The Olympic Games have grown into a multibillion dollar industry. But with that growth comes concerns about the negative effects of the event on the people and places where the Games take place. On this edition, we ask who wins, and who loses, when the Olympics come to town? We take you to Vancouver, London, and Denver — the only city to ever turn down the Olympics.
Tom Wingate, London Metropolitan Police Olympic Community Relations Team inspector; Estelle du Boulay, Newham Monitoring Project director; Dominic Taylor, author of “Stop Search”; Rebekah Delsol, Open Society Justice Initiative program officer; Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, former Toronto University sociology professor; Dick Lamm, former Colorado governor; Ellen Woodsworth, former Vancouver city councilor; Jean Swanson, End Legislated Poverty founder.
GEORGE LAVENDER: This week on Making Contact
JACQUES ROGGE: The Games of the 30th Olympiad are awarded to the city of London
The Olympic Games have grown into a multibillion dollar industry. But with that growth comes concerns about the negative affects of the event on the people and places where the Games are held.
HARJAP GREWAL: We don’t see the Olympics industry as being that much different from these other institutions that are unaccountable to the people of the world. The IOC is like the WTO is like the World Bank in that it encourages the transfer of wealth from public hands to private pockets
GEORGE LAVENDER: On this edition, we ask who wins, and who loses, when the Olympics come to town? Vancouver 2010. London 2012. And Denver, the only city to ever turn down the Olympics.
I’m George Lavender and this is Making Contact a program connecting people, vital ideas and important information
Since the start of the modern Olympics in 1896, the Games have become a global event in which thousands of athletes from over two hundred countries take part. For the host country, it’s a chance to be called…
JUAN ANTONIO SAMARANCH: The best Olympic Games ever
GEORGE LAVENDER: Olympic officials say the event creates jobs and economic growth but over the years, there has been growing concerns about the impacts the Games have on host communities.
Among these, are concerns about the massive security operation that has accompanied recent Games. With the eyes of the world on London for the 2012 Olympics, the responsibility for security rests on the shoulders of the London Metropolitan Police. But their approach to this huge event has been questioned as Jessie Levene reports from London
JESSIE LEVENE: Rush hour in Newham, East London. Until recently, you wouldn’t have found this area in any tourist guidebook. It’s a poor neighborhood, a landscape of warehouses, high-rise buildings and fast-food outlets. But since 2005, when London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, this area has been changing fast. As one of the so-called ‘Olympic Boroughs’ of London 2012, Newham is currently undergoing a major face-lift. New train stations and the largest shopping mall in Europe are just some of the new facilities, but not everyone has welcomed the changes.
ALEX: It’s not for us is it? It’s for rich people, so you know, don’t bother me, Olympics.
JESSIE LEVENE: That’s Newham teenager Alex. He’s one of a growing number of local residents concerned about the unprecedented security operation which has accompanied the Games. Policing in Newham, says Alex, is unfair.
ALEX: If you’ve got money they probably help you out, but if you ain’t got no money and you’re a nobody they ain’t gonna do nothing for you. When my bike got stolen or when I got attacked they didn’t do nothing about it. I’m sure if it was the other way around, I attacked someone or if I stole someone’s bike, I’m sure they would have done a lot more than what they’ve done for me.
JESSIE LEVENE: ‘The biggest peacetime operation in British history’ is how the London Metropolitan Police describes London 2012. In Newham, you can’t miss the heightened security. Miles of electric fencing ring the Olympic Park, private security guards patrol the roads, surface-to-air missiles are positioned on the rooftops of local residential buildings, and a temporary police operations unit is being built on a nearby park.
JESSIE LEVENE: At a recent meeting organized by the London Metropolitan Police Olympic Community Relations Team, Inspector Tom Wingate argued that the policing of the Olympics would not interfere with the event itself.
