Olympics and Oppression

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Maysie Maysie's picture
Olympics and Oppression


Maysie Maysie's picture

I'm keeping out of the debates about China and the Olympics, finding most of them not-so-thinly-disguised exercises in "free to express racism openly". Any legitimate criticisms are lost in this entanglement, for me.

But there are larger issues about the oppressiveness of the Olympics, esp in the DTES in Vancouver, where the 2010 games are being used as an excuse (perhaps the reason for the bid in the first place?) to forcibly move out extremely marginalized people: those who are homeless, substance abusers and addicts, sex workers.

We've talked about this before on babble, and it's timely, what with the big O beginning in Beijing next week. I offer this excellent article as an example of how Canadians are oppressive, too when it comes to the Olympics at home. The author also mentions similar proceedings in the lead-up to the Games in Atlanta and Sydney, Australia.


Olympic Profits: The 2010 Games versus Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

By Christopher Shaw

Those who only drive through the Downtown Eastside en route to somewhere else tend to see only the long lines at the soup kitchens, the addicts congregating in alley ways, the hookers on their stroll and the homeless sleeping on benches and in doorways. Some, though, don’t see Third World misery, but rather opportunity and a brighter future-for themselves, the developers. Instead of a vast urban wasteland filled with the homeless lining up for food, they see a queue of yuppies ready to live on the edge, buying upscale $500,000 one-bedroom condos overlooking the squalor in the streets below.

All these developers needed to make their dreams a reality was a spark to light the fire that would drive out the rabble. The eternal flame of Mount Olympus served the purpose quite nicely. In 2003, the spark caught and dreams became reality: the Olympic machine was coming to town, and with it, the power to gentrify the Downtown Eastside.

Shaw uses a term "economic cleansing" to refer to the evictions and closures of hotels formerly occupied by the populations of DTES. Some of these buildings have been in need of closure, and rebuilding, for years, and lobbying has gone unacknowledged by government. Now, with the Olympics coming, suddenly there is movement, but once the people are moved out, they aren't coming back.


Often, with only hours’ notice, residents were dumped onto the streets to join the thousands of others who wander the alleys by day and sleep on the sidewalk by night. Anti-poverty groups such as the Pivot Legal Society, the Anti-Poverty Committee and the Downtown Eastside Residents Association say a number of hotels have closed in this manner, adding many more people to the legions of the homeless. According to David Eby of the Pivot Legal Society, a total of 1,314 rooms that formerly housed low-income individuals have been closed or converted to other uses since the awarding of the Games to Vancouver in 2003.


“Economic cleansing” is the ticket, and Mayor Sam Sullivan has the plan. If the Downtown Eastside is ugly and drug infested, he can sweep it all away courtesy of Project Civil City, Sullivan’s less than subtle manoeuvre to rid Vancouver of the relics of years of institutional neglect. Or maybe the city could ship the homeless out to other parts of the province “for treatment,” as the province’s Liberal Forests Minister recently suggested, the idea eerily reminiscent of the wholesale urban clearances of the poor in the run-up to Atlanta’s Olympics in 1996. The statement seemed likely to be a trial balloon, sent up to gauge public reaction.


The Anti-Poverty Committee began to get media coverage, and while the latter tended to be very negative, the genie was out of the bottle; many British Columbians were forced to face the fact that poverty in Vancouver had increased as a consequence of the 2010 Olympic developments. The city struck back: Anti-Poverty Committee members were arrested and charged, and another anti-poverty group allied to them, the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, had their city funding cut off.

Vancouver City Council had dug in its heels, and Mayor Sullivan declared that the city was not going to “surrender to hooligans.” They weren’t going to do anything serious about the underlying poverty issues either. The promises to the poor, promises that had led many social progressives to vote yes in the plebiscite, were simply abandoned. Although many Vancouverites noted the broken promises, a large number didn’t really seemed to care, at least if the mainstream media were to be believed. In this regard, Vancouver mimicked Sydney where, “Sydney Olympic organizers relied on ‘Olympic spirit’ discourse to diffuse public outrage on the numerous occasions when Olympic officials failed to live up to the lofty standards touted in pseudo-religious rhetoric.”

[url=http://briarpatchmagazine.com/2008/07/21/olympic-profits/]Netted news on rabble, from Briarpatch Magazine[/url]

[ 01 August 2008: Message edited by: bigcitygal ]

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Thanks for that article, bcg. Comprehensive, clear and tragic.

It's the same fucking strategy urban 'developers' are using in New Orleans to kick out poor residents: neglect housing until they violate hygiene and safety bylaws so the city can throw up its hands and say 'we're just following orders.'

