Sunday, February 28, 2010


Here is this week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

Elite athletes often set themselves impossible objectives in order to attain their goals. They aim high, even if that aim is unrealistic, in order to win. Such self-delusion can be an effective form of self-motivation, but it does not make much of a communications strategy. Witness the oxymoron that is Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee program that has garnered its share of criticism for not delivering on its objective – namely, that Canada would win more medals than any other country at the Vancouver Games. As the Olympics march toward Closing Ceremonies, it’s pretty clear that ain’t gonna happen. And now the program, which helps Canadian athletes get better training and coaching, is in the vertiginous spiral of a communications crisis. The media are running with stories that government and corporate donors might not fund the $100-million initiative post-Olympics. Armchair Olympians are swiping that the whole idea is somehow unsportsmanlike and unpatriotic. And worst of all, the medal-race-winning Americans are making fun of us, joking that they are renting the podium during the Olympics but we Canadians can have it back when they’re done. (Oooo, I hope we beat them in hockey….) Given all that, Chris Rudge, chief executive of the COC, has done some hard back-pedaling, admitting to reporters that Own the Podium would not attain its goal and conceding that maybe somebody should have come up with a better name. “We could’ve maybe more euphemistically come up with a name that described helping out athletes be the best they could be,” he said. But the most damaging thing about Own the Podium isn’t the moniker; it’s that its organizers overpromised, publicly. Maybe there is merit internally in setting a super-ambitious objective, but for the love of the Pete don’t communicate it – unless you’re double darned sure you have a good message around not delivering. Before setting the objective six years ago to win the medal count, did anyone ask, What do we say if we don’t make it? It’s not as if no one warned them. Back in 2004 when the COC declared the win-in-2010 ambition, a qualified observer had this to say about it: “You need to think long and hard about statements you’re making on how you’re going to do. You need to have everything perfect just to make the podium, let alone win the race, because that’s what the Olympics is. It makes me shake my head when I hear those predictions because I know what it takes.” The observer? Clara Hughes, who just won speed-skating bronze for Canada in Vancouver. Smart lady – maybe she should go into PR now that she’s retiring from competition. This whole thing is a Fumble for the COC.

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