The Olympics are a nightmare from which Vancouver is trying to awake. And apparently, as opposition mounts to the 2014 Sochi Olympics in the context of Russia's violently anti-LGBTQ laws, a growing and celebrity-backed contingent including social media ninja George Takei wants to see the Winter Games restored to its previous hosts. As a colleague quipped on Facebook, "it turns out to prevent the olympics from returning, we have to close the hellmouth."
On one hand, maybe progressive British Columbians should welcome an Olympic return. We could make sure that all the promises of social housing in Olympic Village and elsewhere are fulfilled or that the public money converted to private profit is returned with interest. On the other hand, we know how that movie ends ha ha ha.
The real legacy of the Olympics is the deluge of low-income resident displacement and the crapulous real estate speculation which continues to make the prospect of housing affordability in Vancouver akin to how one goes about eating in space. Both have equal footing in reality for the average low- to middle-income family. But at least there's always the (two-car long) Canada Line.
With this painful reminder of our Olympic debauchery -- which has little to do with Canada's increasing success in Skeleton races or ski jump (ladies excepted, natch) -- proceeding apace, it's worthwhile to ask if another Olympics could make anything worse. Maybe we could actually scam another bike lane out of the deal -- which is perhaps more than we can expect as the average home price in Metro Vancouver tops three-quarters of a million dollars. If there's one thing our Mayor loves, it's bike lanes.
Yet even with such a juicy plum cajoling the (literally) prodigal son to return, I implore George Takei and his Twitter army to renounce the petition seeking to move the Olympics from Caucasian shores. The inevitable, cringe-inducing Canadian jingoism which would doubtless accompany them aside, the petition signatories are making one crucial mistake: the Olympics have nothing to do with human rights.
Ellen Woodsworth wrote a compelling column on this site which underlines the very real danger of allowing homophobic laws like Russia's to pass without notice: "Human rights are fragile," she writes. "Homophobia is very powerful and must be fought against by all -- locally and internationally." Indeed. But a petition which only attempts to maintain the Olympic status quo by moving it to another city is as cosmetic as Truthwinsout.org's petition to put Rachel Maddow in the Olympic anchor desk: as usual, a debate around human rights in the West resolves into a question over which celebrity would make a better host.
I would be remiss if didn't mention the campaign, popularized by Dan Savage, to boycott Russian vodka. (Really? Vodka? It's as if our only source of knowledge of the former Soviet Union is still pre-Timothy Dalton James Bond films.) Even so, at least this campaign, admittedly symbolic, attempts to target the craven backbenchers in tacit support of these unjust laws: corporations.
The same corporate names which this past Pride season stood in apparent solidarity with LGTB folks nationwide -- Roots, Royal Bank, Hudson's Bay, McDonald's, Coca-Cola -- find no difficulty attaching their names to an Olympics run by a government proud of its homophobic polices. A cynic might point out that they also had no problem attaching their name to the Vancouver Olympics, despite the calls for a boycott by some of Canada's Aboriginal peoples. Or, indeed, attaching their names to the 1996 Games in Atlanta, which preceded the enactment of the recently struck-down Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) by only a few weeks.
The story has been the same in every Olympic host city in recent memory: Rio de Janeiro, London, Vancouver, Beijing, Athens; the list goes on. Public money for private profit disproportionately shared across socio-economic class. Elite athletes benefit as long as they are within striking distance of a medal -- only the fifteenth best in the world? Tough luck. Grassroots sport and athletics see virtually none of this money. And no funds, of course, go to anti-oppression advocacy. The IOC doesn't even have a mechanism in place for evaluating human rights abuses in nations bidding to host the Games.
We know the Olympic narrative we're supposed to adopt, hypocritically boasted in their official protocols: "Rule Six: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement." A games based on peace, achievement, effort and love. The same games hosted by Adolf Hitler in 1936. The same games which saw Vancouverites betrayed by all levels of government and tricked by the half-moon braying promise that, finally, we were a world-class city.
So please, George Takei, for pity's sake don't send the Olympics back to British Columbia's Lower Mainland. We won't survive it.
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