Another great point at the end of the article about the sinister and chilling double meaning of 'homeland security':


And just in case anyone in the Anti-Poverty Committee or any other organization had thoughts of doing anything even more radical, the Olympic security machine was beginning to sputter to life. As we will see, the 2010 security forces might not be able to do much against a real external threat, but perhaps that wasn’t to be their main purpose: Maybe their [i]raison d’кtre[/i] would be to contain domestic Olympic opponents.

Police our racialized, our poor and those who speak up on their behalf, all under the spectre of some non-existent foreign threat. I read an article in [i]Monocle[/i] Magazine recently--a posh British culture rag with a Canadian Ed-in-C--that rated Vancouver as 8th most liveable city in the world. They off-handedly mentioned how police were charged with cutting down homelessness. I wondered how much was included in the Van PD budget for implementing housing. 8th place is nothing. Movin' on up, Vancouver!


Our Fiberals have just recently opened the Willingdon Olympic Detention centre in Burnaby. Currently it is for people with mental health and addiction problems to check themselves in but the media keeps flying the idea that those aggressive panhandlers must be DEALT with. The government news release sets out it is only a five year project. I predict in 2010 it will house 100 homeless people from downtown against their will and if they are lucky they will be released in April 2010.

[url=http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2005-2009/2008OTP0039-000234.ht... Health Detention centre[/url]


Clients will include people with complex mental health and addiction challenges. First-stage clients will stay an average of one month, although it may be longer. Patients in the second-stage may stay an average of six to nine months, and that may be longer depending on the severity of their situation.

“The centre will benefit people who may otherwise be at risk of being homeless,” said Minister responsible for Housing Rich Coleman. “This is another good example of the work we are doing to address the issues surrounding homelessness for high-risk population groups.”

The lifespan of the retrofitted Willingdon buildings is expected to be about five years, and during that time, government will be planning for a long-term replacement facility to be located either at the Willingdon or Riverview sites. The experiences learned from the initial project at Willingdon will inform the location, structure and operations of the permanent facility.

It is nice to see our government has finally caught up to the Soviet practice of locking up disruptive people for Mental health treatments.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Taking the [i]Disaster Capitalism[/i] approach that was so ably uncovered by Naomi Kline, we could say that the Olympics are the disaster and the economic cleansing is the remedy. The public disorientation (and brainwashing) surrounding an Olympic event is perfect cover for the nefarious schemes that inevitably accompany it. But Klein's thesis would have to be modified to include man-made events that are packaged as great spectacles that are of some public benefit. Like the Olympics.

How's them apples?

[ 01 August 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]



China is wasting international goodwill with an Olympic security operation that makes the country look like a police state, according to the artist behind Beijing's spectacular new stadium.

Ai Weiwei, one of China's most influential intellectuals, says the government is using the "terrorist threat" as an excuse to strengthen its power.


Everyone else says - tell us about it. Obviously it's different in degree in China, but not in kind.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture


Obviously it's different in degree in China, but not in kind.

Obviously? How is what this architect saying any different from the police state to Canada's south?

Besides, bcg made a great effort to keep this thread on Canada's own culpability when it comes to using the Olympics as a tool of oppression.



Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]Taking the [i]Disaster Capitalism[/i] approach that was so ably uncovered by Naomi Kline, we could say that the Olympics are the disaster and the economic cleansing is the remedy.[/b]

Don't you mean 'you' could say?

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

What I find interesting is that perspectives change from the first time you host an Olympic event to subsequent opportunities. I genuinely believe that the majority of Chinese citizens are probably thrilled with hosting the games, despite any of the negatives. I imagine that we probably felt the same way with the Montreal games in 1976. After hosting the event, it was then possible to examine the pros and cons. Even at that, was there much public outcry against the Calgary Olympic games? I can't remember.

I do have to acknowledge that the games have grown considerably since those days so the impact is much greater. I think in general we are much more aware about the commercialization, costliness and negative impacts hosting the games have. But I do think that countries hosting for the first time do see it as a huge opportunity to showcase who they are and what they can accomplish. Right or wrong, it's a strong motivator.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

The games in Beijing are being called the most expensive in history, and I've seen endless stories of evictions to make way for facilities and to clear away "ugly" buildings. The Chinese have even gone to the extent of erecting 'green screens' around places that they feel would give Olymic tourists a negative view - even around entire neighborhoods according to the CBC's coverage. I wonder how folks behind those 'green screens' feel?