TOM WINGATE: This isn’t a security event, this is a sporting event with a security overlay, and we’re there to support and assist and make sure that the event goes off safely. So the local policing will still remain the same, we still have local police for local issues, but it will be enhanced to make sure it goes off smoothly.
JESSIE LEVENE: But despite claims like this, the policing of Newham and the other Olympic Boroughs is nonetheless causing concern amongst many local residents.
ESTELLE DU BOULAY: We’re looking at a different policing situation this year. Our perception of the patterns that we’re seeing is that there is something of a clean-up operation going on.
JESSIE LEVENE: That’s Estelle du Boulay, director of Newham Monitoring Project, a local antiracist organization. They’re one of several groups who are monitoring the policing tactics that will be used during London 2012. One of those tactics is Dispersal Zones, which allows police officers to order any group of two or more people to leave a specified area. In May 2012, the London Metropolitan Police confirmed that a 3-month Dispersal Zone had been put in place in the neighborhood closest to the Olympic Park. But, says Inspector Wingate, the measure is unconnected to the Olympics.
TOM WINGATE: There’s no plans to put in the dispersal zones as per se purely for the Olympics [JESSIE LEVENE: Haven’t they already started?]. If they have certain areas where there’s a high rate in crime then it’s a local crime tactic to do that, it’s not just because the Olympics are coming here.
JESSIE LEVENE: But others disagree. Newham Monitoring Project say that Dispersal Zones are being used by the police to put much of East London on lockdown during the Games, and it’s not the only tactic that’s being used….
JOSEPH ALEXANDER: : I have a son, who’s 15 years old, and he was recently stopped by the police. His story reminded me very much of when I was younger. I said to him that he had to always make sure he was calm, don’t give them the excuse to just abuse you. This is the reality of London life.
DOMINIC TAYLOR: My experiences as a dad were fundamentally different from the experiences of black parents with their teenage kids, particularly sons. They’re sucked into the criminal justice system, their whole behaviour in the public space, I would suggest, is problematised and targeted.
JESSIE LEVENE: Two fathers, the first black, the second white, speaking about stop and search. You heard first from Joseph Alexander, a resident of a public housing estate close to the Olympic Park. The second voice is playwrite Dominic Taylor, author of ‘Stop Search’.
DOMINIC TAYLOR: If you walk around the city and you see who’s getting stopped and searched, you notice that it’s almost always black people.
JESSIE LEVENE: Rebekah Delsol of the Open Society Justice Initiative researches racial profiling by police across Europe, with a particular focus on the most common stop and search law in the UK, known as Section 60.
REBEKAH DELSOL: Looking at the figures for last 2 years since the peak in 2008 there does seem to be a reduction in Section 60, but what is particularly worrying about that is despite reductions in numbers of Section 60 the disproportionality levels are getting higher. Black people are 37 times more likely to be stopped under this power, and Asian people 10 times more likely, which is the highest levels of disproportionality we’ve ever seen in this country.
JESSIE LEVENE: With hundreds of police officers expected to flood the streets of East London during the Olympics, it’s that disproportionality which is worrying Rebekah Delsol, Newham Monitoring Project and others.
REBEKAH DELSOL: There’s a real concern around disproportionality in that the Olympics are taking place in boroughs that are heavily mixed. We’re particularly concerned about the knock-oneffects of that.
JESSIE LEVENE: Delsol points out that anger at police harassment was one of the primary motivating factors for the many young people of color who participated in the English riots of August 2011. The riots began only a couple of miles from the Olympic Park, in Tottenham, North London, and there were particularly violent scenes in Hackney, one of the Olympic Boroughs. Inspector Wingate of the Olympic Community Relations Team says the police have learned from the riots.
TOM WINGATE: We’re very very aware of what happened last summer, and it started in Tottenham and it escalated. We are working with the local communities across London, looking at community tensions, how we interact with the public, and actually how we make make this a successful Games and beyond.
JESSIE LEVENE: Despite these reassurances Estelle du Boulay of Newham Monitoring Project says East London’s ethnic minorities are in fact already seeing heavier policing.
