The Vancouver Winter Olympics has eroded Canadian law and democracy, and worsened relations with Canada’s indigenous peoplesby David Goldblatt / January 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
Above: the mock set of Olympic rings ordered to be removed due to the demands of the IOC
In the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) defended its choice of China by arguing that the Games could contribute to the democratisation of an authoritarian regime, making a closed society more open and bringing the force of international law to bear on the hosts. As we now know, the record proved less impressive than the claims. In fact, there is a stronger case to be made for the obverse—that the Olympics can contribute to the coarsening of democracy. The 2010 Winter Olympic Games, which start on 12th February in Vancouver, is a case in point.
In September 2009, an art gallery in downtown Vancouver put up a mural outside, depicting a mock set of Olympic rings with four unhappy faces and one smiley face. Under one of the new city bylaws required by the IOC, the mural was classified as a form of graffiti and the gallery’s landlord was told to remove it. Given how much graffiti there is in this part of Vancouver, the city council’s intentions were all too transparent. By itself, this incident does not amount to much. But it is one of many instances where the demands of the IOC and its corporate-media allies have come into conflict with Canadian law and democracy.
The IOC’s refusal to countenance women’s ski jumping at the Games on ludicrous and inconsistent technical grounds (see Sporting life, January 2009) has trumped Canada’s human rights and equality legislation. More worryingly, British Columbia passed an Act that gives the police the power to enter homes and other premises displaying “anti-Olympic” signs. Vancouver’s homeless population is also under scrutiny, with new bylaws allowing the council to sweep people into shelters if the weather is too inclement, while many of the main public spaces that they use are now closed for pre-Olympic renovation. One of the legacies of the Games will be a citywide network of CCTV cameras.
Protest, thankfully, has come from many directions, including civil liberties groups, anti-poverty campaigners, environmentalists and anarchists. They have had plenty to protest over. The usual promises surrounding the Olympic village—that it would become a socially responsible, mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhood after the Games—have been scrapped and much of the land flogged to private developers. The environmental impact of new venues and…