top of page

How the Olympics Want you to Watch

I had a plan.

I thought it was a simple plan: Leverage the Olympics to expand my writing abilities through daily coverage, doing so with one of my favourite sports that, I feel, often goes overlooked - Water Polo. Having not played since high school I had an itch to scratch, and the 2021 Tokyo Games were my fingernails.

A week before, I eked with glee when I saw the men’s and women’s tournaments would last the entirety of the Olympiad, mentally shoving aside the night shift start times. No more lidocaine-infused numbing agent; in less than 8 days it would be open season on the horsefly-sized Water Polo bite.

In the wee hours of Saturday, July 24th, while my roommates had called it a night I remained awake to take in Japan vs USA. After 16 solid minutes of gameplay halftime came and my brain went. Although I’m not a child and just an adult who likes to get a decent amount of sleep, it was well past my normal bedtime. No worries though, being a sportswriter provides many benefits, one of which is that the consumption of athletic events is considered work. I’d wake up refreshed in the morning and catch up on all the aggressive splashing. Or so I thought.

Upon opening the CBC Olympic app, I discovered only the replays for Japan-USA and Canada-Australia matches were available; the other two games from the previous night were lost to times’ flow.

The CBC streaming app, either through their design or the IOC’s, does not make the entire Olympics available to watch. To see which events are available to stream, one has to tap a different tab on the app. It may seem like a minor user interface gap, but when paired with my devastation in realizing I could not watch the majority of Water Polo games it was reasonable.

So, with that strategy down the drain, I could still enjoy the other athletic offerings for those two weeks alongside the Water Polo games available. There was a lot of hype around Handball before the start of the Olympics and I had never seen a match. I got excited again - an Olympic sport that I had never seen and did not know the rules to - Oh boy!

The CBC Olympic app had seemingly held the door open for me, only for them to slam it in my face again. As of writing, already 30 of 76 Handball matches had been played and 24 of 74 Water Polo matches had occurred. Realistically, I would not have watched all of them but for the first streamable Handball match to be almost halfway into the tournament and only four Water Polo matches made available is upsetting.

The real crux of this tantrum is that I have a problem with how the Olympics wants you to consume it. The games are engineered for a viewer to root for their country and come away with a reinvigorated sense of national pride and patriotism.

Other sports that don’t have Canadian athletes are secondary, some don’t even get play-by-play and colour commentators. All four of the streamed Water Polo games were from the women’s side; Canada’s Men did not qualify.

I’ve really enjoyed watching the women’s team play. Since it’s the first time they have qualified since 2008, it’s a great story. But you know what I enjoyed better - watching Ashleigh Johnson, USA’s women’s goalie, make incredible saves.

To some Canadians it’s a sin to elevate Americans above a fellow countryperson because ‘they already do enough of that themselves’.

Every single criticism lobbied at Canada or Canadians gets countered with ‘what the States’, like being slightly better than the USA is our entire national identity. We all love to see America lose, as if every single silver medal is a gunshot to their ego.

After an entire night and morning of consuming entirely either Handball or Water Polo, my itch had been satisfied. The action was phenomenal. But I will admit while watching the replay of Italy-USA men’s Water Polo game I cheered against the States. It’s hard not to get sucked in.

Even though the two Handball and two Water Polo matches featured had zero commentary, for someone who had never seen Handball it was fun to guess the rules with nothing being explained to me. I was able to catch on; however, most of the credit goes to Handball as a sport.

Many events, as my roommates and I have discovered flipping through the different streams, lack a broadcast booth. We usually ditch an event if there is no commentary. Had Handball not been such a straightforward and entertaining sport we surely would have found something other sport to watch. The televised product of the game was complete with replays and stats, different camera angles. All that was missing was the commentators.

It was because of the booth during the USA-Japan game that I became a fan and even knew the name of Ashleigh Johnson. Without them she would have been ‘USA’s goalie’ since the only identifier Water Polo players wear is a cap with a number on it.

A broadcast booth not only provides insightful analysis but also on a very sociological level contains voices that the audience can relate the action through.

By not including announcers on every game, the Olympics is turning viewers away from many sports biggest stage. If the goal of the games is growth, they need to work on their aim.

How many Canadians know the names of Olympic athletes outside the stars like Phelps and Bolt and elite Canucks like Oleksiak and Sinclair. The CBC prime time broadcast and the IOC’s commentator allocations make it clear; viewers are being driven to sports their countries excel at.

I enjoy cheering for Canada, but I do not want that to be my only option.

One of the sports I watched the longest last night was the BMX races, essentially Ski Cross with bikes. It featured commentary from a New Zealander and an Aussie. In fact, the only Canadian voice I’ve heard is Dr. Clare Rustad, an analyst for Women’s soccer.

If the problem is not a lack of Canadian commentators available, why can CBC not use another country’s broadcast of the event. It would not require any additional labour since the cameras are already there.

Of course, that would be an easy solution if the goal of televising the Olympics was to grow the sport, but it’s not. Those at the decision-making level would much rather you tune in to see your nation win a medal or two and leave with the impression that your country is the greatest.

Congratulations on your medal.


bottom of page