IN HIS RECENT OPEN LETTER to David Cameron and the IOC, Stephen Fry calls on Britain and the International Olympic Committee to move the Olympics out of Russia rather than boycotting them. He suggests a couple of places, among them Utah and Lillehammer, Norway. Notably absent from the brief list is the most recent winter Olympics host city, and the one I currently call home, Vancouver, BC.
Apart from giving me the chance to see Patrick Chan perform in person (I only arrived here in the fall of 2010), there are a few key reasons the IOC should consider bringing the games back to Vancouver.
The first is simply a matter of infrastructure. The facilities have been built, the homeless people have been kicked out, and the Athlete’s Village of condos (the ones the mayor promised would be snapped up as soon as the 2010 games rolled out) has been standing empty, waiting for this moment, for the past three years.
Sidney Crosby may have failed two years ago in his Gregor Robertson-appointed task of spurring the sale of almost 500 leftover units, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give him a second go.
The government of British Columbia has also proven itself adept at the kind of number crunching that means the province billed as The Best Place on Earth (For real. Check our license plates.) always looks like it comes out on top. Through the release and re-release of stats and information, and the impeccable PR touch of the BC Liberals, a second Olympic Games can surely be used to make it look as though the premier is doing something about the growing disparity between affordable housing units and people who need them.
And speaking of infrastructure, let us not forget the debacle that was the opening ceremony of the 2010 games. I watched from my favourite bar in Kingston, Ontario, trying desperately to be proud of my country and the city I would soon inhabit, as one after another, enormous white crystals rose off the ground so the points crossed high in the air. Until one of them didn’t. Speed skater Catriona Le May Doan was left holding the bag, so to speak, when her flaming pillar steadfastly refused to leave the ground. If that doesn’t deserve a do-over, I don’t know what does. The thing was eventually hoisted into place and still stands in downtown Vancouver, a monument to the Canadian spirit of apologizing for our mistakes and then failing to clean them up.
The second reason is, of course, money. The budget for the games varies wildly depending on who you ask, but even a conservative estimate puts the number somewhere over a billion dollars. And that number doubles if you include highway improvements and the cost of building a new Skytrain line to escort athletes from the airport to their condos. But these are things that only need to happen once, and if we give the city the benefit of the long view, things start to look a lot brighter.
If millions of dollars of public money seems a little exorbitant for one cycle of the games, surely spreading the cost over two cycles is perfectly palatable. We could even use revenues from the event to make up for recent cuts to social housing initiatives. In fact, I’m sure this is what VANOC has had in mind the whole time anyway.
Someone pointed out to me earlier this week, as I lamented the tainted noblesse of the Olympics that, no matter the year or the location or the degree to which we can see it, the games are always this way: a collection of narratives extolling the transcendent nature of sport draped over a sturdy framework of political strife, human rights violations and oppression of one kind or another. So it seems the real magic of the games is the power to make us temporarily blind and perpetually forgetful. It’s enough to make a person miss Dick Pound. But it leads to yet another upside to the bringing them back to Vancouver. Most of us have already forgotten that the unofficial title of the Vancouver Olympics was The Poverty Games.
Boycotting, as we’ve seen in the past, does little to punish powerful nations and attending under duress would be a protest in name only. So rather than have everyone stay home, I propose that I stay home and everybody else comes to me. It seems about as reasonable as any other suggestion I’ve heard.
Finally, as a queer and a sports fan myself, I’d also like to see the IOC uphold its mandate to promote cross-cultural education and understanding by denying violent homophobes the chance to host the event that’s already on the verge of being tarnished beyond repair. If the committee can do that, perhaps the Indigenous peoples on whose land the Vancouver games were built might feel less surly about the usurpation of their territories. Maybe.