are never more Canadian, never safer or more inspired, than when we commune at a rink, a field, a track or in a gymnasium to witness what young people who are full of potential are capable of. 

Sport has a universal vocabulary that the vast majority of Canadians can easily understand, no matter what language they speak. 

Words like win, lose, team and compete articulate the core concepts of everything we undertake as human beings. In business and in every other craft, the lessons we all learn from playing sport with dignity and honour are the ones which resonate over the course of our lives.

Those who are successful in sport, most notably at the Olympics, become lionized as the major achievers in many of our communities. We take great pride in what they do, especially when they represent us well. Almost without fail, the sportsmen and women of Canada struggle mightily to live up to the enormous expectations we have of them. In peaceful times, athletes who wear Canadian colours are arguably the most visible and effective ambassadors the country could ask for.

They are ordinary, young men and women of every race and faith who are consistently capable of such extraordinary things. There is no question in my mind that the best reality TV, as well as the most dramatic and compelling stories, have sport at the centre of the plot.

All of this deserves to be shared, even trumpeted, on a more consistent basis.

Big win for Canada

It has always been astounding to me that sport and physical education are not part of the core curriculum in many of our schools. The health and well-being that sport provides are often the first things sacrificed in times of restraint. 

It is disturbing that the values which good sport espouses are increasingly less adhered to by Canadian youth. More alarming still is the reality that fewer Canadians are engaging in athletic activity.

This is why today’s announcement is encouraging and, in a sense, inspiring.

It means that the story of a wide variety of sport will continue to be written for all Canadians to reflect upon.

CBC has formed an alliance with broadcast partner Bell, along with Rogers, two of the country’s media giants, to advance the Olympic story for another two quadrennials. 

That’s the headline, and there can be no doubt it’s much-needed good news for the public broadcaster, which has faced a number of serious challenges in the rapidly changing multi-platform universe.   

But if you dig deeper you’ll understand a much greater significance to this deal.

It’s a reaffirmation that sport is central to the Canadian storyline. 

In that respect, today is a big win for the country.


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