Olympic blunder

2010 Winter Olympics Torch relay in Victoria


Olympic blunder
by Azadeh Azad

The Olympic Flame that was lit in Olympia, Greece, on October 22, 2009, finally arrived in Victoria, British Columbia (BC), on October 30th, where and when the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay began its 106-day, 45,000-kilometre cross-Canada journey [Photo essay]. The cross-country journey will be completed at Vancouver’s BC Place on February 12, 2010, as it lights the Olympic Cauldron, signaling the start of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Here, I'd like to balance all the Olympic hoopla in the media by relating some of the Cassandra facts exposed (with sources) by the Olympic Resistance Network groups. It appears that the modern Olympics are a multi-billion dollar industry backed by powerful élites, real estate, construction, hotel, tourism and television corporations, working hand in hand with government officials and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The athletes seem little more than a trifle, like the bull in the ring, for the greater goal of the spectacle. The following facts will demonstrate that the Olympic Games represent nothing more than the overriding of nearly three centuries of democratic traditions by a gathering of international elite.

The modern Olympics have a long history of racism - In 1894, Its founding member, Pierre de Coubertin, a French Baron, advocated sports as a means of strengthening colonialism. The 1936 Berlin Olympics empowered Hitler’s Nazi regime. The 1968 Mexico City Olympics (where over 300 student protesters were massacred by soldiers, days before the Olympics began) helped legitimize state terror. IOC President Avery Brundage, a US Nazi sympathizer, didn’t even acknowledge the massacre. But when two Black US athletes raised their fists in a Black power salute on the medal podium, he had them immediately stripped of their medals and ejected from the Games! Both the 1988 Seoul and 2008 Beijing Summer Games helped legitimize authoritarian regimes. Another IOC president (1980-2001), Juan Antonio Samaranch, was a former government official in Franco’s regime in Spain.

2010 Winter Olympics are taking place on Stolen Land - British Columbia remains largely aboriginal territories, non-surrendered and unrelinquished to the Canadian government. According to Canadian law, BC has neither the legal nor moral right to exist, let alone claim land and govern over Native peoples. Despite this, and a fraudulent treaty process now underway, the government continues to sell, lease and develop Native land for the benefit of corporations, including mining, logging, oil and gas, and ski resorts. Meanwhile, the Olympic Torch was carried through 266 locales, including 50 "First Nations Communities" (i.e., Reserves) and the BC Premier Gordon Campbell extolled the relay as "an incredible opportunity to showcase the unique character of our nation and our communities."

Unique indeed. The systemic deprivation of Indigenous peoples suffering the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, imprisonment, police violence, disease and suicides, the fact that "B.C." itself is one big colonial land grab and the symbolic inclusion of reserves in the torch route and of a few Native chiefs in ceremonies, certainly speaks to the outstanding "character" of racism in this province.

Ecological Destruction - The 2010 Olympics will be among the most environmentally destructive in history, with tens of thousands of trees cut down and mountainsides blasted for Olympic venues in the Callaghan Valley (near Whistler) and the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion. A high number of black bears have been hit on the Sea-to-Sky Highway due to loss of habitat. Massive amounts of concrete used in construction have also caused millions of Salmon to die in the Fraser River, where tons of gravel are being mined to make concrete.

Homelessness - Since winning the 2010 Winter Games in 2003, Vancouver has lost over 850 units of low-income housing. During the same period, homelessness has increased from 1,000 to over 2,500. The number of homeless will probably be as high as 6,000 in 2010. Since the 1980s, Olympic Games have caused the displacement of over 2 million people around the world. In Seoul 1988, some 750,000 poor were displaced, in Atlanta 1996, over 30,000, and for Beijing in 2008, an estimated 1.5 million have been displaced.

Criminalisation and social cleansing of the Poor - To remove the poor and undesirables, Olympic host cities routinely campaign to criminalise the poor. In Vancouver, the city has made many working poor give up their suddenly too expensive renovated rentals, has launched Project Civil City and new by-laws to criminalise begging for money, sleeping outdoors, etc. It has also included hundreds of thousands of dollars for increased private security (i.e., the Downtown Ambassadors). New garbage canisters on streets make it more difficult for the poor to gather recyclables, and new benches make it impossible to lay down. These measures fit with government plans to transfer poor downtown residents to mental institutions, "detox centres" on former military bases, and to return to other provinces persons wanted on warrants by the police.

