I have never been all that excited about the Olympic Games.
In the past, aside from my apathy toward sports, it may have stemmed largely from the fact that I was so immature and superficial that my interest was not easily captured by anything outside of my tiny bubble that I called my life. I had little interest in the unification of nations or the excitement of competition associated with this event.
But even now that I am more appreciative of the cultural and political barriers the Olympics manages to push aside in favor of sportsmanship, patriotism, and a crossroad of societies, the excitement that should come with this event (especially the one time it takes place half an hour away from my home) is overruled by perturbation. Living near the site of this year’s Winter Olympic Games, for the first time in my life I realized why there is always so much controversy surrounding this event.
In my youth, I had only held witness to the exhilaration of medal winners, the cheers of fans from all over the world, the culmination of lifetimes of training, and the celebration of culture, all plastered across my TV screen, pouring in from Salt Lake City, Athens, Torino, Beijing, and now Vancouver. It should have been apparent to me that everything comes at a price equivalent to its reward, but I didn’t realize that it applied to the Games until they came so close to home.
Don’t get me wrong. I cherish everything the Games stand for, from the nourishment of athleticism to the celebration of culture, but there are always strings attached. It is a popular analogy that the Olympics are “a massive party for the wealthy, with a hangover we will be enduring for years to come.” And if one takes a look at Beijing, the last host city of the Summer Olympic Games, it is easy to see what those words mean. Beijing’s economy took massive blows from the games, one of which was the 51.7% drop in their iron and steel industry. And with Vancouver spending over $6 billion of public money (more than five times the initially projected estimate of $660 million), it’s hard to blame some of the critics for their cynicism. If you include Games-related costs (not included in official budgets due to the supposedly indirect nature in which they affect the Games), the final cost exceeds $9 billion. Not only that, but it coincides with the global recession, cuts to city services, and a spike in homelessness, particularly in the downtown east side. Think of all the social and economic issues Vancouver is experiencing, that are being pushed aside by this event. The Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) estimated a $10 billion profit as a result from the Games, but now a recent study by Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates a pathetic profit closer to $1 billion. $9 billion going in for a $1 billion return? You can do the math.
In addition, I was shocked to hear that VANOC and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by excluding Women’s Ski Jumping, and more notably, exercising excessive censorship with their “muzzle clause.” I’m all for Vancouver having a great image, especially when we are on a pedestal for the world to see. But silencing opposition is only the first step to a domino effect that could result in the collapse of generations of hard work to obtain fair civil rights for all. Granted, we are yet to attain the level of equality that every human on Earth lives and is treated the same way, but that means we should be moving forward. Overruling the Canadian Charter, which is supposed to represent human equality, even for a short time, is moving back. We are telling the world that exceptions can be made. And when exceptions are made, they become the norm. It’s dangerous, it really is.
But hey, it’s inevitable that controversy will always surround any event of such international economical and societal impact. These things can be healed over time, and although I dislike many factors associated with the Olympic Games, particularly this year, I still agree with the purpose of the Games, and appreciated the great infrastructural and cultural additions/improvements they have made to Vancouver (Cultural Olympiad, Canada Line, Sea-to-Sky Highway, etc), even if I do not feel like they were necessary when our city has much more pressing issues being put on the back burner.
However, something that has soured my impression of the 2010 Games further has been the recent death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili two days ago. A practice run gone wrong at the fastest luge track in the world claimed his life at the ripe age of 21, and what shocked me most about it was the callous nature of the IOC in the days following his death. They essentially blamed the luger for his own death, stating that “the track was completely safe.” Of course, they then made changes to the track and starting procedure to make it more safe.
It seems the 2010 Winter Olympics has brought about a big black cloud on the city of Vancouver, for many reasons, and the one time that I should be extra excited for the Olympic Games, I haven’t even bothered to take a trip downtown yet. To be frank, I’m scared. I’m scared to see what my beloved city has turned into. Many of my friends have gone to the various Games-related events in the past few days, and have come back telling me how amazing and beautiful it was. It’s just that I know it won’t last any longer than the athletes from around the world are staying. I’m scared that if I go see all these sights and sounds, the extravagance of celebration and embellishment will just be another reminder of all the (silenced) turmoil that it is costing our city.
But at the same time, I feel strangely guilty about my aversion to the once in a lifetime opportunity to be so close to what the entire world is falling in love with. As I typed all this out, I realized that while I was sitting there complaining, the Olympics are happening. Sure, I could go join the various protests going on, but the Games are still going to happen. And to be honest, despite all the strings attached, I can’t deny some of the finer points they have brought to our city. To our country. To our world. And hey, this city’s given up so much for this celebration. The least I can do is to go out there and appreciate the product.
Maybe I just need to be more open-minded. The money has been spent, the by-laws have been put in place, and the sacrifices have been made. Maybe I should just appreciate it.