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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 February 2010

Winter Olympics: Shortage of snow but no shortage of debts?

THE 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics have started in the Vancouver-Whistler area of Canada. Many Canadians are looking forward to the sports and hoping for gold, especially in ice-hockey. However there are growing concerns about the costs and problems the Olympics will cause.

Socialist Alternative (CWI in Canada) reporter, Vancouver

The Montreal Olympics, in 1976, give a stark reminder of the huge expense involved. Before those games, Montreal's mayor, Jean Drapeau, said that "the Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby". But the games cost the city $1 billion and the debt for the games was only paid off in 2006 - 30 years later!

People in Vancouver were assured the games would not result in a huge debt burden, but that now looks less likely. The City of Vancouver carried out major cuts to services this year, while spending an unknown sum on the Olympics though it is certainly several tens of millions of Canadian dollars.

The province of British Columbia (BC) has also fired workers, cut funding for schools and libraries, and art funding has almost been abolished, with cuts of over 90%. Canada's federal government is also cutting services while pouring money into the Olympics.

Rising costs

When Vancouver was awarded the games, the cost of security was estimated at $175 million, now it is $900 million, a five-fold increase. 25,000 people are involved with this security. Worryingly, the police put terrorists, protesters and homeless people in the same sentence when talking about the issues they may have to deal with. We could see aggressive police behaviour during these games. Already they have planted undercover agents among protesters.

There has been some construction but one of the biggest costs was upgrading the one road connecting Whistler to Vancouver beside towering mountains. A railway line runs along this route but the province decided to spend at least $600 million and damaged key environmental areas, to widen the highway.

The construction involved blasting granite mountainsides. The railway line has had no investment and is still only used for freight - what a missed opportunity!

Around Vancouver, roads are closed, transport is disrupted, stores face inconvenience, and people are warned to expect long delays waiting for buses as Olympic traffic takes priority.

This winter's weather has been mild and there is so little snow on the nearby mountains for some competitions that the Olympic organisers used trucks and helicopters to bring in snow for the games!

The organisers go to great lengths to protect the commercial interest of the sponsors. The City of Vancouver has introduced a by-law, claiming it is to protect Olympic sponsors, that bans 'illegal signage'. It allows the authorities to remove posters from people's homes, and restricts the right to hand out protest leaflets.

Environmental damage

As resentment at the inconvenience and cost of the Olympics grows, the City of Vancouver gave its staff a120-page glossy handbook, with 'guidance' on how to behave during the Olympics. It had such gems of advice as workers should wear socks that match the colour of their trousers, should always smile gently, and must not put their hands in their pockets or cross their arms.

But, at the same time, some city staff are losing their jobs and all Vancouver will have reduced services, as the city's employees are busy on Olympic duties.

The games will see some great athletic achievements. Canada may win some gold medals and there will be some good parties. But will it have been worth all the money, environmental damage and inconvenience?

No doubt, when the Olympics are over, the people of Vancouver, BC and Canada will have huge bills to pay. There will be some new sports facilities and a new highway. But the same amount of money could have been spent improving sporting facilities and developing the economy and environment in a planned and integrated way.

After it is all over, Vancouver will still have a big homeless problem and the environment will have taken a hit. London: get ready for 2012!

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In The Socialist 17 February 2010:

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Winter Olympics: Shortage of snow but no shortage of debts?

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