Olympic Games Primer: Time For Some New and Old Approaches? Op. Ed.
By Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor
The Olympic Games began in 1896. Although the Olympics are regularly attributed to the people of ancient Greece, there was a 1,500-year hiatus between the original and current games. The first of the modern games were held in Athens, as a tribute to the Grecan roots. In 1926, the first winter Olympics was held. At that point, the Olympics started being held every two years, rather than every four. The modern day Olympics were meant to mimic the ancient Greek belief that art, culture, and sports could be celebrated harmoniously, and that this would, according to the Olympic Museum, strike a healthy balance between exercising the body and mind. Theoretically, this does not sound like a controversy, in fact it sounds ideal and balanced.
The Olympic Games have arguably moved away from their essence. Corruption, ecological degradation, cultural appropriation, and politics have polarized the games, rather than uniting different people, as is (or was) their intention. It must be possible to celebrate the athletic attainment and culture of the host cities in a more progressive, inclusive, and just way.
The Olympic Museum articulates that when “the Games are used for political ends, the Olympic idea is placed under threat.” They list seven well-known examples: the 1936, the Nazis controlled the Games; in 1976 in Montreal, 22 countries boycotted the games due to New Zealand’s rugby team touring South Africa which still had a legal apartheid; lastly in 1984 in LA, the Soviets boycotted the games due to the commercialization of sport. These large political divisions are hardly the tip of the iceberg in terms of people affected or divided by the modern Olympics.In Vancouver in 2010, there were many local issues. Many of these flew under the radar to elite and wealthy visitors, and were well hidden by Olympic organizers. However, homeless people living in Whistler were forced to relocate to Squamish where an emergency shelter had to be set-up, so they had somewhere to survive. In Vancouver, there was a tent city of more than 100 people set up. Frank Harris, one of the community organizers at tent city, told NY Daily News, “They spent $8 billion on these Games, for a two-week party. If they had used one-eighth of that, they could have housed permanently our homeless.” BC Housing found 35 units of housing the day after an intrusive protest was held in their office, but before that could not find any of the tent city occupants any housing. So, is there no way to celebrate a city a little less expensively and help our own? Would this diminish political actions during the Games?
In post-Olympic Beijing, many of the very expensive stadiums are abandoned, or close to. Some are still costing money; according to the Globe and Mail, as of 2012, four years after the Olympics, the famed water cube stadium was still having its’ water changed each day despite not being used, and the kayak venue was just sitting vacant, for example. In China, there is much poverty, but the environmental impact of building this infrastructure only to serve a two-week purpose should also be factored into the decision to host the Games.
In Russia in preparation for Sochi 2014, corruption has already hit hard. International Olympic Committee member, Gian Kasper, believes that one third of the money going towards infrastructure for the Olympics has disappeared due to corruption. Money was going to a sort of construction mafia with connections to Vladimir Putin, as was reported by Graham Dunbar of the Associated Press. The entirety of the Olympics’ building costs is estimated to be roughly $51 billion, with that number continuously rising. Even though these types of accusations are astounding, it is not the first time construction has become incredibly more expensive than predicted; in the 1976 games in Montreal there have been long allegations of corruption in the construction dealings, including the $1.6 billion Olympic Stadium (once again, an expensive, but rarely used building).
These examples are still barely grazing the surface of the far-reaching issues of the massive Olympic games. There are many other issues resulting from throwing such a luxurious two-week event, such as: the 100 sled dogs that were slaughtered after the Vancouver Olympics because they had nowhere to go after the events were done. In London, in 2012, 500 low-income families were moved over 250 kilometers to the already over-crowded Stoke-on-Trent to make room for Olympic-based guests’ accommodations. Some, including Nick Malkoutzis of Business Week, have attributed the 2004 Athens games as the last blow that started the Greek economic collapse, with a cost of roughly $11 billion.
We can also look at the potential benefits of the Olympic Games. With so many people of different cultures coming together, now by both literally being at the games and through social media, the power of such a huge collaboration should be able to be harnessed. Although such a large establishment has many complexities, here are some simple thoughts that might solve some Olympic woes:
1. First and foremost, go back to the original values of rejoicing in athletic endeavors while celebrating the culture of a host city. Manufacturing a town so heavily for a two-week gathering is resource intensive, both economically and ecologically. The boom-and-bust of a neighbourhood can have negative social effects on the people who live there, depending on the context. It might be desirable to dress up the town a bit, but completely reinventing parts of it is not consistent with celebrating its culture, considering the culture itself is being changed.
2. The IOC currently looks at the cities’ blueprint for the games. Perhaps the IOC should also be influenced by which cities have sustainable (economically and ecologically speaking) ideas that go beyond their two-week scope in a city. For example, more efficient public transportation that is accessible to the cities’ population.
3. Currently, the city changes each two years between the two sets of Olympics, and then does not return to the host city, with some exceptions. After a city builds the infrastructure, it would be much more inexpensive to host twice. It might be beneficial to consider changing the outlook on that. For example, perhaps a winning city hosts the Winter or Summer Olympics twice within 12 years, and then can plan accordingly.
It might be partially a case of going back to the basics for the Olympics, but it is also a case of progressing towards a structure that fits into today’s needs. The Olympics have the ability to bring many people together; let us make it do so, rather than dividing people amongst classes and beliefs. Let us celebrate the achievements of the people and the populations of the host cities, rather than elaborate and expensive posturing.