ESTELLE DU BOULAY: The contact that we have with communities such as Muslim communities, black communities, people are starting to report increased stop and search, increased raids. So that to us it as if these are the communities that are not welcome, or that are feared, that might interrupt the Games in some way, and they’re actually now facing an increased targeting in the run-up to the Games.
JESSIE LEVENE: The London Metropolitan Police have branded their Olympics operation ‘Total Policing’, perhaps an effort to reassure the world that it won’t be seeing a repeat of last summer’s civic unrest. Yet concerns about the policing of London 2012 remain, say Joseph Alexander and Dominic Taylor.
JOSEPH ALEXANDER: With regards to the Olympics and how the policing is going to effect younger people I think it will proabably be, sadly, in a negative way.
DOMINIC TAYLOR: The difficulty with an event like the Olympics for policing is that any country, any city, wants to put its best foot forward, it wants to show its best side. So therefore you have one kind of clean up. I think that that’s the particular concern leading up to the Olympics is that the thing that is already going badly will go worse.
JESSIE LEVENE: The London 2012 organizers and the Metropolitan Police say that a higher level of security is necessary for a safe and secure Games. But others are concerned that the impact this will have on communities will continue long after the athletes and cameras have left town, and that this will be the true legacy of London 2012. For Making Contact, I’m Jessie Levene in London.
GEORGE LAVENDER: To find out more about the impacts the Olympic Games have had around the world, we spoke with Helen Jefferson Lenskyj a former professor of sociology at Toronto University, and author of three books on the Olympic Games
You’ve written a lot about the Olympic industry could you tell us what you mean by that?
HELEN JEFFERSON LENSKYJ: There’s a huge mythology around the Olympic Games. The Olympics will bring prosperity, the Olympics will bring civic pride all these kinds of things. This rhetoric is masking the true costs of hosting the Games and the fact that tax payers pay a huge chunk. So I use the word industry to draw attention to the fact that sport is just the tip of the iceberg and that what is largely hidden is the big multinationals are profiting from having their product as an official Olympic product. The television networks, the hotel industry and so on are profiting. It’s not just about pure Olympic sport it’s about capitalism, it’s about the profit motive, the largest part of it, and the sporting competition is a vehicle for that.
GEORGE LAVENDER: Who benefits from hosting the Olympics?
HELEN JEFFERSON LENSKYJ: There are certain sectors of society that profit from the Olympics. The real estate industry and developers, the high end of tourism, the sponsors the broadcast rights holders. On the other end of the spectrum the lives of poor people are generally made worse by the hosting of the games. The impacts on housing and homelessness are very serious. Negative environmental impacts are an issue. The suspension of basic human rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are one of my key concerns and it’s not just in countries like China it’s in countries like Australia or England as we speak
GEORGE LAVENDER: How do the Olympic Games curtail freedom of speech?
HELEN JEFFERSON LENSKYJ: The host city agreement requires that the organizing committee guarantees that there will be no protests in or near Olympic venues. Just about every recent host city since the 1980s has used that requirement to clamp down on basic human rights to protest to assemble to have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. Some of the legislation in Sydney was still in place 4 or 5 years later because it was very convenient for the local politicians and businesses, to privatize some of the areas that had been close to Olympic activities, to keep them privatized for special events
GEORGE LAVENDER: Helen Jefferson Lenskyj thank you for speaking with Making Contact
HELEN JEFFERSON LENSKYJ: You’re welcome.
GEORGE LAVENDER: You’re listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. If you’d like more information or for C-D copies of this program, please call 800-529-5736 . Because of listeners like you, this show is distributed for free to radio stations in the U.S., Canada and South Africa. To find out how to support us, download shows, or get our podcasts go to radioproject-dot-org. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter—our handle is making-underscore-contact.
