Olympics are like Christmas: they might pretend to have a noble origin, but nowadays they are so diluted by commercial interests that the noble goal has all but disappeared. However, in contrast to the December celebrations, the Olympics are not powered by small enterprises, but by giant consortiums building highways, transit systems and sports stadiums. While parading across town pretending to spread Olympic goodwill, they are actually riding the crazy train of greedy corporations invading Native territories with the help of the government.
The Olympic Torch Relay is a $25 million publicity stunt that uses nationalism and feel good imagery to promote the Games. Beginning in October, the Torch will pass through over 1,000 communities in its 45,000km journey across Canada before the launch of the 2010 Games in Vancouver in February. Even though VANOC states that « The Olympic Flame has a sacred history and symbolizes the principles of peace, brotherhood and friendship », in fact the Torch Relay finds its origins in the Nazi Olympics of 1936, in which young Aryan looking runners brought the torch to Berlin.
But while the torch is fanning a national infatuation with the Olympics, it also provides an extraordinary opportunity to inform the whole country about the damages done by the Games in British Columbia.
Impacts on indigenous peoples: The vast majority of land in B.C. is unceded Native territory, unlawfully occupied by B.C. and Canada. By Canadian and international law, Native title exists unless yielded by treaty. Even if we take into account flawed treaties, little of B.C. is covered by nation to nation agreements.
Yet instead of taking steps to meaningfully address its role in a colonial occupation, the B.C. government prefers to invest in a 17 day party which has created large scale infrastructure on unceded and undeveloped territory. Examples include the widening of the Sea to Sky Highway through Squamish territory and critical wetland habitat, the expansion of the Sun Peaks ski resort on Secwepemc traditional territory, and the construction of parking lots in Whistler on Squamish and Lil'wat land.
“Security” and Eroding Civil Liberties: Increased political repression and security buildups accompany all modern Games. With a $1 billion security budget, Vancouver Games organizers (VANOC) are bringing together a security force of at least 16,500 Canadian military, border guards, private security, police, RCMP, and CSIS agents (plus foreign security). This may sound like a lot, but in fact, these estimates are unrealistically low: the Sydney Games had 35,000 police and security (4 cops per athlete) with 4,000 troops and commando units, and the Athens Games had 70,000 police, security,
and military forces.
Vancouver has plans for at least 40 km of crowd control fencing, video surveillance, and airport style security zones around the city, including on public property. The monitoring and intimidation of political opposition has already begun. Vancouver City Council has complied with the IOC's request to create an environment free of protest (Section 51 of the Olympic Charter) by enhancing bylaws to restrict posters, signs, leaflets, demonstrations, noisemakers, and any possible “disturbance” to Olympic entertainment. There is no guarantee that these elements – video surveillance, new security bodies and policing rules, and the criminalization of protest – will not become permanent.
Housing impact: There is ample evidence that construction and land speculation related to the Olympics have fueled Vancouver's housing crisis. Single room occupancies (cheap hotels) and affordable rentals are being torn down or converted to high priced housing, while the City lends money to build Olympic condos. Promises of affordable housing and shelter spaces are rarely met by host cities, and Vancouver has already admitted that its own commitments will not be met. In fact, since winning the Olympic bid in 2003, we have lost over 850 low income housing units, and homelessness in the city has tripled. Salt Lake City Games promised 2500 units of affordable housing and created only 150; prior to Sydney’s Games, tenant evictions increased 400%; and Calgary failed to build any of its pledged social housing.
While the inhabitants of B.C. suffer these consequences, the public money invested by the city of Vancouver, the city of Whistler, the B.C. government and the Canadian government (including other provinces) is now nearing $7 billion. New economic estimates show that the economic benefits to the host region are unlikely to exceed $4 billion. As the experience of other host cities demonstrates, much touted infrastructure projects rarely bring in future revenue. We already know that the $2 billion sky train line built for the Olympics will run at a deficit of at least $20 million per year until 2025. We have yet to reckon with the social costs of this year's massive cuts to health care, childcare,
arts and education.
With the specter of financial crisis raising its head again, governments have shown that they are prepared to plunge into deficit to keep their corporate friends afloat. If the government can hand us the Olympic sized bill of a two week corporate party without opposition, the next years will be bleak. But it is up to you to ignite the torch of resistance, especially since highly priced paid with your taxes flames are within reach...
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