Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

From the Partners in Pursuit of Excellence to Own the Podium: An Ideological Slip in Canadian Olympic Sport

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

From the Partners in Pursuit of Excellence to Own the Podium: An Ideological Slip in Canadian Olympic Sport

Article excerpt

From the 1960s to the present day, the discourse on Canadian sport has incorporated the phrase or slogan, "the pursuit of excellence." Can we presume that "the pursuit of excellence" unifies this discourse; does it bring the different stakeholders of sport together for a shared experience with a shared meaning? Is there a Canadian connaissance (1) of Olympic sport that is linked to "the pursuit of excellence?" Is there a general sense among Canadians that the Olympic Games and "the pursuit of excellence" are somehow linked? This paper considers the historically specific nature of this phrase in the field of Olympic sport in Canada. More importantly, it reveals how "the pursuit of excellence" has not been a stable concept in Canadian sport. This genealogy reveals ideological shifts and slips that tell us about Canadian society and culture during a pivotal period in the country's history.

In the discourse of sport, "the pursuit of excellence" can be interpreted as an immutable human ideal. However, it can also be seen as a rhetorical cliche that ineptly evokes motherhood values of sport that may or may not truly reflect the ideological foundation of this pastime. This paper focuses on the tension between the high human ideal and the utterly mundane nature of the phrase. This paper probes the discourse of Canadian sport which is understood as those cumulative texts (both spoken and performed) that converge at specific historical moments and in specific geographical places. (2) It is the convergence of these texts that generate a collective sense of truth (une connaissance) about human society and its cultural practices. (3) The analysis is limited to the discourse of Olympic sport in Canada between 1960 and the present. In this case, I am interested in those texts that converge to provide Canadians with confident sense that Olympic sport is distinct from other genres of sport (NHL, NBA, WWE, Aboriginal sport, road hockey, etc.). Analysis focuses on the so-called "official" texts generated by governments and sport organizations. (4) These texts tend to take the form of policy statements, funding proposals, and ideological treatises. Subsequent analysis will incorporate the contribution of journalists and athletes to the discourse of sport. Care is taken throughout the analysis to expose the extent to which the authors of these official texts are simply one specific group of stakeholders in Canadian sport. The paper is divided into three sections. The first section considers the historical context that shaped the discourse of sport in Canada. The second section traces the evolution of "the pursuit of excellence" in the official texts of Canadian sport. The third section offers a theoretical analysis of power relationships in Canadian Olympic sport reflected in this genealogy.

From the perspective of method, this paper is a genealogy of one unifying concept in the discourse of sport ("the pursuit of excellence"). (5) By focusing on "the pursuit of excellence," the analysis conforms to Michel Foucault's genealogical method of history. This approach to history reflects a

   ... strategy of conducting an ascending
   analysis of power, 'starting, that is, from its infinitesimal
   mechanisms, which each have their own
   history, their own trajectory, their
   own techniques and tactics, and then
   see how these mechanisms of power have
   been--and continue to be--invested, colonized,
   utilized, involuted, transformed, displaced,
   extended, etc., by ever more general mechanisms ... (6)

From the outset, "the pursuit of excellence" is regarded as a linguistic signifier with its own history within the field of sport. These four words seem to articulate the underlying value of sport. From a theoretical perspective, "the pursuit of excellence" may also be described as a unifying concept in the discourse of sport; it conveys a gravitas and logic for sport production. (7) It is a concept that seems to unify the myriad texts that constitute the discourse of sport. …

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