At least there will be outstanding facilities left behind once the games are over. Will those facilities be open to the average Chinese, I wonder, or just to the elite?


People might want to check out this blog post from a Toronto activist of Chinese descent which I found pretty insightful.

[url=http://linchpin.ca/Blogs/Olympics-Opening-Ceremony-White-Washing-State-R... Opening Ceremony: The White Washing of State Repression[/url]



Originally posted by Boom Boom:
[b]At least there will be outstanding facilities left behind once the games are over. Will those facilities be open to the average Chinese, I wonder, or just to the elite?[/b]

Given the prices of sporting events in Vancouver currently there is no doubt that it will be mostly the elite who can afford to use the new BC venues when the games are over.

The hundreds of millions spent on the Sea to Ski Highway are specifically so that the rich can scoot up to Whistler with ease to their resort chalets for skiing in the morning and then down to Fury Creek for golf in the afternoon. Most people in BC will never be able to afford to access the playgrounds we are building for the Howe Street business elite and their guests many who will be newly minted Chinese millionares

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture


Originally posted by kropotkin1951:
Given the prices of sporting events in Vancouver currently there is no doubt that it will be mostly the elite who can afford to use the new BC venues when the games are over.

That's outrageous - aren't those supposed to be public facilities when the games end? Or are they being privatized, sold to the highest bidder?

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

It's my opinion, fwiw, that any Olympic venues that receive public financing sould be available for use when the games are over to [i]anyone[/i] at minimal cost - say, perhaps, a small annual membership fee. If that doesn't happen, then I hope the disenfranchised will stage many noisy protests - everywhere - China, Canada, etc, anywhere that has sponsored Olympic competition.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/20797485/chinas_allseeing_eye... U.S. corporations are helping to build China's high tech Police State[/url], by Naomi Klein.

Canada's next on the list for conversion to an Olympic police state.

And from [url=http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/18379]another Klein article[/url]:


Much of the Chinese government's lavish spending on cameras and other surveillance gear has taken place under the banner of "Olympic Security." But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event? The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion — to put that in perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics just five months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure the games. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rights groups have pointed out that China's security upgrade is reaching far beyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated "safe cities" across the country, municipalities that have been singled out to receive new surveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all the equipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety — iris scanners, "anti-riot robots" and facial recognition software — will stay in China after the games are long gone, free to be directed at striking workers and rural protestors.

[ 10 August 2008: Message edited by: M. Spector ]



Originally posted by Boom Boom:

That's outrageous - aren't those supposed to be public facilities when the games end? Or are they being privatized, sold to the highest bidder?[/b]

Well some of them are supposed to be and many others are upgrades to existing things like Cypress and Whistler ski and snow boarding facilities that are not affordable now and I doubt if the prices will fall later.

[url=http://www.vancouver2010.com/en/WinterGames/2010GamesVenues/Competition]... Venues Info[/url]


The Whistler Sliding Centre

Venue Description

Located on Blackcomb Mountain in the resort of Whistler, the new sliding track is integrated into Whistler’s long-term resort development plans. The Whistler Sliding Centre will showcase sliding sports to the public. Its location near several of the resort’s world-class hotels will attract many tourists, providing a sustainable revenue stream that will support the Centre’s long-term operations.

Whistler Creekside

Venue Description

Consistently ranked one of the top ski resorts in North America, Whistler welcomes more than two million visitors each year. The resort has extensive experience hosting FIS World Cup competitions. The men’s downhill course for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games — the Dave Murray Downhill — is a very well-respected and challenging course. The ladies’ downhill course is Franz’s Run. All Paralympic alpine skiing events will also take place on Franz’s Run.

Construction Update

Improvements include contouring and reshaping of the men’s and women’s downhill courses, additions to the existing snowmaking system and an enhanced reservoir for snowmaking. Improvements began in summer 2006 and were completed in the fall of 2007. To date, 90 per cent of the course work has been completed, 100 per cent of the snowmaking pipework has been installed, the high voltage power distribution is substantially complete, and the main pump station has been completed. In fall 2007, the snowmaking system and course grading was finished and the skier underpasses were constructed. Temporary structures for the Games will be set up in August 2009.

Post-Games Use

Whistler Creekside will continue to offer a world-class ski area to recreational skiers. It will be a site for future international competitions and Canadian team training.

Whistler Olympic Park/Whistler Paralympic Park

Post-Games Use

Whistler Olympic Park/Whistler Paralympic Park will be a legacy for the enjoyment of local residents, visitors and athletes both recreationally and at a high performance level.

