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Countdown to the 2010 Games

For a city less than 24 hours away from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the mood in Vancouver seems decidedly uncelebratory; resigned would be a more appropriate way to describe the feelings of Vancouverites to the maelstrom that has begun to descend on the city.

Downtown Vancouver, the epicentre of the 2010 Games, has been transformed into one giant advertisement for the games, and more importantly, the Games’ corporate sponsors. Entire buildings have been wrapped in Olympic-sized advertisements, every billboard and bus ad bought up for exclusive use by the myriad exclusive Olympic sponsors, making the corporate presence at the Games impossible to avoid.

Police and RCMP from around the country, part of the $1-billion, 15,000-strong security force tasked with security for the Games are in evidence everywhere – as are the 900 CCTV cameras which have gone up in downtown Vancouver. Many of the streets near Olympic venues are blocked off by a maze of concrete blockades and fencing, already leading to traffic congestion which promises to worsen as thousands of spectators, athletes and media descend on the city in coming days.

The discussions I’m hearing in Vancouver coffee shops aren’t about the men’s hockey final or the Cultural Olympiad, but about the number of security personnel and the high cost of the Games, which recent estimates put at over $6 billion.

Some of the most telling conversations about the local attitude to the Games that I’ve had have been with cab drivers. Ask them about the Games and the exasperation in their voice is immediately evident. Despite support for the Olympic bid from the association of cab drivers, the reality of the Games has since soured them. Business in the weeks has almost completely dried up as conventions and visitors have avoided the city in the lead-up to the Games, they tell me, and even if the two weeks of the Olympics is a boom for drivers – and nobody I’ve spoken to believes it will be so, given the fleet of GM-sponsored VANOC vehicles employed to shuttle Games’ participants around – there’s no way they’ll make up for the revenue they’ve lost. They simply can’t wait, numerous cabbies have told me, for the Olympics to be over.

Convergence 2010

One place where there is excitement and energy is in the buildings playing host to the Olympics Resistance Network 2010 Convergence. Inside the cavernous Wise Hall, hundreds of activists from BC, across North American and even internationally have come together for two days of education on the negative impacts of the Olympics and the activities of the Games’ corporate sponsors, participate in workshops in preparation for a week of demonstrations focused on the Olympics. Tables are covered with information for out-of-towners, pointing them to the well-organized (and hopefully unnecessary) legal and medical support teams that have been organized.

A major focus of the Convergence is on the impact of the 2010 Games on directly impacted communities, most notably the poor of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) and First Nations communities throughout BC and further afield being impacted by the activities of some of the biggest Olympic sponsors, including PetroCanada, RBC, TransCanada Pipelines, DOW and Coca-Cola.

During the closing panel on February 10 , entitled “Indigenous Resistance and the 2010 Olympics,” Carol Martin, who works with some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable citizens at the women’s centre in the DTES, paused and broke into tears as she spoke about the impacts of the Olympics on the people she works with every day.

“When corporations are feeding of the backs of poor people we have to say enough is enough,” Martin stressed. “I’m proud to be part of this resistance. It’s time to bring the power back to the people.”

A February 11 press conference organized by the Council of Canadians focused on the truth behind the claims that Vancouver 2010 would be the “greenest games ever,” pointing out that many of the early green promises of the games have turned out to be nothing more than greenwashing.

“Whistler has received the bulk of the environmental destruction connected to these Games,” said Pina Belperio of the Whistler Chapter of the Council of Canadians. “The removal of pristine areas to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, including the clearing of the Village Forest for the Whistler medals plaza, the removal of the red-listed Nesters Wetlands, the loss of over 100,000 old-growth trees and grizzly bear habitat for the Nordic legacy trails in the Callghan, and removal of wetland and rare frog species to expand the Sea to Sky Highway are just a few examples of how the green claims made by VANOC and the Campbell government are just the latest in a long line of broken promises.”

Eriel Deranger, a campaigner with the Rainforest Action Network, spoke of the impact of the wider environmental impacts associated with one of the Games’ main sponsors, RBC.

“RBC, the world’s leading financier of tar sands and one of the primary corporate sponsors of the 2010 Winter Olympic games is profiting on the continued erosion of human and First Nation rights Alberta and British Columbia,” Deranger said. “RBC continues to finance and fund projects that ignore, subjugate and oppress First Nations rights by refusing to implement policies that recognize a model of free, prior and informed consent. No matter how much money they throw at these Games to try improve their image, they can’t ignore that reality.”

It’s issues like these that will be highlighted during the first major event to be held in response to the 2010 Games, Friday’s “Take Back Our City!” festival and parade, organized by the 2010 Welcoming Committee and endorsed by over 50 organizations, including the Council of Canadians.

Visit the Council of Canadians’ Flickr photostream for more images from Vancouver.