Naturally, politicians right at home glad-handing in Vancouver

Stephanie Levitz

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Picture it: speedskating, Wednesday afternoon, Richmond Olympic Oval.

Sitting amid a small cluster of reporters was IOC President Jacques Rogge.

Cheerful and relaxed, he talked about skating on ponds in Belgium as a boy, the elegance of Czech skater Martina Sablikova, and how he understood how important the coming hockey game between the host Olympic country and Russia that evening was to Canadian fans. In short, he focused on sports.

But in the stands around him were also politicians.

And while some were quietly deferential to the Olympic movement's most powerful man, others tried to bend his ear or get a laugh – moments when Rogge's disarmed demeanor suddenly evaporated.

Politicking is part of the Games. The bid cities for the 2018 Winter Games – Munich; Annency, France; and Pyeongchang, South Korea, are all in Vancouver drumming up support for their bids.

In Games circles, it's known as lobbying the lobby. People hang out in the lobbies of the IOC hotels or other hot spots just hoping for a second of someone's time. The same holds true outside Olympic circles.

But here, it's known as leverage – which is to say, getting some return on the millions you're spending to help put on the show.

Each province and territory that bought into the Olympics received tickets, spots in the torch relay, and other marketing opportunities such as dedicated days at the Games in order to promote themselves.

There was some controversy over the concept of "free" tickets – but the reality is that governments do pay for each seat they get and can then do with them whatever they like.

Members of Canada's Parliament have had to pay for their own tickets – and as a result there aren't that many MPs around.

Each government also built a pavilion, designed to lure tourists and spectators into learning about the wonders of their worlds. Again, the federal government took a bit of a back seat here.

But the real business is done at countless meetings, conferences, and sessions – and of course, photo ops.

In the days before the Olympics, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell may have won "best photo op" when he chose to ride the zipline strung across Robson Square. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson joined in with the band at the Live Site in Yaletown. Heritage Minister James Moore likes to Tweet his whereabouts.

But it's fair to say their presence hasn't been as overwhelming around the Games as the presence of politicians of Olympics past.

As was said after the Calgary Olympics: "The good thing about the '88 Winter Olympics being over – the very best thing, in fact – is that it means Sports Minister Otto Jelinek won't be turning up in our living rooms every half-hour."