GEORGE LAVENDER: As the cost of hosting the Olympic Games has grown over the years, so too has opposition by local residents, concerned about whether their communities can afford the financial and environmental burden
But only once has a host city rejected the Olympic Games after they were awarded. That city was Denver, Colorado, which had won the bid to host the 1976 Winter Olympics. The Games had to be cancelled in 1972 after a successful ballot initiative cancelling the use of state bond money to pay for the Games
Dick Lamm was a leading figure in the campaign to stop the Denver Olympics. He spoke with Making Contact Producer, Andrew Stelzer
ANDREW STELZER: So first of all, could you summarize the reasons you opposed the Olympics back in the early 1970s?
DICK LAMM: Well there were two major thrusts. Number one is that it was very apparent that the Olympic organizing committee was underestimating the costs and overestimating the benefits, or at least I thought it was clear. All you had to do was look at the fact that Montreal was a billion dollars in debt, that Sapporo, Japan was a billion dollars in debt after the Olympics. So cost was one of the major factors. The second one was the fact that Colorado was already the third fastest growing state and I, and an awful lot of other people thought why spend all this money on a ten day event promoting Colorado when we already had enough growth we were having trouble handling it? So two wheels on the bicycle, one is cost, the other is the growth issue
ANDREW STELZER: So how did you turn those issues into a successful campaign?
DICK LAMM: Luckily one of our papers anyway, was truly in the great tradition of the press . Editorially they supported the Olympics but they were an honest press people who held the Denver organizing committee accountable. I would say that on at least 20 occasions there was a big headline in the paper saying the Denver organizing committee had done it again and there’s an increase in the cost. By the time the vote came the estimates were so substantially more than they had originally said we were able to make the argument that Colorado is a small state we had two and a half million people at the time, it was already beset by a number of demands on the budget. We were, as the host state and city, we were the insurer of any shortfall. Given the size of the shortfall in other places, this was a risky adventure. And when the people and the voters saw the magnitude of what they’d undertaken, they had certainly second thoughts.
ANDREW STELZER: Was there a lot of door knocking a lot of grassroots activity, people trying to organize the population or was it mostly, as you’ve been describing, played out in the press?
DICK LAMM: There really was. At least there was in places where the Olympics were going to be held up in our mountains. More specifically in Evergreen. There was an incredible outpouring and the Governor even went up there. The people in Evergreen were up in arms. They were knocking on their neighbors doors they were organizing and sending us money. Colorado is a big geographic area, we didn’t have any money, we ran no ads in our defense. They ran all kinds of ads in favor of the Olympics. It really was a matter of neighbors knocking on neighbors doors. This was the biggest subject when you went down to the local coffee house this is what was talked about, and after church. Was Colorado, had we bitten off more than we could chew?
ANDREW STELZER: So in our program today we’re looking at opposition to the Olympics in other cities, Vancouver, London, Rio. And it seems like these days while there may not be community opposition to the level we saw in Colorado, there still are a lot of complaints to overdevelopment, how low income people are being displaced to build facilities. So I’m wondering, what are your thoughts about the protests we see in other towns around the world on these topics, and what is your advice in general to these other cities?
DICK LAMM: My advice would be: don’ t overreact. Hold your organizing committees accountable. Make sure that there is a realistic cost-benefit analysis and then be very careful to factor in things like security. I think that’s what’s going to be one of the problems in London, the unknown quantity of security that they’re going to need there. And those are indirect factors that also go to the heart of whether or not these are worthwhile for a community to go after
ANDREW STELZER: Dick Lamm was a 3 term Governor of Colorado and as a State Assemblyman lead a successful drive to keep the 1976 Olympics out of Denver He’s currently the co-director for the Institute for public policy studies at the University of Denver. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
DICK LAMM: No problem, my pleasure. Good interview!
GEORGE LAVENDER: While Denver is the only city to have stopped the Olympics from taking place, there has been organized opposition at every Games in the last 30 years.
