Ordinary Americans have autonomously pursued extraordinary Olympic dreams, while other nations have involved political authorities in the athletic endeavors of their citizens. This has been exemplified in the controversy over the Men’s Figure Skating event at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, when political authorities publicly challenged the results of the competition, upset that their athlete did not win the gold medal. Perhaps this occurred because the government has a large vested interest in the success of its athletes. In contrast, athletes in the United States of America have relied on private sources, combined with their own ingenuity and hard work, to make their dreams come true without government involvement or interference…until now.
On June 16, 2009, a press conference announced the first ever White House Office of Olympics, Paralympics and Youth Sports. The press release states:
This permanent White House Office will promote the values of the Olympic Movement and encourage increased youth participation in athletics. The primary function of the Office will be to enhance awareness of the Olympic Movement through promotion of its fundamental principles at the federal level. (from here)
Figure skating became my passion at the tender age of two and a half when I went skating with my older brother’s Cub Scout Troop at a pond on the south side of Chicago. Over the next 18 years, my parents and three siblings, living on a single modest income, sacrificed to give me the opportunity to skate, four to ten hours a day, six days a week, ten months a year, with no guarantee of success. Eventually, American entrepreneurs took up the cause to support my budding athletic skill. A confluence of my own “pursuit of happiness,” along with a growing quest for excellence doing something I loved, placed me on a road that was fun and inspiring. The Olympic spirit became part of my consciousness as early as age ten. By age twelve I had already made my own Olympic goals; no White House or government involvement necessary!
The formation of a new and permanent White House Office of Olympics, Paralympics and Youth Sports will establish more centralized control over “amateur” sports and over all athletes in the United States. According to the press release this new Office will “also work in coordination with appropriate executive departments and agencies, including the Departments of Education, and Health and Human Services, to:
- Engage in outreach to state and local government officials, nonprofit organizations and the private sector
- Coordinate federal resources, and act as liaison to, any organizing committee for an Olympic and Paralympic Games Hosted in the United States
- And work closely with the United States Olympic Committee and national sport governing bodies to increase access and opportunities for youth to participate in sports.
When I competed and traveled as an athlete and United States citizen, I encountered figure skating colleagues who were not free, from nations with government structures that controlled all aspects of their sports; parents were not welcome in the decisions of their children’s involvement in athletics.The United States government has never before wielded its powerful influence in Olympic or youth athletics. This White House office has the potential to use athletes as pawns in a game for power. By centralizing control and influence in American sports, this new office mirrors the centralized government sport structures of the nations I was exposed to that were not free.
Americans have never needed, nor do we need now, government involvement to enhance our awareness of athletic opportunity or dreams of pursuing Olympic glory. We need private citizens and entrepreneurs, clubs, and coaches to continue to offer opportunities for the less fortunate and to reward character and success, inspiring other Olympic hopefuls in the process. Furthermore, parents who are healthily involved in their children’s lives and who support their athletic desires are golden and cannot be matched by any government organization. My parents, coach, and private sponsors were the reason I was able to skate. My mom was very grateful that I was not beholden to or controlled by our government. Our unique way of life and innate American spirit offer U.S. citizens opportunities to find and pursue their passions. Individuals from all financial backgrounds in our free nation have overcome incredible obstacles to play sports and pursue Olympic dreams, thus inspiring others to achieve their goals.
Millions of Americans follow the Olympic Games. It is in their best interest that we now focus the cameras on the federal agenda for sports that will intrude into our lives and the lives of our children in profound ways, forever changing the face of athletic competition in the United States of America. Our freedom to play sports or not, and how we play them should always be out of bounds for U.S. politicians. Therefore, we must demand the dismantling of the White House Office of Olympics, Paralympics and Youth Sports before it dismantles our unique sporting culture.
Janet Lynn is a five-time U.S. Ladies Figure Skating Champion, Olympic bronze medalist, World silver medalist, inducted into the U.S. and World Figure Skating Halls of Fame, and mother of five children.