Vancouver’s Olympics head for disaster

Posted by admin on Jan 31st, 2010

Douglas Haddow,, Sunday 31 January 2010

It’s now two weeks until the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic games, a city-defining event that is a decade in the making. But a decade is a very long time. Much of what seemed sensible in the early 2000s has proven to be the opposite: for instance, allowing investment bankers to pursue profits willy-nilly was acceptable when Vancouver won the bid in 2003, but is now viewed as idiotic. So it comes as no surprise that just days before the opening ceremony, Vancouver is gripped by dread. Not the typical attitude for a host city, but understandable when you consider that everything that could go wrong, is in the process of going wrong.

Vancouver has been continually ranked as the world’s most livable city. An Olympic sized-dose of gentrification would only serve to speed up Vancouver’s transformation from a livable yet expensive city into a glitzy hotel for international capital. But these neoliberal dreams are now little more than fantasy. In the mid-2000s the games were originally slated to cost a pittance of $660m and bring in a profit of $10bn. This ludicrous projection was made before the market crash – an event that the Vancouver’s Olympic committee failed to anticipate.

“The Bailout Games” have already been labelled a staggering financial disaster. While the complete costs are still unknown, the Vancouver and British Columbian governments have hinted at what’s to come by cancelling 2400 surgeries, laying off 233 government employees, 800 teachers and recommending the closure of 14 schools. It might be enough to make one cynical, but luckily every inch of the city is now coated with advertisements that feature smiley people enjoying the products of the event’s gracious sponsors.

Conservative estimates now speculate that the games will cost upwards of $6bn, with little chance of a return. This titanic act of fiscal malfeasance includes a security force that was originally budgeted at $175m, but has since inflated to $900m. With more than 15,000 members, it’s the largest military presence seen in western Canada since the end of the second world war, an appropriate measure only if one imagines al-Qaida are set to descend from the slopes on C2-strapped snowboards. With a police officer on every corner and military helicopters buzzing overhead, Vancouver looks more like post-war Berlin than an Olympic wonderland. Whole sections of the city are off-limits, scores of roads have been shut down, small businesses have been told to close shop and citizens have been instructed to either leave the city or stay indoors to make way for the projected influx of 300,000 visitors.

Vancouver’s Olympic committee has also assumed the role of logo police. Librarians are being commanded to feed McDonald’s to children while unauthorised brands have been banned from Olympic venues. Worse yet, they’ve begun to casually slip clips from Leni Riefenstahl films into their Coldplay-soundtracked promotional videos.

This manic mix of hype and gloom is a byproduct of the games’ utter pointlessness. For those who have been planning their resistance since 2003, Vancouver is about to become the world’s premier political stage. It will be the best chance yet for the Olympics to be derailed and exposed as what they are: a corrupt relic of the 20th century that does little more than gut city coffers and line the pockets of developers and investors. If things go pear-shaped and Vancouverites resort to their riotious ways, at least the city will get its money’s worth out of that bloated security force and the ensuing spectacle will boost NBC’s slumping ratings. After all, the Olympics are primarily a patriotic event, and in the words of the late Howard Zinn, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”.

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