COLUMN | The Olympics – a celebration of human excellence, or a party for the rich funded by the rest of us?

Originally published at

While the world watches the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London with excitement and enthusiasm, now is the perfect time to reflect on the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and to draw conclusions that the two years that have passed allow us to draw.

In the years leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, many promises were made in an effort to win over public support. One of the most important promises was the delivery of social housing – lots of social housing. By the time the negotiations and roundtables leading up to the Vancouver Olympics were over, there was a concrete promise that if the city hosted the 2010 Olympics, there would be a Housing Legacy with over 3,200 units of social housing constructed prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that this commitment was hollow. Not one unit was built in time for the Games, and after the big event the idea of a Housing Legacy was dropped.

Those who study the Olympics have documented the enormous amount of public money the Games absorb – not for the benefit of the community but for the benefit of the large corporations that earn sizable contracts and countless benefits. London is in many ways a spitting repeat of Vancouver. In both cities, the promised Olympic Village housing was shrewdly converted into a private gain for investors at the expense of taxpayers. In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, the municipal governments of London and Vancouver both stepped in as a lenders of last resort for their respective Olympic Village developments, resulting in massive bailouts for investors and developers.

London Olympic Village

In both developments the affordable housing has been cut, although it is not yet known if the removal of affordable housing in London’s Olympic Village will be as drastic as in Vancouver. It has also not yet been determined if it is the new mega-venues themselves or the impending gentrification of low-rent neighborhoods that will displace and uproot more families in poverty-stricken East London. In the midst of UK-wide cuts to housing benefits, East Londoners have been served instead with Olympic-scale “revitalization” and “regeneration,” something which Vancouverites will recognize as code words for gentrification. Borough Mayor Sir Robin Wales had promised that affected communities of East London would experience “significant community benefits” as a result of hosting the Olympics, but needless to say those promises have fallen short.

Back in Vancouver the post-Olympic fiasco continues. The London Olympics have provided Vancouver with yet another way for local taxpayers to flush money down the toilet. During the Games it was revealed that no fewer than seven senior city hall staff, together with Mayor Robertson, attended the London Olympics. Not on their own dime, but courtesy of you and me. The total expenditure for this trip is estimated to be in excess of $100,000 and many people are rightly asking: Couldn’t the Mayor and City Manager Penny Ballem – who currently earns a salary higher than anyone working in the White House, with the exception of the American President – have been asked to pay for their own travel expenses? Better yet, couldn’t the municipal government stop its role as private broker of investment deals and start taking seriously its public duties?

Vision Vancouver may have forgotten that there are still a few Olympic-sized promises to deliver.