In Vancouver, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, a coalition of community groups came together to oppose the games, Activists questioned the government’s promises of a positive legacy for Vancouver after the millions of tourists left town. Two years, after the Games, reporter Frieda Werden looks back on that struggle.
FRIEDA WERDEN: The Downtown Eastside has long been described as ‘The Poorest Postal Cod in Vancouver, Canada’. But nowadays, people in new high rise condos can look down at folks who sleep on the street. Much of the development came with the hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2010. Ellen Woodsworth was a city councilor opposed to the Olympics and supportive of public housing and the homeless.
ELLEN WOODSWORTH: During the Olympics, the eyes of the international media were on Vancouver, they saw the beauty of the city, the mountains, the ocean, the potential of it as a young city, and people started looking around for inexpensive land and the –obviously the Downtown Eastside had a lot of inexpensive land.”
FRIEDA WERDEN: The downtown eastside community did not welcome the international developers, they’d been organizing since their experience of Vancouver’s first mega-tourist adventure: The World Exposition on Transportation and Communication in 1986.
ELLEN WOODSWORTH: People had been forced out of the Patricia Hotel and many other hotels, when, people came to Vancouver for Expo and one person actually died, “
FRIEDA WERDEN: That was in 1986
ELLEN WOODSWORTH: Yeah, people in the Downtown Eastside remember that. The people go to the Downtown Eastside because there is a community there– a very supportive community. And First Nations people often go there because there’s a good community of First Nations people, so you can find people who speak your language, who understand how cities work, and, can help you find resources including affordable housing, so everyone was very afraid that with the Olympics that SROs – um Single Room Occupancy hotels, would be converted into backpackers’ hotels, which they were; that the cost, of the housing in the Downtown Eastside would go up, which it did; and that you know there would be gentrification because of the international media attention.”
FRIEDA WERDEN: Activists on the Downtown Eastside recognized that international media attention could be a two-edged sword. Jean Swanson is the author of poor bashing: the politics of exclusion, and founder of the Downtown Eastside based coalition End Legislated Poverty.
FRIEDA WERDEN: Was there any indication that the Olympics might be good for housing for the poor and homeless people?
JEAN SWANSON: Well in 2006, we knew that the Olympics was coming in 2010 and we got together and thought, ‘Well, how can we use the Olympics to embarrass the government into doing something about housing?’. So we started thinking that way.
FRIEDA WERDEN: When the Mayor unveiled the Vancouver Olympic countdown clock, in February 2007, Downtown Eastside activists were right there, with a Homelessness Clock of their own.
ANNOUNCER: The one with the red hair and the blue jacket, Wendy –you are the spokesperson.
WENDY: In 2002, 600 people were counted as homeless in Vancouver; in 2005, that number jumped to 1291, and people believe there’s more there. And in 2006, 28 hotels were sold, for more than double or triple the assessed value in the Downtown Eastside, and, they represent well over a thousand units of housing, it’s probably closer to 1500 units of housing. That’s one quarter to one fifth of the entire housing stock in the Downtown Eastside, is all of a sudden at risk of becoming immediately unaffordable., right? ‘Cause you know if you have a $3 million dollar mortgage you need to charge higher rents. And there’s no protections in place, and there’s escalation of the speculation.
JEAN SWANSON: There were some so-called sustainability clauses in various Olympic agreements, and one of which was about housing, where um the Olympics was supposed to be good for housing.
FRIEDA WERDEN: Again, Jean Swanson. Her coalition reluctantly joined the government’s Inner City Inclusivity Housing Table, which brought together many sectors, including business. Their mandate was to tell the City, Provincial and Federal Governments how to implement their housing sustainability commitments.
JEAN SWANSON: We got unanimous recommendations for higher welfare rates, building 3200 units of housing, buying hotels, and uh having housing at the Olympic Village be social housing. And in fact our recommendations were so good that the government refused to hold a news conference announcing what they were, and we had to leak the report, but the good thing about was that it let us set the bar as to what the Olympic housing commitments were, so we defined them, and basically they were to build 800 units of social housing a year – which of course wasn’t done. But it let us continually point out that the commitments were not being made.