Cypress Mountain

Construction Update
Venue upgrades include modifications to existing runs, a new in-ground super halfpipe, a full snowmaking system and water reservoir, lighting, a new freestyle site for aerials and moguls, a re-graded parallel giant slalom (PGS) course, and the groundwork for a snowboard cross and ski cross course. The construction process began in May 2006, following a comprehensive environmental review. To date, the freestyle aerial and mogul coursework, including lighting, the upper half of the PGS course and the snow-making for the freestyle venue have been completed. The snowboard and ski cross venue coursework, snowboard in-ground super pipe and the snowmaking system for the snowboard venue and ski cross course have also been completed. The aerial judges’ tower, the upgrade to the BC Hydro feed and all other improvements will be completed in 2008.

Post-Games Use

Cypress Mountain is one of the most popular skiing areas in British Columbia,
attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The 2010 Winter Games upgrades will enhance the Cypress experience for recreational and competitive users.

Nice that rich tourists will have a better playground provided by taxpayers. They even get a nifty new highway to drive their Beemer's over. I know the average Lower Mainland family can't afford to ski at either Whistler or Cypress no but we are spending money to upgrade private holdings. A couple of the other venues might provide some reasonably priced recreation for citizens but this really is about enhancing our "tourist destination resorts" where our Howe street rulers like to play.

Maysie Maysie's picture

I wish I had seen this report when I started this thread, as the ideas are exactly what I was thinking of for the OP.

Report: "Mega-Events and Housing Rights" prepared by Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions released in June 2007 in Geneva.


Scholars studying mega or hallmark events have identified pre-event, event and post-event impacts, each of which may involve unintended and unanticipated consequences. Professor Kris Olds groups the housing impacts of mega-events into four temporal categories: (1) onsite impacts; (2) post-announcement
speculative impact; (3) pre-event tourist accommodation supply impact; and (4) post-event impact. These effects are sometimes felt long into the future. Parallel or collateral effects may also be felt, and while these may not be a direct result of the event itself, they nonetheless form part of the overall outcome.8 The
cause-effect relationship is often difficult to identify clearly, particularly as regards collateral effects, and impacts may be cumulative in nature. Mega-events can often also be a catalyst or excuse for other changes, so that while redevelopment programmes may not be directly connected to the construction of, for example, new event facilities, the two processes are intricately linked. Further, some impacts can entail both
positive and negative aspects; i.e. a desirable effect could include the upgrading of deteriorating structures or redeveloping and modernizing a city, while the undesirable consequence of this is often the displacement of groups that contribute to the diversity of the city.

[url=http://www.cohre.org/store/attachments/Mega-events%20and%20Housing%20Rig... of the full article, 40 pages.[/url]

Website for Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions: [url=http://www.cohre.org]here.[/url]

Maysie Maysie's picture


Olympic Hating: Is China Really Worse than Any Other Host?
By Thea Lim

If your city newspapers are anything like mine, you’ve been witnessing the regular old deluge of Olympics coverage. But the ‘08 reporting is special - mixed in with the diving stats is story after story about how China is corrupt, repressive and deceitful.

Take yesterday’s amazing headline from Canadian national newspaper, the National Post: Chinese Introduce New Sport: Deception. Or Tuesday’s story in the Globe and Mail, another Canadian national newspaper: Beijing static: Disagreements over whether to watch the Olympic Games or tune them out are dividing families. A Toronto Star story from a few weeks back details how the Chinese are not only secretive loonies but also warmongers: China Wages War on Olympic Weather.

I can totally agree that China has an awful human rights records; that what is happening in Tibet is horrible; that Beijing (and many other parts of China) are staggeringly polluted.

But here’s the thing: what Olympic host country hasn’t done terrible things that they should be held to account for? Hell, it’s often the chance to host the Olympics that motivates state violence. So why is China the only one getting called out?


Could it be that we’re just a lot more comfortable calling out The Other, the backward and the funny-looking; rather than slamming an elegant urbane metropolis like Barcelona, or criticising a great bastion of Western democracy like the US?

And we’re also more comfortable imagining people of colour in poorer countries as victims. The idea of Western citizens as impoverished victims is unsettling to us - so the MSM will give more air time to advocates for an important but distant cause like Sudan than it will to the problems of our own communities.

It’s not just the simple hypocrisy that gets my goat. It’s the way that the Beijing Olympics are being seized as prime chance to express our horror at nasty governments: so that we can distance ourselves from them. We can mark ourselves out as democratic, caring and 1st World in stark contrast to authoritarian, ruthless, 3rd World China.

