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CapeCod 23/02/2010 - 12:27PM

Chris Spannos debunks Canadian Olympic mythology

One week into the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, we had been wowed by the various athletic  stunts required to pull it off: making enough snow to ensure the skiiers and snowboarders could get down the mountain in an unseasonably warm winter; the police maneuvers necessary to keep tourists from noticing the thousands of Vancouverites in protest; and of course, who could forget that guy who lit his cigarette with the Olympic torch before being tackled by the police?

Carts of Darkness was an excellent film to portray the lives of less-than-privileged residents of North Vancouver, and the games they play to earn a living and amuse themselves. Afterward, CP Woods Hole co-organizer (and ZNet administrator) Chris Spannos warmed us up with some food-for thought questions he compiled through research and from Guillaume, Marla and Nat, authors of "Teaching 2010 Resistance: a project of the Olympic Resistance Network." Apparently, these discussion points were approved as part of the curriculum by the BC Teacher's Federation. Too cool for school!

Warm up
Questions:

How
many people have been excited about the Olympics?

Most hands raised

How
many people here haven’t really cared either way?

A few hands raised

How
many people would want the Olympics in or around their home town?

No hands raised!

How
many of you would NOT want the Olympics to happen in your own home town?

Almost all hands raised

What
are some of the things that people look forward to and like about the Olympics?

The snowboarding, the falls and accidents at the ice rink...

Why
do you think that people or communities would be opposed to the Olympics?
 

Hmmmm....

Next, Chris led us through a series of True/False, bringing up a variety of reasons why the Olympics portray less-than-Canadian values (by the way, Chris is a dual Canadian-American citizen and lived in Van for 13 years). 

 

True or
False Questions

1  [civil
liberties]  During the Olympics, people have only been allowed to protest
by quietly carrying signs on public property, such as parks.

False: 
Actually, this will be illegal too.  A new By-Law (introduced this summer)
will make it illegal to carry signs at “city sites” unless
you’ve gotten your sign approved (licensed) by the City. 
 

Discussion
Point:

This
content-based restriction violates the right to free speech enshrined in the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Carrying noisemakers will also be
forbidden. 

Changes
to laws that remove protection for the rights and freedoms necessary in
a democracy, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom to gather in public
spaces to protest with others:  These are very important rights and
freedoms that we have because people throughout history have fought to make
sure that people have them even when they are not convenient to those in power.
 
 

2 [housing,
homelessness]  Vancouver’s homeless population has decreased since
winning the Olympic bid in 2003, due to new housing construction.

False: 
Homelessness in Vancouver has tripled since winning the bid, from under 1000 in
2002 to over 3000 in 2009. 

Most
new construction, if it is for housing at all, is slated to create expensive
condo units.  The “commitment” to include 250 low-income
housing units in the Olympic Village was officially abandoned in 2007.
 
 

Discussion
Point:

The
impacts on housing that are increasing homelessness:  The promises
made by Vancouver in its bid for the Olympics included promises to protect the
amount of rentals available, ensure that  people are not made homeless,
involuntarily displaced, evicted or face unreasonable rent increases as  a
result of the games.  But in the six years since the Olympic bid, housing
prices have skyrocketed, hundreds of low income tenants have been evicted and
the number of homeless has increased by 373 per cent.
 

3 [militarization]
The Vancouver Olympic Games are the largest “peacetime” security
operation in Canadian history.

True: 
Over 16,000 police, RCMP, military troops and private security guards have been
deployed during the 2010 Olympic Games. 

This
includes 4,500 armed forces, as well as RCMP, police from across Canada, and
private security personnel.

      If you think about those numbers,
that’s about one cop for every 150 people in all of Greater Vancouver
(pop. just over 2,300,000).  How many people are in your school? 
1000?  So imagine seven cops, guards or soldiers stationed just at your school,
and the same thing everywhere else in the city.  Compare this to the
number of athletes: only 5000!

Discussion
point:

Changes
to security measures that mean increased policing and surveillance, and
the use of the military in a civilian environment:  Many people raise questions
about the long term impacts of these changes on our society and safety.
 
 

4 [IOC] The IOC
has to pay taxes in both the host country and in its home country
(Switzerland).

