To many, the Olympic games are something that we all look forward to and do not necessarily consider much beyond the excitement and shows of national pride in which they bring with them. As such the Olympics are present as a chief example of the ‘mega-spectacle’ essentially using sport as its commodity to proliferate society’s landscape and profit off of (Kellner, n.d., p. 1) – people oftentimes are so in awe of the spectacle itself that they do not necessarily consider other aspects which lay beneath what is actually being sold to them. The commodity of sport in this instance is thus being sold to the public via commodified nationalism (Szto, C. 2018): VANOC presented an image of a unified and multicultural Canada as a bright and content front. In reality, Canada is certainly not as satisfied with its currently cultural landscape and there are many groups which felt excluded and exploited by the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games. Admittedly, before taking this course I had never even considered the possibility that the ‘big games’ could ever really have a negative impact on society as a whole; I always simply believed what I was told being that they were a positive investment to local businesses and tourism. Unfortunately, the reality here is that it would seem that more often than not, hosting cities of the Olympic games are left with debt and a myriad unused and abandoned facilities.
The Mega Event Syndrome
As previously delineated, it is a common feeling for individuals to become infatuated with and blinded by mega spectacles such as the Olympics, getting too caught up in the bustle and events of the games themselves and not really taking the time to stop and consider potential impacts. Martin Müller refers to this as, ‘Mega Event Syndrome’ (2015, p. 6). Müller states that this includes ‘symptoms’ of overpromising benefits, underestimating costs, and public risk taking to name a few (2015, p.7). It appears as though no matter how many times nations may observe other cities and countries as a whole succumb to this ‘syndrome’, when it comes their turn, they too will usually experience at least some of these ‘symptoms’.
As such, although many key stakeholders of the Olympic Games might contest, BC seems to have fallen victim to this following the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. To some, these games seem to have been widely dismissed as an overall success when compared to the likes of past events such as the Rio Olympics and their impounding debt and abandoned architecture. Yet, the latter does not necessitate that the Vancouver Olympics were a fault-free event which reaped nothing but success – in actuality, they were quite the opposite.
To those who have taken it upon themselves to examine the Olympic Games on a deeper level, many issues arise. Firstly, and most obviously, the sheer cost of hosting the Olympic games should be enough to make any major city hesitate; one of the most substantial examples being the 2016 Rio Games which cost the city 15$ billion USD (Clift et al., 2016, para. 5). Second most notably, is the issue of infrastructure leading up to and following the games; much new development is needed in order to accommodate for the games themselves as well as the vast onslaught of tourism (Clift et al., 2016, para.7). This being said, the time following the games is never taken into full consideration in these decisions as more often than not, much of the Olympic infrastructure sits vacant. The latter is only to name a couple of the many challenges cities face and accept when hosting the Olympics, and it is thus useful to examine our hometown Olympics specifically.
Under the Microscope – the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games
It is important to first delve into the Vancouver games and point out just some of the major areas it went wrong which were masked behind all of the excitement and façades of the Olympic games. One of the principle reasons that the Vancouver games are viewed as uniquely ‘successful’ and void of error is due to the fact that they “made concerted efforts to repurpose infrastructure and leave a lasting legacy of sporting facilities, housing, and public infrastructure” as well as the seemingly responsible spending splitting from provincial, municipal, and federal government (Tomalty, 2016, para. 4). While the latter ensures that the Vancouver games did not fail in every aspect, it certainly does not account for the areas in which they did struggle.
The overall legitimacy of the games was not fully taken into consideration – billions of dollars were to be spent in the city with the highest level of poverty (Perry et al., 2012, p. 579) on Olympic games that would last for but a month. To many, the latter did not make complete sense in terms of the sheer amount of funds to be spent on a mega-event which may not even have had the potential to aid in terms of major issues such as poverty and homelessness in the city. “For a lot less than $6-billion, you could have built a lot more mass transit that would have transformed the city… We had a party and some people had fun. Partying is something you do when you have your other stuff done. You don’t party when your kids still have to be fed” (Keller, J. 2017, para. 29). Further, the Vancouver games’ marketing was problematic to many as well; they promote freedom of speech and ameliorable relationships across the nation when in reality VANOC has somewhat of a monopoly going on in which freedom of speech was stifled and thus any dissent to the game was not even heard in the larger narrative (Perry et al., 2012, p. 579).
(Source: Vancouver Sun)
Notably, one of the most problematic aspects observed in the 2010 Winter Games was that concerning equal representation of citizens. While Bilingual Francophone and English dialogues were supposed to be present in all aspects of this mega-event. While one of the event’s major successes was the presence of bilingual signage, it fell short in nearly all other aspects of the games as there was a large divide of languages in many of the events leading up to and at the beginning of the Olympics; some venues did not even hire enough bilingual volunteers and the French version of the program was difficult to find online while its English counterpart was available everywhere (Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 2010, p. 9).
The Exploitation of First Nations
In terms of the national identity being presented to the public, it is clear that VANOC largely used aboriginal relations to their advantage, incorporating their symbols into logos and the like.
As such, the aboriginal community seemed quite split on the matter; the leaders were offered money and jobs but the longevity of these opportunities was not guaranteed (Lupick, 2007, para. 15). As such, the sacrifice seems to be that much of the aboriginal community’s land and territory will be compromised and completely changed. Most notably, the façade which was put on by the Vancouver winter games involves the suppression of their difficult past in the favor of a new, vibrant and happy storyline to present to the public, thus Canada’s aboriginal past was not fully enveloped in the narrative; this thus impacts the way in which the younger generations will identify with their aboriginal past and heritage (Lupick, 2007, para. 17).
Leading up to the 2010 Winter games, aboriginal leaders began to identify the Olympics as a cause for the continue erosion of the aboriginal title in the province (Mickelburgh, 2009, para. 2). Using aboriginal signage and heritage as a major marketing and narrative of the Vancouver games as a principal part of our truly ‘Canadian’ identity. In reality though, all of this funding which could have been used in so many other beneficial ways were in fact instead allotted to the Olympic games. Vancouver put forth this façade that the Canadian Olympics take full measure to ensure that their aboriginal community members are given equal opportunity and representation yet the funding for the former First Nations Snowboard team was cut with no explanation along the way (Forsyth, 2017, para. 14).
It would seem as though past the Aboriginal’s difficult past in the Canadian historical landscape has been swept under the rug, yet many were still not ready to forget and move on leading into the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The land on which the games were held remain to be ‘stolen’ from the aboriginal people and they felt exploited that these games were being held on and taking away even more of their land (O’Bansawin, 2009, p. 143) while also using their heritage as a form of national identity, presenting it far from what it actually is. This idyllic world is one only present in the imagination of VANOC which miss the real stories of violence and colonization which in fact made this country a possibility (Bourgeois, 2009, p. 41). They instead created their own ‘marketable’ image of Canada as a unified and content front to display on the world stage: one that is simply not true.
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Lupik, T. (2007). First Nations Divided over 2010 Olympic Games. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/janice-forsyth/indigenous-people-olympics_b_9935138.html
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Szto, C. (2018). CMNS 324: Media, Sport, and Popular Culture week 5 notes [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://canvas.sfu.ca/courses/36641/files?preview=7427309
Tomalty, R. (2016). The Legacy of the 2016 Olympics in Vancouver. Island Press. Retrieved from https://islandpress.org/blog/legacy-2010-winter-olympics-vancouver