Feb 172010
Authors: Wade McManus

The whole world’s attention is turned to Vancouver for this year’s Olympics. Media from around the world continually stream footage of the games around the globe. Merely turn on a TV or radio, and you can be taken to Vancouver to partake in the ceremonial global sports duel.

It’s easy for spectators to distinguish between winning athletes and losing athletes. A Canadian crosses the finish line, stands atop a podium, is awarded a medal and is hailed as the winner.

But the more important action is going on outside the games, though you’d be hard pressed to find much coverage of this struggle in the mainstream media, and distinguishing between the winners and losers is more difficult.

During the opening ceremony of the 2010 Olympics, 3,000 protestors and organizers united diverse backgrounds and interests in a march through downtown Vancouver, and ultimately, a rally at the B.C. Place stadium denouncing the Olympics. Anti-corporate, anti-poverty, environmental and anti-war, among many others, joined the call to the streets.

Collectively, this ensemble of social activists makes a pretty compelling argument against the Olympics, or more particularly, the primary organizing body, the International Olympic Committee. The collective message is that the symbolic relationship of international participation and cooperation is not worth the social and environmental degradation that follow in every Olympic host city.

The action in the streets reminds me of a joke a professor of mine once told in class. He asked, “How do you get 500 Canadians out of a swimming pool?” We all sat, curiously batting around crude ideas in our heads when he says, in a kind of matter-of-fact way, “You ask them.”

Well it’s not the easy to get 3,000 protestors out of the streets. In all, $1 billion have been spent on police, military and private security to lock down the city. Though the protestors were only confronted with a few hundred police officers, many of the protestors have dubbed Vancouver a military state.

Of course, the Canadian government has every reason to protect the city in such a way. God forbid anything terrible happen. It does highlight, however, the massive price of hosting the Olympics. $8 billion will be spent on the Vancouver Olympics. This is a fact that has motivated many of these activists to take to the streets.

It is undeniable that hosting the Olympics does bring benefits. A spike in the local economy, the spotlight on the global stage, etc. However, these are short-lived, and the negative consequences live long after.

Historically, when the Olympics come into town, it requires a shift in funds from civil and social spending to Olympic services and infrastructure construction. Meanwhile, the homeless population is growing in Vancouver and growing quickly. It is estimated that there are 15,000 homeless in the host city.

Yet they can afford the $8 billion to host a two-and-a-half week event. Even worse, the process of gentrification, the displacement and removal of impoverished and minority groups, consistently follow the games. These groups are often pushed farther and farther toward the outskirts of the city, replaced by an Olympic park that will rest as a ghost town a short time after.

Though this is a clear illustration of social irresponsibility and wasteful spending driven by shortsightedness, Canada probably has the luxury to absorb these consequences with relatively low harm, but I cannot imagine that Rio de Janeiro has the same resources to spare as Vancouver.

When there are losers, there are usually winners as well. And again it is the global corporate class taking home the gold. Coca-cola, General Electric and Panasonic are among the likes standing at the top of the podium. A global audience and exclusive marketing make corporate sponsors the biggest winner out of the heat. But that is for another column.
Wade McManus is a senior political science major. His column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com._

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