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Stephanie Levitz

Canadians surprised by lack of French at Games

Fourth-Place Medal

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Parlez-vous Olympics?

The Olympic folks always run into trouble at the Games around the use of French.

As one of the two official languages of the Olympic movement, it’s supposed to be given equal prominence in signage, speeches, and other “official” areas of the Games – which can be a bit tricky when the Olympics are in countries like China or Russia where French is rarely seen or heard.

It was supposed to be a bit easier in Canada.

After all, this is a country that has French and English as its two official languages. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper routinely gives speeches in both languages, as do other politicians. Many athletes are also bilingual, although Quebec speedskater Olivier Jean initially refused to answer questions in English after his race on Saturday.

The federal government has also spent millions helping Vancouver organizers make the Games bilingual. In part, they had to pony up the cash because before signing off on the Olympics coming to Canada, they made VANOC agree to a fully bilingual Games, which ended up costing a lot more than organizers had planned.

But now Canada’s government ministers are irritated that there wasn’t enough French at the Opening Ceremony for the Games.

After all, they are paying $20 million of the $38 million budget for the opening and closing ceremonies, payments made because, as Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn said the other day, “It’s the biggest event in a generation and it’s worth kicking it off.”

The money was supposed to be no strings attached, but the feds would have been in the loop on the creative plans, so the grousing after the fact is a bit curious.

It appears they weren’t entirely kept up to speed, with Heritage Minister James Moore remarking that "we were led to believe there would be more."

For its part, the organizing committee says there was enough French. Members point to the fact that a French song was played at the “penultimate” moment of the Opening Ceremony, just before the flame was lit.

Said David Atkins, the executive producer of the ceremony, later Friday night:

We have a large component of Franco-Quebecois performers and composers, designers, part of the creative team. The whole aesthetic behind the "Rhythms of the Fall" was largely inspired that way and designed by a Francophone Quebecois designer, and that was one of only six segments in the cultural part of the ceremony. I think there was a significant representation. I believe it was about how significant it was rather than measuring it in some sort of quota. I believe that the aesthetic for the ceremony itself had quite a Francophone Quebecois feel to it, to be honest, but I guess that's a subjective observation.

If Celine Dion had been able to accept an invite to perform at the ceremonies, would there still have been the problem?

Organizers confirmed Sunday that she was asked but was too busy to participate.
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