Innocents abroad

Allan Fotheringham July 23 2001

Innocents abroad

Allan Fotheringham July 23 2001

Innocents abroad


Allan Fotheringham

Finrello LaGuardia, as stumpy as a fireplug, used to hang on the back of fire trucks when they roared through Manhattan on the way to a blaze. When the New York

newspapers went on strike, he went on the radio and read the most popular comic strips to the voters who loved him and missed their papers. Loved him so much they kept him as their boss at city hall from 1934 to 1945.

You can judge a city by the person it chooses to represent it—its personality, its soul. Jean Drapeau—imperial, arrogant—gave Canada its maturity with the finest birthday present ever, the magnificent Expo 67. Followed by the 1976 Olympic Games that Montreal taxpayers still remember. They don’t complain; Drapeau remained an icon.

In the tumultuous Sixties, Vancouver kept electing Tom Terrific Campbell, who tried to pass a law banning hippies from the city. Toronto opened its arms to The Tiny Perfect Mayor,

David Crombie, who was for some reason pushed aside from the city’s Olympic bid he initiated, to be replaced by the usual real estate suspects. A city is judged by who’s at the top.

It’s not so much that the nutbar Mel Lastman lost the bid for the 2008 Games. It’s just that no one could take seriously a city that would choose someone like him as mayor.

He was an embarrassment at the Sydney Olympics, falling flat on his face in front of the U.S. network cameras while trying to sneak out of a reception. His cannibal joke could have been predicted considering his bush-league intellect and daily con-

duct, claiming the love affair that brought on a lawsuit from his alleged illegitimate children was a 14-year “mistake.”

All the ridiculous huff and puff around the Toronto bid was a reflection of the personality of the former refrigerator salesman who talked nonsense so long into so many microphones that Toronto has forgotten what a ludicrous figure he is. As a result, he gathered around him the type of snake-oil purveyors who have given the city such dubious fantasies as the SkyDome stadium, never up to what it promised to be.

Hailed as one of the engineering marvels of the world with its sliding roof when it opened with its great Olympic potential, it could not encompass the 400-m track required for the Games’ star sport. And with its 54,000-seat capacity, it was too small for the National Football League franchise that the SkyDome crowd wanted so desperately. And so Toronto taxpayers

slowly realized they would have to build both an Olympic stadium, good for only two weeks, and an NFL stadium as well. Litde wonder there was no real public feeling—aside from the cheerleading Toronto papers—behind the bid that was so frizzy in the financing.

It turned out the advertised 100,000-seat Olympic Stadium, to be built on abandoned waterfront land, would have 80,000 “temporary” seats removed after the Games, leaving a 20,000seat remnant. For what? No one could explain. The claim was that 74 per cent of the needed facilities were already in place; closer to the truth would be 25 per cent.

Toronto once had its chance to do something

worthwhile with its waterfront eyesore.

SkyDome, in fact, sits on land that was supposed to be the city’s first public park—killed by political graft and railway greed. In the 1830s, there was a dream of a green park for its citizens on the lakefront. Watercolour renderings by Toronto’s surveyor of the time show paths and trees and laughing children on slides.

The naïve nature of the 2008 boosters passeth all understanding. The International Olympic Committee, as any fool knows, is about politics as much as sport. The Toronto delegation in Moscow (which had to guard Madcap Mel and proffered his presentation only on video) seemed like innocent children wandering in a forest filled with wheelers and dealers. The delegates seemed not to know that Beijing lost out to Sydney by just two votes last time and,

as the head of the Sydney bid later revealed, those two vital votes were bought from Kenya and Uganda for $50,000 apiece the night before the vote.

They seemed not to know that the United States, which has only four votes among the 120 IOC delegates, was well represented by its corporate giants eager to get into that market of 1.5 billion Chinese. General Motors and Xerox are among the 20 companies that have underwritten two-thirds of Beijing’s massive $30-million bid budget.

Most remarkable of all, the Toronto innocents—let alone the Toronto papers—never made clear to the poor, confused taxpayer that the Canadian Olympic Association was also backing Vancouver/Whistler for the 2010 Winter Games. Who’s on first? What’s on second? All this, and Motormouth Mel, too. There never was a chance.