Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slippery Slope

No laughing matter. VANOC CEO John Furlong (left) with IOC member Rene Fasel at the Whistler Sliding Centre, site of the fatal Feb. 12, 2010 luge crash by Nodar Kumaritashvili (VANOC photo).

Just when John Furlong Incorporated -- author and public speaker -- was set to launch, the facade is beginning to fade.

The CEO of VANOC spent the first day of a book tour Feb. 6 in damage control mode, trying to explain what he meant in a now-famous email written March 24, 2009, less than a year before the death of a Georgian luger on opening day..

“An athlete gets badly injured, or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing."

Contrast that with what he says in Patriot Hearts, Furlong's memoir:

"We had confronted make-believe plane crashes, riots, major injuries, mustard gas -- you name it and we had prepared for it. But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the death of an athlete on opening day,”

In a Feb. 6 media teleconference, he said:

"We had this track and this one sport, not both of them, was saying it was faster than they wanted. I wanted to make sure any obligation that we had we were carrying it out properly and professionally and doing what was necessary. And we were."

"Before the Games started, the sports signed off on the track and if for example FIL or FIBT wanted something new or different done, they would've asked us or should've asked us, but they didn't."

"If the sports felt it wasn't safe they would've told us. If they felt it wasn't safe and didn't tell us, that would be an entirely different thing. But I believe and I think our teem believed, and everybody believed, it was ready for competition."

So what you can take away from all this is that Furlong and VANOC acted as if they were the servants to foreign sports organization masters. Yes, it's proper to build to the specifications of the sports. But it is even more important to ensure that taxpayers of British Columbia and Canada were served. The track was, after all, paid for by hardworking Canadians and not the bobsled, skeleton or luge bodies.

Hindsight is 20/20. VANOC should have hired an independent consultant to gauge the situation.

The "VANOC way" has always been to deny, defer and delay. The organization never wanted to be seen to be losing. In this case, it's shirking responsibility and pointing the finger at FIL and FIBT. Those organizations deserve to be held accountable. So too, VANOC.

The new revelations could open VANOC to a lawsuit. And it needn't happen immediately. British Columbia's statute of limitations is two years, which means David Kumaritashvili could hire a lawyer and file a claim as late as Feb. 12, 2012.

What he knew when he received a $150,000 insurance settlement is different from what he knows now. VANOC knew there was a danger and feared it could be negligent.

CBC, which uncovered this information, promises more on Fifth Estate, Feb. 11. The eve of the first anniversary of Kumaritashvili's death that shook the Vancouver Games.

VANOC worried about Whistler Sliding Centre safety in March 2009

More: VANOC worried about Whistler Sliding Centre safety in March 2009

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