Winter Olympics not all fun and Games

Patriotism flooded the streets of Vancouver, British Columbia last Sunday as Canadian fans anticipated the Men’s hockey game against the United States. The hype surrounding the game was best illustrated by the fans chants of the national anthem, “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee”. Canadians sang faithfully for their love of sport and country, and yet, failing to meet the hype, the men’s team was unable to hold their own against the Americans. Such highs and lows are a recurring theme for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and while Canadians may be upset about last Sunday’s game (and quite rightly so, I might add), many are ignorant of the true disappointing actions Canada has taken for this “love of sport”.

VANOC, the Vancouver Committee for the Olympics, have created a situation for Canadians that will cause more distress than the Men’s hockey team not taking a place on the podium. If you recall, the inauguration of the olympics saw protests by the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN). It should be noted that though the ORN protests the Olympics, it is not the games themselves they see to be at fault. Of course, if the Olympics were simply about the love of sport (as they should be), such protesting would surely be unnecessary – but the Olympics are an institution like any other. In fact, Canadians are becoming progressively aware of the corporate nature of the games. It seems that tax payers are becoming increasingly worried about the games having overrun their budget. While the economic situation of the games has a direct, and forceful, impact on many Canadians, there are a plethora of issues that chew at core Canadian values and may prove to be more damaging.

Canada prides itself on its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and yet, it seems that the “rights and freedoms” of Canadians are entering treacherous territory with the Olympics; $1 billion was spent on security (protestors and activists identified as the number one threat), city bylaws restrict the content of signs in the downtown area (the signs must either be licensed or celebratory of the games), and the city has created “artistic installments” over areas where protests are frequently made.

With Vancouver’s selection as the host for the Olympics came protests from those who recalled that the colonial history of British Columbia differs from the rest of Canada. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 indicates that treaties must be made with Indigenous nations in order for the Government of Canada to expand westward. However, very few treaties were negotiated in British Columbia and thus the land is currently unceded Indigenous territory. The same holds for Whistler; James Louie of the Salish St’at’imc Nation stated that,“because we have no treaty with Canada, the imposition and encroachment of Whistler – their hydro lines, their highways, their railroad, in fact all infastructure development for the 2010 Games – in our territory is illegal”. The past ten years have seen the opposition of ski resorts by the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and yet there has been a recent increase in such developments by the government’s Ski Resort Task Force, which set to increase tourism and maximize opportunities created by hosting the games.

Home invasion is not limited to that of indigenous peoples; wildlife and the homeless in Vancouver have also been affected by the games. VANOC and the Bid Committee, promised that the games would be the greenest ever and that no person would be displaced by the games. Ottawa recently announced $150,000 will be spent to combat emissions from the games (and keep face with supporters, such as the Royal Bank of Canada who, according to the Rainforest Action Network, is a primary financier of environmentally degrading Alberta tar sands). The pledge will not amend blasted mountainsides in the Callaghan Valley, the habitat destruction created by the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion on which a record number of black bears, now with a loss of habitat, have been hit, or the millions of salmon dying in the Fraser River where tons of gravel were mined to make concrete. There are also 3000 left homeless from Olympic developments and, to conceal poverty and maintain a facade of cleanliness, a new provincial law allows police to arrest homeless people who do not report to a shelter when instructed.

The Olympic ideals of international cooperation and sport are being obscured by the inconsistent nature of the governing organisations. While it is imperative Canadians stand behind their teams and cheer them to victory, it is imperative that Canadians become aware of the larger Olympic-impact, and speak out against pursuits not morally akin to the values of “the True North strong and free”.

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