Like thousands of others in New West, I made my way to Queen’s Park for the Torch Relay festivities on Tuesday. Lukewarm to the Olympics thus far, I thought that I might catch the spirit once in the presence of the Flame and thousands of others cheering for Canada and the Games. I was proud of the turnout in New West, but I came away somewhat more turned off the Olympics after having seen the flame go past.
Before the flame came truck after truck of logo-emblazoned vehicles and legions of paid street teams chanting advertising slogans and handing out branded trash. It cheapened the Olympics for me, and I wish I hadn’t come out to see it.
I am not against corporate sponsorship of the Olympic Games. I understand that it is necessary to offset the cost to taxpayers – and done right, could even enhance the experience. But too much focus on the sponsors is to the detriment of the sport.
I am a lover of parades and public festivals of all kinds. I love the feeling of being out in the fresh air, surrounded by your neighbours and together enjoying the creative expression of our community. The corporate sponsors’ participation is usually only a small part of the fun. This restraint is what keeps the event enjoyable. It’s not an intrinsic problem with the logos, but because advertising-driven participation is too often void of creativity and joy. Paying a bunch of twinkies to dance on a truck covered in your logo detracts from the hard work and passion that makes these kinds of events so wonderful.
I held off posting about my feelings about the event because I thought perhaps I was the lone Negative Nancy out there who was this disturbed by the overt sloganeering by sponsors like Coke and RBC. This morning, I read Chris Bryan’s editorial in the Newsleader, which expresses the same sentiment:
Arriving at this gorgeous park of ours for the event, I was prepared to feel that pride that comes out at so many of this city’s events—after all, we do “community” so well.
And then there I was, among this crowd of people, cheering “YES!” to answer a question of, not am I excited” or “proud.” Not even “honoured.”
Then I realized Coke’s slogan is “Open Happiness.”
And then a video popped on the big screen with the bouncing Coke logo, imploring us to sing along: “The sun will come back tomorrow/There’s a message in the bottle…”
And later, we were treated to the “He shoots, he scores” ad from Coke that I confess actually gives me the shivers (in a good way). A little later, the MC said “Are you ready to create a better Canada?” which is apparently part of RBC’s program to encourage people to do something for a better country. Great idea. But then he went on to shout “Let’s do it with RBC! Put up those RBC tambourines and shake them around!”
And later: “RBC! That’s us!”
It felt to me that some of the big-name Olympic sponsors, Coke and RBC in particular, are looking at the Games sponsorship as just another ad opportunity, like buying space at the Superbowl. But to me, the Olympics ought to remain true to the ideal of humans striving to achieve their best in sport and in spirit. Corporations who see their sponsorship as a way of upholding those ideals are welcome. Advertising that distracts from the core experience is not.