False: 
The IOC pays no taxes anywhere.  Not in the host country (this is specified
in the Host City agreements), and not in Switzerland, where it (somehow) has
the status of a “non-profit.”

      The IOC (International Olympic Committee)
makes at least $60 million in profit every year, mostly from selling TV
Broadcasting rights to the Olympics.  All of this goes untaxed.
 

5 [politics /
race]  The International Olympic Committee supported Hitler and the German
Nazi party in 1936, even though there were international calls for a boycott
against the Berlin Olympics due to Germany's racially discriminatory policies.

True: 
IOC member Avery Brundage openly supported Hitler’s Nazi regime during
the 1936 Games in Berlin (and refused to cancel the Games).  Brundage
later served as IOC President for twenty years (from 1952-1972).

      Another IOC President, Juan Samaranch
(1980-2000), was a fascist youth organizer in Spain in the 1930s, and served as
a government minister and loyal supporter during General Franco’s fascist
dictatorship. 

Discussion
point:

The
opposition of Indigenous peoples on the basis of land disputes, the use
of Native symbols and rituals for the profit of the Olympics, and the silencing
of opposition:  Many have spoken out about the continual theft of new
lands by the government for development and profits that are then made by
private companies. Even the courts of Canada have concluded that unless
ownership has formally changed hands the government is not allowed to 
continue such practices.
 
 

6 [economy] The
Olympics tend to boost the local economy in host cities.

False: 
Nearly every city and regional government – funded by the taxpayer
– incurs massive debts from putting on the Games.  For example,
Montreal only finished paying off its debt from the 1976 Games in 2006.

      The Olympics do drive real estate booms in
host cities, which makes money for developers.  But this means profit is
concentrated in a few private firms, while debt is spread out over the
public.  

Discussion
Point:

The
amount of public money being spent at the cost of spending it on other
services (opportunity cost in Economics speak):  6 Billion dollars of
public money has been spent on the infrastructure and operating costs of
hosting a 17 day party.  This is at a time when we are told that our
governments have deficits and so must continue to cut public services such as
medical care, education, arts programs. 
 

7  [environment] 
Artificial snow contains pesticide.

True: The
major chemical in one of the newest types of artificial snow is
“trisiloxane,” which is also used as a pesticide.  This
chemical is what allows the water to freeze at higher temperatures.

It was
expected that this type of artificial snow would be used on the North Shore ski
runs this February 2010, but I’m not sure what was actually used.

8 [environment]
The Vancouver Olympic Games will emit more greenhouse gases than a small
country does in a single year.

True: The
Vancouver Olympics will emit more greenhouse gases (CO2) than the annual amount
of 77 of the world’s countries – or the same annual amount as
a city of 10 million people. 

This 
estimate takes into account infrastructure projects, operating costs, and air
travel for visitors.

Discussion
Point:

The
negative impacts on the environment:  One of Vancouver's Olympic
promises was that these would be the "greenest games ever", that they
would make positive environmental contributions.  However, massive
development has brought with it numerous examples of environmental
destruction.  The Callaghan Valley, near Whistler is one example of a
pristine area that now has a new road and parking lots amongst other
developments. The Games are also sponsored by companies like RBC (Royal Bank of
Canada) and PetroCanada, both major backers of the Alberta Tar Sands.
 

9 [sexism] 
The Vancouver Winter Olympics will have a competition for men to ski jump but
not one for women.

True:
Women ski jumpers have protested and petitioned to have a women's competition
included.  They argue that their exclusion is discriminatory, and in
conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

Discussion
point:

The
increasing danger and other impacts on women's safety and
protection:  Every year on February 14th, a march is held in the downtown
Eastside to commemorate the huge numbers of women that have died or been killed
in B.C while trying to survive a great number of obstacles in their path,
obstacles like racism and poverty.  When the City of Vancouver realized
that the Women’s march would be held during the Olympic Games, they sent
the march organizers a letter stating that they would not be allowed to have
their annual march.  The women responded immediately by starting a
petition for community members and supporters to sign, as well as writing
letters to newspapers and government officials.  In response, the City of
Vancouver changed their minds and confirmed that the Women’s march would
be allowed to proceed.  This is also an example of how powerful the
community can be when it stands up together for the rights of its members.