Friday, September 18, 2009

2010 Olympic transparency is dead. Long live transparency.

Transparency: easily detected or seen through; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.

Before Sept. 17, one could have successfully argued that the words "transparency" and "VANOC" didn't belong in the same sentence.

Now there is no argument.

Vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade told media about the new normal in a briefing update sent Sept. 17. It serves as the de facto obituary for transparency.

The board will meet via teleconference on Sept. 18. It was supposed to meet in-person on sept. 16.

According to Smith-Valade, VANOC board meetings are now "subject to change from time to time."

Only three are scheduled before Games-time, but board meetings will continue to be reported via news releases.

"Our website will be adjusted promptly to reflect changes in meeting dates and agendas will continue to be posted approximately one week in advance of the meeting," she wrote.

So reporters will have to become frequent visitors to the VANOC website to find out when there may be a board meeting. That will serve to inflate the visitor statistics for the Games website.

To VANOC's credit, a schedule of regular subject-specific media briefings is being developed, but those details will come another day. Topics will include weather, anti-doping, athletes villages, commercial rights management in venues, aboriginal programs, medical services, protocol, volunteer-training, accreditation and asset management after the Games.

With five months remaining until the Games, is there enough time left for all these topics? Beijing organizers held Wednesday afternoon briefings just like this. But they started one-year out.

Quarterly financial reports will continue (hey, where's the overdue report on the period-ended July 31 and the annual report? ) but venue tours will be fewer, further-between and on a case-by-case basis.

You might remember that on May 16, 2007, VANOC -- in its own words -- took steps "to increase transparency and accountability."

It rejected calls to allow the public to observe board meetings and continued its policy of issuing no minutes. It did say it would be "Hosting a media briefing following each Board meeting with the Board Chair, the CEO and other director (s) or members of the VANOC senior management team needed to elaborate on matters to be reported."

The Sept. 18 meeting will be via teleconference and the media will be allowed to call-in afterward. Gone are the face-to-face news conferences and the subsequent scrums. Voices will be heard, but faces will not be seen.

Transparency, VANOC-style, is dead. Long live transparency.

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