Impact on Women - The Olympics draw hundreds of thousands of spectators and cause large increases in prostitution and trafficking of women. Already in Vancouver, over 68 women are missing and/or murdered; many were Native, and many were allegedly involved in the sex trade. In northern BC, over 30 young women, mostly Native, are missing and/or murdered along Highway 16. The 2010 Olympics and its invasion of tourists and corporations will only increase this violence against women.

2010 Police State - Some 12,500 police, military and security personnel are to be deployed for 2010, including riot cops, helicopters, armoured vehicles, emergency response teams, etc. The RCMP plan to set up 40 kilometres of crowd-control fencing along with Closed Circuit TV video surveillance cameras. Special security zones will be established to control entry near Olympic venues.

For 3 weeks, Vancouver will be an occupied Police State! Repression already involves attacks on anti-Olympic groups and individuals, including arrests of protesters, raids of social activists offices such as anti-poverty and housing groups, environmentalists and Natives, surveillance, media smear campaigns, cuts to funding programs, etc. When the Winter Olympics are over, there is no guarantee many of these security measures, such as the Closed Circuit TV will not remain.

There are several dozens of Canadian citizens across the province identified as "anti-Olympic activists" tracked down and "contacted" by police. These casual visits paid by police on those having committed no crime began earlier in the year when undercover police questioned citizens expressing concerns about the negative effects on the city's poor to city council. It seems a tactic better suited to last Olympics host, China than Canada. But then, when the Olympics blow into town, local laws go out the windows. The Olympics promise to leave Vancouver with nothing more than the sweeping up duties, while Canada's judiciary buries the nation's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Public Debt - In the midst of the world-wide recession, the Federal government ear-marked $24.5 million towards Torch Relay events alone, half of which went towards "Celebration Communities." The other $12 million plus was spent on organising the Relay, including the "Arrival Ceremony in Victoria." Not to be outdone, the BC government also pitched in. After cutting Provincial Arts Council Grants by 40% (7.6 million) last February, Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister dedicated $3.5 million to help enhance local community celebrations across B.C. for the Fake-Populist, Hyper-Security Torch Relay. That's why artists and cultural workers presently suffering under the Provincial government's 40% cut to arts and culture boycotted the ceremony.

Vancouver Olympic Committee and government officials claim the 2010 Games will cost some $2 billion. However, this amount doesn’t include the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion, the Canada Line Skytrain to the airport, the Vancouver Convention Center, or the lower mainland Gateway Project. Including these costs, since they were necessary to win the bid and had to be completed by 2010, makes the real cost of the Games some $6 billion, which must be paid for through public debt, money that could have been spent on social services, housing, drug treatment, healthcare, public education, etc.

Olympic Corruption - The modern Olympics are well known for their corruption, including both top IOC officials involved in bribery scandals (i.e. Salt Lake City 2002) or athletes found to be using performance-enhancing drugs (such as steroids). Yet the IOC still claims the youth need an inspiration and a "model" of good sportsmanship! Despite published reports of bribery scandals involving IOC members and host cities (i.e., The New Lords of the Rings, by Andrew Jennings), the Olympics continue to be seen as an honourable and noble enterprise, thanks to the corporate media.

Corporate Invasion - Governments and business use the Olympics as a means to attract corporate investment. In BC, the Provincial government is bankrolled by kickbacks in the way of "donations" from Corporate Canada. It has fast-tracked favoured applications, cut taxes, and offered other incentives to increase certain industries such as mining, oil and gas drilling, and ski resorts. This includes large increases in transport systems, such as new ports, bridges, expanded highways and rail-lines. This is all part of their Investment to 2010 Strategy. The results have been dramatic, record-breaking increases in these industries have resulted in greater environmental destruction and more corporate power and influence over our daily lives in British Columbia.

Many of the main corporate sponsors of the Olympics are themselves responsible for massive ecological destruction and human rights violations, including McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Petro-Canada, TransCanada, Dow, Teck Cominco, etc, while others are major arms manufacturers (General Electric and General Motors).

At a time of economic crisis when federal, provincial and municipal governments should focus on public projects that create a lasting positive social and economic foundation in all parts of Canada, the 2010 Games are determined to leave a legacy of social and environmental destruction and massive debt that will hobble our ability to make positive change and respond to the serious challenges facing communities across the province of British Columbia and the country.

On a much lighter note, you may read a list of real but funny questions (and fictional answers) about Canada that are rumoured to have appeared on an International Tourism Website.


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