Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dream team concept gone way too far

Training camp to decide who will be on Canada's men's Olympic team for the Vancouver Games in February is underway. 46 players have been invited. All are in the NHL. Nobody from the minors, no juniors, no university players -- Hockey Canada has made it clear they're personna non grata in Calgary right now.

Pardon me for being a bit cynical, but even until the early 1990s when the precedent was set in basketball (thanks to a ruling by that sports' governing body), the "no professionals" rule dominated. This didn't mean necessarily everyone had to live in poverty; simply they had to participate only in events sanctioned by the governing bodies either nationally or internationally. If they competed in a non-sanctioned event, their amateur status ended. The best example is figure skating -- the "amateurs" were making millions but at least they were careful enough not to compete in prime-time specials put on strictly for show.
We all know that the US "Dream Team" basically bought their gold medals in 1992 and 1996. With the NBA having more international stars now, the tournaments for both the world championships and the Olympics are more evenly stacked but the States still has an acknowledged advantage. Even there, however, basketball insists the national teams have a few amateurs -- not for show but to ensure fairness.
I think some pro players for soccer are allowed at the Olympics, too; but there is an age limit imposed by FIFA for that tournament and also an insistence there be a mix of pro and amateur players.
I happen to think that for the Olympics, there should be a cap on the number of pro players as well. To completely exclude those in the amateur ranks from even being considered is wrong from a sportsmanship standpoint as well as denying a golden (pardon the pun) opportunity for new stars to shine and hopefully land contracts with the NHL or the European leagues.
For that reason, I think that the final rosters for the teams participating should have a limit of 50% professional players (both majors and the most outstanding minors). The other 50% should be drawn from a mix of players from the juniors and the collegiate circuits.
Otherwise, Team Canada is just buying their way to the gold medal as they did at Salt Lake City. And I happen to think that's wrong.

Two other things: The games at GM Place will be played on the NHL rink which is 15 feet shorter in width than under international rules. The wider rink makes for a more open game and exciting game. Also stacking the deck in favour of Canada and the US. Maybe that's what the fans want -- a final with the two North American teams -- but also stupid if the deck is stacked from game one.

Also, Canada's university sports have to stop being so opposed to sports scholarships. We can insist on good academic standards as a condition of continued subsidies, but the brain drain to the States of players studying at NCAA schools is wrong.

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Éric said...

Amateurs aren't barred, they just aren't good enough. If they were, they'd be playing in the NHL. Those 46 players are the best 46 Canadian hockey players in the world.

Trust me. No one in the amateur, junior, or university world is better than any of those 46.

The Olympics should be about the best athletes on the planet, not just the best athletes on the planet who also need a second job. Do you think any of the struggling Olympic athletes would turn down the opportunity to make a living from their sport if there was a market for it?

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