In the Globe and Mail article one of the interviewees (smugly) states, “Awarding the Olympics to China was certainly motivated and inspired by a noble idea, but the experiment has failed.”


Harriet Nahanee was a 71 year-old Squamish elder (that’s right, she was 71) who was jailed for two weeks for her part in a protest against the construction of a highway upgrade in prep for the 2010 Olympics. Protesters stated the upgrade would damage ecologically sensitive land. When she was arrested fellow activists asked that Nahanee not be jailed as she was in poor health. Instead she was incarcerated; shortly after her release she died of pneumonia.

At an intercontinental Indigenous gathering in Mexico in 2007, delegates called for a boycott of the 2010 Olympic Games.

[url=http://www.racialicious.com/2008/08/14/olympic-hating-is-china-really-wo... can't stop linking to this amazing site![/url]


I saw a piece yesterday on CBC that made me sick. It showed all kinds of nice restaurants in Beijing with great looking food. But wait that was no the focus of the piece. They then interviewed a working class family were the Mom was making noodles for the family and she explained that they couldn't afford to go to restaurants like those because they didn't have the means.

My guess is I will be waiting for a long time in 2010 to see a similar piece were they show the Cafe Medici or other Robson Street high end eateries and then going to a regular family on the east side eating their Kraft dinner because the don't have the means for fancy restaurants.

I guess they can't find homeless people or starving people because if they could I am sure they would rush to publish.


I'm guessing China now has a middle classy larger than the US and Canadian populations combined. A new city the size of Edmonton is created in China ever two weeks or so. Chinese are paying cash for homes and enjoy personal savings rates of something ridiculous compared to here.



Originally posted by Fidel:
[b]I'm guessing China now has a middle classy larger than the US and Canadian populations combined. A new city the size of Edmonton is created in China ever two weeks or so. Chinese are paying cash for homes and enjoy personal savings rates of something ridiculous compared to here.[/b]

This is a pivotal moment in the history of babble! Fidel finally admits that the middle class exists! (Technically, he wrote "middle classy", but we know what he meant.)


I've lived through an Olympiad(LA '84) and your concerns are justified. In 84 Tom Bradley, Peter Uberoff, and Darryl Gates coordinated to sweep the homeless and prostitutes off the streets. They were predictably more successful with the homeless than with the pros, but that is to be expected given the proclivities of politicians and the sex industry.
One of the funniest moments during that year was hearing Police Chief Gates explain how hookers were to be diverted from off Hollywood blvd on to Cherokee st or Ivar st. Cherokee is a quaint residential street than runs just four blocks straight up hill from Hollywood blvd. Cherokee, despite its lovely suburban appearance, had and has a notorious reputation for prostitution. In fact it is joked that the price of the service can be determined by how up the hill you go for it.
Ivar which is farther east, and runs only a few blocks south from Hollywood is of course the home of Ivar Theater, at that time one of L.A.'s oldest strip joints. Tom Waits wrote "colder than the smile of the ticket-taker at the Ivar Theater."

Bradley and Gates also swept up the poor when Pope John Paul II came to visit. Ironically JP2 had decided to sleep at the rectory connected to the Hope Street Mission, an enormous and important homeless shelter run by the Church. Bradley and Gates(an erstwhile Alter boy) assumed that though the Pope wanted to celebrate serving the poor, he need not actually see them. The prostitutes never came up that trip.


[url=http://www.rabble.ca/news_full_story.shtml?x=74392]Media ignores Canada's record in the Congo leading up to Vancouver 2010[/url]


The mainstream media’s hypocrisy during the Olympics would be funny if it weren’t so ignorance-producing.

So many words written or spoken about human rights violations, lip-synching, suppression of Tibet, taped fireworks, Communist dictatorship, evil Chinese nationalism and yet what about context? Or what about how Canada might seem to them?

Has any media discussed Canada’s decades-long support of British imperialism in China? Opium War anyone? Dividing the country up among European powers?

How about Canadian business, missionary and diplomatic support for Japan’s brutal invasion of China in the 1930s? What about the weapons and $60 million Ottawa sent to aid Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang fighting Mao’s forces after World War II? Certainly one of the outraged Canadian columnists could have found room to mention Ottawa’s refusal to recognize the Chinese Communist government for 21 years?

remind remind's picture

VANOC, has applied to copyright a portion of our national anthem, which formerly was deemed uncopyrightable in its entirety.

They are applying to own the phrase:

"with glowing hearts"

And apparently they have gotten it and will be announcing later today they now own that phrase.


I guess its time to start printing t-shirts with excerpts from our anthem on them and dare Vanco to sue.