FRIEDA WERDEN: Activists held protests and picketed Olympic events to bring their demands to the government and Olympic organizers. For three years in a row, the community hosted Poverty Olympics:
ANNOUNCER: Three, two, one – The 2008 Downtown Eastside poverty Olympics! I understand there is another some kind of Olympic thing that’s happening someplace else in BC, with a $6 billion dollar budget? This is our Olympics. $6 budget. Thank you very much.
FRIEDA WERDEN The Poverty Games, had sporting events… Competitors had to jump over Housing Hurdles, and navigate the Broken Promise Slalom. . Poverty Olympics mascots, like Itchy the Bedbug and Scratchy the Cockroach drew attention to the conditions many residents in the Downtown East Side faced. And the Poverty Olympics Torch Relay took the message farther…
POVERTY TORCH RELAY TEAM: “It’s a 6 day, epic trip through 10 communities, almost 100 kilometers. And we have one torch-bearer, who pushes a big, ten-foot, 200-pound torch.”
RADIO JOURNALIST: Oh, beautiful.
POVERTY TORCH RELAY TEAM: Watch out, watch out, watch out! Sorry. Our torch is quite tall and we really have to watch for overhanging trees on the sidewalks. We just ran into one.
FRIEDA WERDEN: The torch relay kept the negative impacts of the Olympics in the public eye as the cost of the Games skyrocketed, from a predicted 1.2billion, to at least $6 billion dollars.
POVERTY TORCH RELAY TEAM: We’ve just been really blown away by all the people talking to us and telling us their stories, their struggles – working 2 jobs to get by, to put food on the table; having their hours cut, um, not having the re-training opportunities that they want. And I just want to say that BC wins. BC wins gold, for having the worst child poverty rates in the country, for the 6th year in a row – one in 5 children in BC are living in poverty. So most British Columbians agree with us that too much money is being spent on the Olympics. And most British Columbians want the government to do something about these issues of poverty and homelessness. They actually want the government to commit to some kind of poverty reduction plan.
FRIEDA WERDEN: The struggle continued throughout the Olympic Games. After the opening ceremony in February, activists set up red tents for homeless people on a vacant lot in the Downtown Eastside. Tent City offered publicity, safety in numbers, hot food, and home-grown entertainment. Jean Swanson sees the organizing as a partial success.
FRIEDA WERDEN: Did the government do anything towards any of the commitments?
JEAN SWANSON: Well, yeah, they did. What we got was in 2007, the province bought about 25 old hotels, and they also made a commitment to fund housing on 14 city sites, which is about 1400 units of housing. So it didn’t add up to much, you know from 2007 to now it maybe added up to 250 units a year – nothing like the 800 that we need, but it was better than nothing.
FRIEDA WERDEN: So, do you think that there would have been nothing at all if it wasn’t for your ability to put pressure during the Olympics?
JEAN SWANSON: Well I don’t know, can’t say for sure, but – but I think the pressure probably helped.
Six of the promised social housing buildings are completed as of Summer 2012, But other social housing has been torn down, and a major shelter closed
For Making Contact in Vancouver, I’m Frieda Werden.
GEORGE LAVENDER: That’s it for this edition of Making Contact. Special thanks to the Vancouver Media Co-op, CJSF-FM community radio in Vancouver and Working TV for archival recordings.
For more information:
- Newham Monitoring Project
- Open Society Justice Initiative
- ‘Stop Search’ by Dominic Taylor
- Poverty Olympics
- Games Monitor
- Counter Olympics Network
- Anti-Olympic Archive (Vancouver Media Co Op)
- The London Olympics is a corporate lockdown – why not a Games for all?
- London 2012: army reinforcements called in for the Olympics
- Chronic Vibe, “I Knew I Was Right”
- stic.man, “So Focused”