The 2010 Winter Olympics has been a controversial topic in BC since the first glimmers of its conception started to be tossed about on the political playing field. The multi-billion dollar production will push Vancouver onto the world stage and potentially alter perceptions of British Columbia for many years to come. Thousands of new visitors will flock to the province wanting to participate in an historic event, hopefully bringing back to their home nations stories and experiences that will encourage even more people to come visit. It is an event geared towards showcasing British Columbia’s beauty, resources and culture to the world through fraternity, friendly competition and global friendship. This description of the Olympics, however, is simply the whitewashed storybook tale of an event that really should be seen as one of the province’s great contemporary shames.
Though it cannot be denied that the 2010 Winter Games will bring benefits to the province, the question remains, how much will it cost? Trying to uncover a final price tag for the Olympics is akin to wandering in a labyrinth filled with bureaucratic red tape, broken promises and political manoeuvring. Just recently the Vancouver Sun reported that the Games will cost BC upwards of over six billion dollars, a far greater sum than the original $1.4 billion estimate (Bramham). Suffice to say, due to overly optimistic budgeting, mismanaged developments and the global economic recession, the total dollar amount attached to the Games has been growing steadily. For example, security for the event was originally supposed to set the province back around $200 million, yet recent news reports have stated that the actual cost will rise above $900 million due to increasing gang violence and disruptive Olympic protesters (CBC News 3). Another significant concern is the burden this event will place on taxpayers for years to come. What was originally meant to be a profitable endeavour is quickly turning into a debt-creation machine. In January 2009, the province had to alter its charter to allow for an additional $458 million to be loaned to construction of the Olympic Village which has run up to a cost of over $875 million (CBC News 1). Sponsor after sponsor has pulled out, citing financial difficulties, leading to even greater increases in the cost of this extravagant show on the people of BC, most of which will have nothing directly to do with the Olympics. These monetary issues will affect every single person living within the province for many years to come. Will BC find itself in the same position as Montreal, paying off their Olympic debts thirty years after the Games have finished?
The argument can be made, however, that these are costs that need to be withstood for the “greater good” of the province and that the benefits in the future will far outweigh any inconvenience or minor increase in tax rates. This opinion neglects, however, to take into account the greater social implications of the Games. When the 2010 negotiations first began, British Columbia prided itself on saying that they were working to host the first socially sustainable event in the history of the Olympics yet their attempts, thus far, have been inadequate.
Originally, the Games were meant to leave a legacy of sustainable housing for low-income individuals living in BC with over 250 units in the Olympic Village to go towards expanding the amount of social housing in the province. Due to the rise in costs, however, this project has been placed on the list of expendables (CBC News 2). Furthermore, homelessness has been rapidly rising due to the gentrification caused by preparation for the Games. Many cheap rentals have been shut down in the region of the Downtown Eastside in order to make way for more upscale hotels suitable for Olympic tourists (No 2010). The BC Housing Minister, Rich Coleman, was reported as saying in 2007 that, “the eventual answer for the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is relocation—to another BC community” (No 2010). Although framed in the guise of wanting to help the people of DTSE, very little in the way of concrete investment or improvement has occurred for these people on the margins. Popular political opinion throughout the history of the Games has simply been to move undesirables out of sight, taking away their homes and support systems without offering anything in return.
First Nation groups have also been ignored by their province as it readies for the Games. A quick glance at the 2010 Olympic symbols show that the planning committee decided a little Aboriginal flavour would add to the unique British Columbian appeal of the event. The three primary mascots used in the Games are imagined amalgamations of First Nations creatures made into cute stuffed animal representations more akin to Hello Kitty than any actual mythical creature found in BC Aboriginal myths (Aarhus). Perhaps one of the most recognizable symbols is the Game’s logo: the Inukshuk. The Inukshuk, called Ilanaaq or friendship, is an Inuit art sculpture. Instead of taking inspiration from one of its many provincial bands, the BC Olympics committee chose to utilize a symbol from a territory many hundreds of kilometres away. Furthermore, although several prominent figures in the Inuit society, including the now premier of Nunavut, believe that having such a logo used is an honour, others are not so pleased (CBC Sports). Former Nunavut Commissioner Peter Irniq commented that the logo was not an inukshuk for each of these structures should have “a [particular] meaning and a reason [as to] why [they were] built in a certain location” (CBC Sports). For him and many others, this commercialization of a cultural symbol is not sharing their history, but cheapening it. Instead of using the Olympics as an opportunity to honour and educate others about the First Nations who have called this land home for countless generations, we have presented the world with a “Disneyification” of their history. Like the promises made to the homeless, BC has simply brushed aside everything that does not fit into its clean and perfect image of the Games.
Only a couple hours away from the site of the Games live 800 Ahousaht band members in “a village of mouldy houses and rotting buildings”, conditions condemned as inhumane and deplorable, especially when found in one of the richest nations in the world (Lavoie). BC is spending six billion dollars on the Games. That same six billion dollars could build new homes for every member of the Ahosaht band many times over. With six billion dollars, we could also build 22,000 units of social housing in Vancouver, fund several hundred social assistance institutions (such as food banks) for over sixteen years, pay four years of tuition fees for 100,963 medical students at UBC or build six new hospitals in Vancouver’s core (McMartin).
The Olympics have been lauded world-wide as an event that brings nations together. These competitions celebrate the few in the world who were born with unique physical capacity and supported with the food, training and care that nurtured such talents. We spend billions of dollars and months of preparation to see people act out these feats of athletic perfection, but is it worth it when there are thousands of people in our province in grave need of help? The 2010 Olympics are nothing more than a show masking the reality of our province, its history, its people and its hardships. When the Opening Ceremonies begin, it is not the fanciful performances, the expensive technological wonders or the screaming crowds that will capture my attention. It will be the recognition that British Columbians all over the province live in need of new homes, food, jobs, education and hope, while we celebrate a chosen, privileged few.
Aarhus, P. (2007) “Hello Mascot? Vancouver’s Cuddly 2010 Olympic Characters”, National Post, Nov. 28
Bramham, D. (2009) “Olympics Bill Tops $6 Billion – So Far”, Vancouver Sun, Jan 23.
CBC News 1 (2009) “B.C. Legislature Holding Special Sitting Saturday on Olympic
Village Funding”, CBC.ca, Jan. 15
CBC News 2 (2009) “Social Housing May be Cut at Olympic Pillage”, CBC.ca, Feb. 19
CBC News 3 (2009) “Olympic Security Costs Could Hit $1B, says Minister”, CBC.ca, Oct 10.
CBC Sports (2005) “Olympic Inukshuk irks Inuit Leader”, CBC.ca, Apr. 15
Lavoie, J. (2009) “Welcome to British Columbia’s Third-World Ghetto”, Times-Colonist, Feb. 8
McMartin, P. (2009) “What $6 Billion Could Buy”, Vancouver Sun, Feb. 24
No 2010 (2008) “Homelessness 2010: A Background”, No 2010 Olympics on Stolen
Native Land, [Online] Available at: http://www.no2010.com/node/191