Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Civil Liberties Nightmare: Is the Sorry Story of the Vancouver 2010 Games Repeating Itself in Chicago

Vancouver professor and Olympics Resistance Network organizer Chris Shaw came to Chicago early this year at the request of No Games Chicago, and spoke of the immense public debt, destruction to public parks, and "frontal assault on civil liberties" that have been the results of Vancouver having won the 2010 Games. Chris had the following to say regarding Vancouver's experience with the Games so far:

"Chicago Should Avoid Following in Vancouver's Olympic Missteps

I look back to 2003 and what is happening with Chicago's Olympic bid is eerily reminiscent of Vancouver's successful bid six years ago. Then, as now, bid boosters were promising local citizens the world: fame, wealth, and the host of goodies that would flow from a nod from the IOC. Vancouver's then mayor promised that the 2010 Games wouldn't cost the citizens 'one penny", that provincial and federal funds would be leveraged for local needs, and that the entire process would be completely transparent and accountable. Bid organizers promised a host of goodies including "the greenest Games ever", an arts legacy, and "social inclusivity" (short hand for social housing). It was a lovely dream and many Vancouverites bought into it. In a non-binding Vancouver plebiscite, some 64% of Vancouverites voted for the bid to go forward. The same question was not put to the rest of the province of British Columbia because the sitting Premier knew it would fail miserably.

Six years later, a majority of Vancouverites who supported Vancouver's bid are having serious second thoughts as the early predictions of the "nay sayers" and "party poopers" are turning out to be frighteningly accurate. Those who opposed bringing the Games to Vancouver, and I was one of them, noted that cost estimates for staging the Games were vastly underestimated while at the same time as the benefits were grotesquely overestimated.

We were right, and in spades. In the run up to the IOC's decision, Vancouver's mayor had said the Games wouldn't cost us one penny, but the reality was quite different: construction costs at city venues blossomed to finally approach a $100 million shortfall. Three hundred million dollars more were dumped into an ill-considered subway line that may have been influential for the bid but was not a solution for local transportation. Security costs to be born by Vancouver are still unknown, but could easily be $100 million for the city alone. Endless 'hidden" costs have also accumulated. Finally, as the final blow, Vancouver's choice of the developer for the Athletes' Village went insolvent forcing the city to take over the project and putting it on the hook for nearly $1 billion.

Taken all together, the city with an operating budget of under $900 million and a property endowment fund of about $1.4 billion found itself facing a nearly $2 billion dollar Olympic debt. In brief, with a combination of bad planning and an utter lack of due diligence, Olympic boosters had brought Vancouver to the brink of bankruptcy. The overall cost to all levels of government for the 2010 Games will likely come out at about $10 billion. London's 2012 Games, a likely harbinger for Chicago, is now, five years in advance, already at nearly $20 billion in projected costs.

The financial headaches are only part of the overall meltdown. Building the various venues and roads had not given us the greenest Games ever, but the opposite: over 100,000 trees cut down (much of it old growth), endangered species habitat destroyed or threatened, wetlands bulldozed, and a massive
3.5 megatons of carbon dioxide released before the Games are over.

Poverty continues to climb in Vancouver with an estimated 3,000 homeless on our streets. The best the city and provincial government can come up with so far is a plan to move these "eyesores" away from the city before the Olympics start in February 2010.

Civil liberties? Forget them. The security services have now concluded that the potential for domestic protests against the Games is a greater threat than Al Qaeda and legislation at all levels of government is aimed at suppressing legitimate dissent. Since those opposed to the 2010 Games don't plan to simply give up and lie down, we now face the prospects of preventative arrests and the widespread suppression of civil liberties. If the current trends continue, February 2010 will see massive clashes between protesters and police.

So if this is Vancouver's past, present, and future experience with the Olympics, what should Chicagoans think and do?

First, look at all the facts and the real history of the modern Games. Evaluate the bid organizers' claims with the greatest skepticism since just like those of the Vancouver boosters, they will turn out to be illusions if not complete lies. Determine what real estate projects the boosters want you, the taxpayer, to fund for their benefit using Olympic dollars. Consider the impact on the environment, the poor, and the democratic process. Consider the overall cost and don't be swayed by arguments that claim that hosting the Games will bring economic benefits. The latter is an utter falsehood at the best of times. In the current economic circumstances, it is criminally irresponsible. Finally, think what the billions of dollars wasted on a three week circus could actually do for your community."

For Vancouver, it's too late. The circus is coming to town, the money largely spend, the damage done. And the best we can do is to limit the fallout. Chicagoans still have a choice in the matter and have to show the IOC that the Games are not right for Chicago. The time to stop the bid is now, not after it has won. Look to Vancouver's experience and you will see your future. If you stop the Games from coming to Chicago now, those of us in Vancouver will know that we have saved at least one future city from the Olympic machine."

Now, what more could we ask for by way of previous history than this testimony? Note the striking similarities between the Vancouver process and our own. The subway line that is to be built specifically to accommodate visitors but which does not meet urgent local needs, the Olympic Village that had to be paid for by the city because the developer went broke, the massive cost overruns and abysmal failure of the promoters to account for the inevitable steep costs for security that were sure to arise, and the transformation of a lovely, livable city into a veritable police state- it's all here.

Can we really expect Chicago to do any better, given the long, hoary history of political corruption in Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois? Have we ever been able to rely on our officials for truth and transparency?


consultant said...

I want to update my comments from my last post.

The swim facility on Georgia Tech's campus was turned over to the university, along with the Olympic Village, which was converted to student housing. The village was originally transferred to Georgia State University (another large state university here in the city). They used it for a few years, but it was too far from their campus, so they negotiated a deal with Tech to take over the very large, former Olympic Village.

A soccer field (converted to a football field) was built on Clark/Atlanta University's campus and a basketball stadium was built on Morehouse College's campus.

That's it. The rest of the venues were left in various states of limbo or dismantled.

The North Coast said...

And for all THAT Atlanta taxpayers forked over $500M.

Here in Chicago, the City Council is having the IOC hold meetings in all the wards to take the temperature of the public and try to sell the event to them.

Well, judging by the climate at the meeting the other night, and by remarks posted on an online petition opposing the games, the support for the event is eroding rapidly since the mayor pledged, at a meeting in Switzerland, to cover any shortfalls developers might incur in the construction of the stadium at Washington Park or the Olympic Village. Dumb, naive Chicago denizens actually got it through their skulls that they might actually have to PAY for this party.

We're hoping that the IOC will be scared off by the controversy and choose another city. They are known to absolutely hate heat, and will back away if it looks like there will be too much controversy.

consultant said...

A long time ago, the retired UC-Berkeley Prof. of Sociology, Harry Edwards, suggested a permanent game site should be built on each continent. The games would rotate on a schedule among these sites.

This was way before the costs soared out of control. Along with the costs, the politics and corruption have rolled out of control. The IOC essentially plays cities against each other for the "privilege" of hosting the games. At each stop of the selection process, they are feted like kings. The whole thing is crazy.

Your central point is correct. Is the whole thing worth it? To the athletes, yes. To everyone else in the host community, absolutely not.

Charles said...

In London, most of us sat back saying 'No way will they EVER award the games to us...' - big mistake!
That they could claim 'little organised opposition' was a key factor in saddling us with the unfolding nightmare that with enough effort upfront, Chicago may yet avoid.

Good luck.

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