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Vancouver Olympics

Your land is my land: Vancouver hosts 2010 Olympics

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN Staff Writer  Feb 02, 2009

The Canadians have done it again! This is the third time the Olympic Games will be held in this country, although it is the first time this British Columbia province is the designation recipient. The first Canadian hosted game was in Montreal (1976 Summer Olympics) and then Calgary (1988 Winter Olympics). The 2010 Games will be the first ones to be held in a national hockey league market since the league allowed its players to participate (1998). More than 4,000 athletes, 250,000 visitors, 25,000 volunteers and 10,000 media are expected.

Seventeen days of events are planned (February 12 – 28, 2010) with 86 Olympic Winter Medal events. The city will be hosting 5,500 Olympic Games athletes and team officials from 80 countries. Plan to watch it on television? You will be one of the 3 billion estimated worldwide viewers.

Pay Upfront
Getting the nod from the Olympics Committee is a daunting and expensive task. Beyond the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) budget of $2 billion (CAD) for the goods and services necessary to host the games, it is estimated that an additional $2 billion (CAD) will be spent by Olympics 2010 partners, sponsors and other organizations.

Every destination selected to hold the Olympics comes with its share (and sometimes more then its fair share) of strengths and weaknesses. The following is a brief SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of what Vancouver is bringing to the table.

Location x 2
No one needs an excuse to visit Vancouver and Whistler. Vancouver is rich in museums, art galleries, designer shopping and gourmet dining while Whistler, the venue of the 2010 Olympics, is perfect for outdoor sports that range from glacier skiing to golfing, from paddling in the five lakes, to hiking and biking trails.

First Nations Culture
In-between the competitions a worthwhile stop is the new cultural center located at Whistlers’ Upper Village where visitors learn the history of the Squamish and Lilwat communities. From art and sculpture to language and craft study, this unique living-museum is an interesting and educational way to spend a few hours browsing the art collections, shopping for unique crafts, and enjoying a light lunch developed from First Nations recipes.

Olympic Business Sharing
The Olympics is not entirely about big business, at least one Aboriginal–owned business has been awarded an Olympic contract (Williams Moving and Storage) and The Cook Studio, an organization that hires disadvantaged, disabled and at-risk Lower Mainland residents to work in the food services industry provides food service to VANOC employees and guests at their headquarters.

According to the VANOC Sustainability Report (2007-2008), approximately $63,601,994 (CAD) has been earmarked for Aboriginal business contracts. (It has not been possible to determine the companies and/or contracts and/or their value to the First Nations businesses).

What Game(s) Are Being Played?
If the Olympics were only about sports and athletic abilities, then the political and socio-economic parts of the event could be ignored. However, when a destination applies to be the locale for the event, it makes pledges and promises to the Olympics Committee as well as to the immediate community about what winning the event will add to the economy and the minimization of inconveniences to local businesses and the public.

When Beijing, China was selected as an Olympic venue, the world questioned the appropriateness, citing among many social issues, the restraints and constraints of a centralized government, censorship of people and press, serious levels of poverty combined with air and water pollution issues that present an ongoing health threat to every Chinese citizens and the global community. None-the-less the PRC put on a spectacular event, raised the interest of the international business and travel community, and enhanced the visibility of the nation.

The Façade
It is Vancouver’s moment in the sun, so we turn a critical eye on this venue. Canada has done an incredibly wonderful job of presenting a beautifully clear face to the world, free of blemishes; the closest one can get to nirvana and still be on earth.

The Olympics of 2010 however, creates an appropriate moment, to look beyond the pr and review the Vancouver that is hosting the events and to peek-in on those who will win and who will lose…looking beyond the athletes.

Aboriginal and First Nations people comprise only 2 percent of the general population in Greater Vancouver, but 30 percent of the homeless population. It is estimated that by the 2010 Olympics, 3000 people are likely to destitute.

As wonderful as the city of Vancouver is, there are tensions that threaten to render the destination intimidating to even the most sophisticated visitor. One potential hazard is the escalation of human trafficking and prostitution. Sabrina Sullivan, the managing director of The Future Group estimates that approximately 16,000 people are currently trafficked to or through Canada as it is a destination, a transit point and a source - with Aboriginal women, (mainly from Winnipeg or rural areas) the most targeted.

In the recent (2007) US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Vancouver was cited as being a destination city for trafficked persons from Asia, particularly South Korean females who were transported through Canada on their way to the United States.

Although prostitution is legal in Canada a related activity such as solicitation is not. To overcome this marketing obstacle a group of Vancouver prostitutes have proposed a coop brothel during the Olympic Games and then city mayor, Sam Sullivan, appeared supportive of the initiative having voiced no objections. It is unclear at this point whether the new city, Gregor Robertson, supports or opposes this initiative.

Economic Development
The former Vancouver mayor viewed the “brothel project” as part of the VANOC mandate for economic development. The business proposal has not received the green light as the organization Vancouver Rape and Relief and Women’s Shelter oppose it, viewing prostitution as violence against women. From their position, it would be more appropriate to track down pimps and johns. Another opposing force is the escort services that view the coop as competition.

Drugs and Crime
Vancouver surpasses all cities in Canada for the number of crimes perpetrated against its citizens with the highest home burglary and stolen car rates anywhere else in the region (higher than Toronto). The Vancouver community is concerned with the potential increase in the sale and use of illegal drugs. Vancouver currently provides free needle exchange programs and the testing of prescription heroin on addicts. To address the drug issue Marc Emery, a candidate for mayor, recently called for the legalization of drugs.

Stolen Land
British Columbia remains largely un-ceded and non-surrendered indigenous territories. According to Canadian law, BC does not have the legal right to claim land and govern the native population. However, the government continues to use to sell, lease and develop native land for its own benefit as well as private interests. Some members of Vancouver believe that some of the land being used by VANOC for the Olympics has been appropriated at the expense of the Indigenous population.

Not Green
Although public relations leads us to believe this will be the “greenest Olympics” ever on record and the concept of “sustainability” is sprinkled throughout press releases, the Olympics organizers are removing tens of thousands of trees, and mountainsides are being blasted for the Olympic venues in the Callaghan Valley (near Whistler) as well as the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion. In 2007 black bears were hit on the Highway with at least 11 dying (due to loss of habitat). Massive amounts of concrete have caused salmon to die in the Fraser River where tons of gravel is being mined to make concrete for Olympic construction programs.

(part one of two)

Your land is my land: Vancouver hosts 2010 Olympics
Photograph by Nelson Alcantara

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