Jack Todd: Dreadful TV ratings for Beijing Games should send IOC a message


The Olympics that should never have been are over. The challenge is to be sure they never go to tyrannical regimes again.

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There is something about turning on the television early on a Sunday morning and seeing Chinese leader Xi Jinping and IOC boss Thomas Bach on opposite sides of the screen.

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There it is in a single image, the eleven high-minded Olympic movement effectively bowing to the world’s most powerful authoritarian ruler. It makes you want to go back to bed, cover your head with blankets and pretend this misbegotten Beijing Olympics never happened.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Olympics went on despite well over a million Uighurs held in internment camps (which the Chinese call “vocational and educational centres.”)

The Games were held despite the unresolved status of the tennis player Peng Shuai, who dared to accuse a powerful Chinese official of sexual abuse.

They were held with the absurd participation of the Russian Olympic Company, a ruse to disguise the fact Bach and the IOC did not have the courage to punish Vladimir Putin’s Russia for systematic, state-sponsored doping.

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That decision came back to haunt Bach himself at the end of teenager Kamila Valieva’s catastrophic free skate, when coach Eteri Tutberidze ripped into the skater at a moment when the 15-year-old desperately needed comfort, demanding “why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why?

Through it all, Canada’s athletes, led by flagbearers and gold medalists Charles Hamelin and Marie-Philip Poulin, kept their focus and kept winning. Men’s hockey? Once the NHL pulled out all bets were off.

Canada fell a bit short on the gold medal haul, but came up with 26 medals anyway, a total that may go to 27 if Valieva and the Russian skaters are ultimately denied the gold and Canada moves into the bronze medal spot. Given the effect of COVID-19 on every aspect of life and training for the Canadian athletes over the past two years, it’s an amazing feat.

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No one deserves more credit than the members of the women’s hockey team. With their sport assailed by a prominent Toronto columnist as unworthy of the Olympics, the women responded with their most dominant Olympic performance, twice whupping the rival US team.

It would be a crime to boot the sport from the Games. It won’t happen because people watch. The US-Canada game for gold averaged 3.54 million viewers on NBC, more than any NHL game this season, making it the second-most watched hockey game in the US since 2019 (Game 7 of the Canadiens-Lightning Stanley Cup final drew roughly 200,000 more viewers) and a total of 2.7 million Canadians watched at some point, according to TSN public relations — both totals remarkable for an Olympics that drew massively lower ratings in North America.

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In Beijing, clutch scorer Poulin cemented her claim to be the greatest Canadian athlete of the past 12 years, beginning with her golden goal at the Vancouver Olympics, and carrying through Sochi and Beijing, with an overtime beauty at the IIHF World Championships in August.

There’s no question women’s hockey belongs in the Olympics. The question is where the Olympic movement itself goes after the Beijing debacle and with the albatross of the Russian Olympic Committee farce around its neck.

The fact TV sets were turned off in the huge North American market should send a message to the IOC in the only money that gets their attention. If the 2022 Olympics drew an audience on this continent that was barely half that of 2018 in Korea, the time difference was not the problem. China’s appalling human-rights record was.

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The IOC will have to pay attention and avoid tyrannical regimes going forward. It’s now clear the fiction that allowed Russian athletes to compete under the Olympic flag was just that — a fiction. It did not change Russia’s approach to doping.

The Olympics that should never have been are over. The challenge is to be sure they never happen again.

Meanwhile, back in Canada: In an astonishingly short time, France Margaret Bélanger, Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes, Chantal Machabée and Martin St. Louis have dragged the CH kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The players look happy. Cole Caufield is a sniper again. Hughes communicates like no previous GM since Serge Savard.

Misty tributes to players and teams of the past are never going to restore the Canadiens’ status as the game’s dominant franchise. That will take years of hard work and an approach that isn’t rooted in a dynasty that ended in 1979.

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Nothing is guaranteed. There will be mistakes. But this crew has earned our support and an end to the clickbait approach to Canadiens coverage and the knee-jerk reaction of fans who are far too quick to condemn everything this team does.

At least upper management is now operating in the right millennium. It’s a start.

Heroes: Marie-Philip Poulin, Charles Hamelin, Brianne Jenner, Ann-Renée Desbiens, Ivanie Blondin, Valérie Maltais, Isabelle Weidemann, Kim Boutin, Max Parrot, Steven Dubois, Mikaël Kingsbury &&&& all Canada’s Olympic athletes.

Zero’s: The IOC, Thomas Bach, Xi Jinping, Eteri Tutberidze, the Russian Olympic Committee, Tamara Lich, Pat King, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria. Now and forever.

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twitter.com/jacktodd46

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