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Shame: VANOC puts damage control ahead of luger's needless death

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Arguing semantics is an awful way to show remorse for the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Vancouver Games.

To Canadians burdened by — what's it called again? — a conscience, the way VANOC has engaged in futile damage control might be the most shameful part. One suspects that ultimate responsibility for the needless loss of life 12 months ago at the Whistler Sliding Centre will always fall primarily on the International Luge Federation (FIL). They're the experts; the old saw about any Olympiad that the only amateurs are the organizers. Plausible deniability, eh?

It was bad enough that blaming the victim was the Official Reason at the time. It is ten times worse, as a Canadian — no, that's not red face paint, it's all natural today — to learn how VANOC highers-up have tried to save face in the past 48 hours. Once they got wind of CBC News being set to report that VANOC CEO John Furlong ("Our legal guys should review at least") and colleagues did know the track's design pushed the inherent risk of luge to an unreasonable level a year ahead of time, VANOC leaked it to the quote, unquote friendlies under the CTVGlobeMedia umbrella, The Globe & Mail and CTV.

Jeff Lee at the Vancouver Sun reprinted the three bile-pushing paragraphs from an internal memo sent out by Renee Smith-Valade:

"In order to ensure that Vanoc's side of the story is told, the Globe and Mail newspaper was provided with the FOI documents and an extensive interview was subsequently conducted with John Furlong, Tim Gayda and Craig Lehto on Friday, Feb. 4. The Globe and Mail then subsequently interviewed Svein Romstad, secretary-general of the FIL.

"The documents were also provided under embargo until Monday morning to CTV as John Furlong is interviewing with them early Monday morning to kick off a Toronto media tour to launch his book on the 2010 Games.

"The CBC has purposely not been advised of these actions by Vanoc. Please treat this information as confidential. While there are no guarantees the strategy of taking an offensive media public position on the integrity of Vanoc vis-a-vis the WSC, it will hopefully provide a more balanced view in the public eye and protect Vanoc's reputation." (Emphasis mine.)

Shorter version: John Furlong's book sales > saying, "We will always be sorry. We needed to do our job better."

The timing could not be worse, coming on the one-year anniversary of what were, on balance, great Games. Counting off on our fingers, this week alone there's Furlong's (yawn) book launch, the announcement of the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and a CTV one-year-after special.

CBC News report on VANOC's damage control

Furlong's response seems to have been to a divide-and-conquer strategy, claiming there was a tug-of-war between the international federations for bobsleigh and luge over the Whistler Sliding Centre. When CBC News' Evan Solomon pinned him down, he spun and thrashed like a trapped muskrat (7:40 in clip):

Solomon: "Just for the record, you accept no responsibility? I mean, you were the head of VANOC, you don't have any responsibility? You don't think ... that VANOC has no responsibility for this even now that some of these memos have come out?"

Furlong: "First of all, that's a complicated question. Our responsibility is provided to us by the IOC ... our job is to get these sports to agree and to come to conclusions and to inspect and to sign off on the track. At the end of the day, the VANOC position is all we want to know is what we have to do ... my biggest concern was, did we do our job properly? Did we do it on time? Did we give them exactly what they asked for?

"... Our problem, Evan, is that people sometimes think VANOC has expertise in this. That's not part of our job. We don't have technical skills in our country for this kind of construction."

That brings it back to that old joke about the only amateurs. Please do not take that in a malicious or mean way. However, the jagged part of that double edge is it comes off like, not our fault.

The FIL gets it; it has adopted new safety standards that try to put the focus on a luger's technique rather than just going really, really fast. For Canadians who, frankly, only notice sliding sports for 17 days every four years, the ethical and moral question is whether it was enough for VANOC to have settled for reading the fine print.

Perhaps the anger and remorse being vented toward VANOC is a vestige of our old propensity for always apologizing for being boastful. It could also be disillusionment as a reflex talking. It's only natural to feel that way after a big red-and-white-splashed party that went on while people turned away from the fact a Olympic competitor died on our watch.

Pride goeth before the fall. It's shameful VANOC is too vain to show it has a collective heart. Deadly sin, indeed.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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