King Kaufman's Sports Daily

D.C. Olympic Committee demands its curlers be allowed to compete. Voting rights for the city too.


Salon Staff
February 9, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

I'm no fan of taxation without representation, and I'm a big fan of both curling and really good press releases, so the District of Columbia Olympic Committee had me at "For immediate release."

The DCOC's only team so far is a curling team. The curlers are a tongue-in-cheek athletic endeavor but a serious attempt to draw attention to the issue of Washington citizens having no voting representatives in Congress.

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It's an idea born two years ago, when the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team lost to Puerto Rico. Mike Panetta, who works for a bipartisan publicity firm called Grassroots Enterprise, which has counted both MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition as clients, wondered why it was that Puerto Rico, whose residents are U.S. citizens with no voting representatives in Congress, has an Olympic team but the District doesn't.

Ditto Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not to mention Canada.

Welcome, Canadian curling fans! That was a little joke is all that was.

"If the District is going to be lumped in with the other red-headed stepchildren of American representative democracy, we should at least be able to compete with our own Olympic teams like other territories," Panetta says in the press release, which is really good.

I get a lot of press releases, and most of them are poorly written and about uninteresting subjects, so I love a good one. I also got a good one last week from the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association, which had its Winternationals Super Bowl weekend. Tough to break through the noise with that one, no matter how clever the release, sent by Bruce Kaufman, the self-proclaimed "Mr. Mow It All" and no relation to me.

But I digress. I find curling has a way of leading to digressions. That's one of the things I like about it. The sport itself -- not in the Olympics, but when played in neighborhood rinks -- has a tradition of stopping in the middle of the match and retiring to the bar for beers. Also, the slow, hypnotic pace of it, like baseball, leaves plenty of time to think.

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So Panetta, after much consultation with friends and colleagues over beverages favored by curlers the world over, decided to form a curling team and try to get the International Olympic Committee to recognize D.C. for the Winter Games.

Why curling?

"It's one of those sports that's immediately endearing to people," Panetta says. "The Winter Games are coming up now, so we picked a fun winter sport that a bunch of us could legitimately pass ourselves off as pseudo amateur athletes."

After the Turin Olympics, Panetta says the group will get more serious, create a legal entity and formally petition the IOC. He notes that there's precedent for Olympic teams representing entities that aren't nations, such as the American territories, Hong Kong and Palestine.

"If it gets to the point where D.C.'s in the Olympics, that's when it's real athletes," says Panetta, nicknamed "The Ice Man" for this endeavor. "There's better curlers in D.C., but we're the best curlers who have our own Olympic organizing committee."

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Panetta reports that the D.C. curlers have now actually curled twice, having done so once since a Feb. 2 Washington Post column by Marc Fisher reported that they'd been once. They train at the closest rink, which is in Laurel, Md. In other words, in Olympic terms, it's in another country as far as the D.C. curlers are concerned.

He says the "real curlers" there have been great. Curlers can be sensitive about their sport because it's so often made sport of. Fisher's column in the Post referred to it as "the comic relief of the Winter Games," which didn't go over well in curling circles. Panetta says he's heard from some concerned curlers, but "no one's been outright hostile to us."

"Curling is one of those sports that people are serious about, but the media always likes to make fun of it," he says. "So they wanted to make sure we weren't another opportunity for them to make fun of curling."

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Panetta takes every opportunity to say the group takes curling seriously as a real, and difficult sport. I do the same thing. I like to joke around about curling, but I seriously and unironically love it, and I defy you to give it a fair chance during the coming Olympics and not find yourself drawn in.

For now, the team is a publicity stunt. The D.C. Olympic Committee wants to raise consciousness of the voting rights issue outside Washington in hopes that Congress will feel some heat to give the District voting representation, something polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans favoring once they learn a little about the issue.

The D.C. Fairness in Representation Act, or D.C. FAIR Act, introduced last year by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., would give the District a voting representative. Washington is a Democratic city, so as a tradeoff for Republicans, Utah would get a new at-large representative.

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The DCOC says the effort has resulted in more than 10,000 letters of support to the IOC in the two weeks since launch. The D.C. curlers have even picked up a sponsor, Labatt Blue Beer, which has outfitted them in hockey sweaters for the moment, though Panetta says togs more like the polo shirt and warmup jacket look favored by actual would-be Olympic curlers are on their way.

It's an impressive beginning and it just goes to show what a bunch of publicists can do when they get excited about something. The press release itself was sent by team member Shawn "Get them Doggies Rollin" Rolland, who works for the P.R. firm Ketchum.

Ketchum's slogan is "The right tools, the right people," but on the "about" page of its Web site, that slogan is rendered in a fancy font that makes it look on first glance like "The right to fool the right people," which I think would be a dynamite slogan for a P.R. firm.

I digress again. And suddenly I'm thirsty. I do love curling.

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The D.C. Olympic Committee is looking for athletes and coaches to fill out other teams. You have to live in the the city, the Web site proclaims. "Sorry, but that's how we roll here at DCOC. This isn't the Miss America contest."

I don't know what kind of odds D.C. residents face in getting the voting rights they deserve as Americans. But I'm thinking that if Georgetown can beat Duke, the city ought to be able to find 12 guys who can handle Angola, and maybe even Puerto Rico.

Previous column: No Al Michaels on "MNF"

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