Vancouver Province column: If meltdown hikes Olympic price taxpayers deserve a greater say

October 12, 2008

It’s been a turbulent couple of weeks for the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee.

Last week, at a Toronto forum on amateur sport, federal politicians scrapped over the long-simmering issue of including women’s ski jumping at the 2010 Games. This comes on top of Canadian ski jumper Zoya Lynch joining a lawsuit aimed at forcing VANOC to bring the women’s event into the Olympics mix.

But it doesn’t end there.

Many British Columbians were left shaking their heads in the wake of the recent decision to ban the charity Right To Play from the athletes village in 2010.

And now folks in Vancouver are coming to grips with the impact of the global financial crunch on the construction of that same athletes village — raising the grim spectre of taxpayers bailing out the project if funding dries up.

Funny thing is, following the stunning Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Vancouver Games seemed to have all the momentum and public support it needed. The impressive progress of local Olympics venues and related transportation projects, plus some worthwhile community outreach, had won over some previous critics.

And in a textbook case of public relations gone laughably awry, some shrill protesters seemed to move more British Columbians into the 2010-friendly camp when they crashed the launch party for the Olympic Spirit Train in Port Moody and traumatized some children.

But recent events are threatening to undo all of that pro-Olympics energy.

Wall Street’s meltdown is now being felt across the globe. Some economists predict the banking shakeout could put Vancouver’s party straight into the red. The online publication Around The Rings speculates the economic crisis will take a serious toll on 2010 ticket sales.

While there’s still hope for a moneymaking Olympics, these world events should give British Columbians reason to pause, and ask for a more influential seat at the Olympics table — especially if they’re going to be on the hook for cost overruns.

In addition to hot button issues like women’s ski jumping and Right To Play, there are also important post-Games legacies to be considered.

What kind of neighbourhood will the Olympic Village be after the Games have come and gone? Will it be a gathering place for many, or just another yuppie ghetto?

And will the Olympic Line, a modern streetcar route connecting the village to Granville Island, be something more permanent than a two-month long demonstration project during the Games?

The good news is that provincial and municipal elections will be take place in in B.C. over the coming months. It’s a great time to ask our political leaders some tough questions about the Winter Olympics and their aftermath.

We should listen carefully to their answers. A successful and financially viable staging of the Games could lie in the balance.

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Filed under 2010 Winter Olympics, Architecture, British Columbia, Commuting, Culture, Gentrification, Neighbourhoods, Politics, Protest, Real Estate, Sports, Transportation, Vancouver, Vancouver Province Columns

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