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Opinion

2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony: What about Vancouver's homeless?

As long as the Olympics change locations, ill-equipped cities like Vancouver will make cosmetic preparations that only exacerbate local issues.

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Because of this pressing dilemma, community organizations met with the VANOC and agreed on the urgent need to build affordable housing before the Olympics. But this did not occur. As VANOC went bankrupt and the government stepped in, assuming billions in debt, low-income housing was nixed.

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When investment banks act irresponsibly, causing the loss of billions of taxpayer dollars, we make new regulations to ensure they act responsibly. The Olympic industry is a similarly oversized dinosaur, with host city taxpayers footing the bill for the bailout and receiving a lower quality of life in return.

Recent examples of massively indebted host cities include Sydney, Australia; Barcelona, Spain; and Athens, who are still paying off debt taken on to finance the games. In 2004 Athens spent $12 billion on hosting, 5 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product. Beijing beat all previous records, not only blowing $40 billion on Games readiness, but also evicting from 6,700 to 1.5 million people from housing in real estate development areas, depending on whom you ask.

In Vancouver, 69 percent of residents agree that way too much was spent on the games. The protesters are out and will keep on coming. There have been Poverty Olympics, with a bedbug as a mascot, and the homeless enthusiastically participating in spoof sports. Numerous organizations, including the Olympic

Resistance Network, 2010 Watch, and No 2010 will all demonstrate. Pivot Legal Society’s Red Tent Campaign will place red tents throughout the downtown event areas that will shelter the homeless, emblazoned with statements like “Housing is a right.”

The Olympics do bring the world together. The spirit of the Games and the prowess of the athletes are not in question. What is in question is the structure of the

Olympic industry, which is based on moving the Olympics around the world. No host city has ever made a profit, according to Robert Barney, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Few host cities feel their investment justifies the human or fiscal costs.

The simple solution to the “host city curse” is to locate the Olympics in the same place and keep it there. It’s time to assess how the local impact of the Olympics detracts from the ultimate message of the Olympics – that of global understanding.

Taraneh Ghajar Jerven is a Vancouver resident and a freelance writer. She holds a masters degree in Economic History from London School of Economics. A former event producer, she spent two years planning and running financial conferences throughout Europe.

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