Faith Meets Life: Happy New Year for Vancouver's homeless?
True, pulling it off will be a great achievement. The facilities construction, the athletic training, the media coordination, the corporate sponsorships, the political cooperation and so on are, as with all modern Olympic events, of a scale and professionalism that impresses everyone.
Not to be treated lightly is the spirit of international cooperation that the Olympics may help inspire. I like to think of it as human cooperation without borders. Other benefits include the upgrading of sports facilities in Vancouver, the influx of billions of dollars into the BC economy, and of course, the enjoyment of athletic spectacles.
In all of this, is it easy to overlook some of the hard questions. For example, what will the Olympic Games do for the preservation of the environment? The mainstream coverage of the games trumpets the construction of buildings and competition sites that will have minimal environmental impact. However, it has to be said that the games themselves are a disaster where the environment is concerned.
Huge swaths of land have been cleared of trees. The environmental footprint of hundreds of millions of dollars of facilities and road construction has to be enormous. Tens of thousands of people flying into Vancouver for the games will mean the burning of millions of litres of aviation fuel.
And what about the social impact of the games? Again, it is tempting to focus only on the positive, raising the spirit of cooperation, and so on. However, we need to be more concerned about the impact on the already disadvantaged in our society than the thrills the rich will enjoy.
The websites of organizations critical of the Olympics are buzzing with disturbing news. “No Olympics On Stolen Land” calls the games a “corporate circus.” It claims that native groups are being seduced by lucrative government-sponsored deals into giving away their rights on large tracts of land. According to the site, the construction on new land for the Olympic Games is part of a larger government plan to work with Native groups to develop ski tourism and resorts throughout BC. The site states the obvious, that although ski tourism may be touted as eco-friendly, it really means the further destruction of natural environments. Rather than honouring “traditional” Native ways, modern development, even when it involves Native cooperation, undermines them.
It will be all too easy to forget the homeless and near-homeless of Vancouver who are being physically displaced by the housing created for the Olympic games. Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning writing in my church's monthly magazine, The Banner, raises disturbing questions about the justice of the Vancouver Games. The games will be out of reach of most people since very few are rich enough to attend. Laws are being enacted that threaten the civil liberties of ordinary Vancouverites. “Bubble Zones” have been created where only signs of a “celebratory” and “directional” nature regarding the games will be permitted.
And extra policing and surveillance will be everywhere. The life and limb of the rich will be protected and the poor better behave.