In less than a year from now Canada will once again be center stage to two pinnacles of amateur athletic achievement as Vancouver hosts the 2010 Olympic, as well as its quieter younger sibling, the Paralympics. Recently though, the Paralympics have developed a stronger voice. During the last Paralympics in China, the CBC only covered about 2 hours a day, and condensed the three hours of opening ceremonies down to one. There have been various outcries about this, but I think the strongest message came from ticket sales for 2010. According to CBC News, the gold medal sledge hockey game nearly sold out on the first day.
I am among the excited ticket holders eagerly awaiting this once in a lifetime opportunity, but as someone who is also concerned about anti-poverty issues and the environment, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. The Paralympics tickets are inexpensive to purchase, but there is a bigger cost hidden behind these games.
There are many of these hidden costs behind the games, but the ones that stand out most from the point of view of the Paralympic games are the costs to the poor and to the environment. Many people on low incomes are people with disabilities, and impacts to the environment increases health issues related to disabilities.
In the Bid Book for Vancouver 2010, organizers promised that no one would be evicted as a result of the games, but this promise has not been kept. Landlords are selling off affordable housing to create more presentable, more expensive housing in time for the games.
“Since winning the 2010 Winter Games in 2003, Vancouver has lost over 850 units of low-income housing; during the same period, homelessness has increased from 1,000 to over 2,500. It is estimated by 2010, the number of homeless may be as high as 6,000.” (Source: http://www.no2010.com )
One could argue that this is out of the hands of organizers, but the sustainable affordable housing that they had promised to build at the athlete’s village. This was originally planned to be a model sustainable community, with state of the art energy efficiency, and a mix of market and social housing. The Vancouver city council dropped the plans for subsidized housing in 2005, and sold the lands to a private developer for 193 million dollars.
A million dollars of Olympic Legacy money was also spent on Project Civil City. This document basically criminalizes people in poverty in Vancouver, including new by-laws to criminalize begging for money and sleeping outdoors. It also includes tax dollars being spent on new garbage canisters on streets that make it more difficult for the poor to gather recyclables, and new benches that make it impossible to lie down. While some people in Vancouver might approve of this “social cleansing”; I’m wondering where these people are supposed to go, and how they are going to survive these games.
The environment is also a cost of these games, but this cost cannot be refunded. Claims and PR statements about “the greenest Olympics ever” have been made in Olympics prior to 2010, but when it actually came time to prepare for the games, that statement did not hold up. It comes as no surprise that Vancouver is following their lead. Thousands of trees have been cut down and mountains blasted in preparation for these games. This has major consequences for black bears, salmon, endangered spotted owls, and many other species, including ourselves.
An area of considerable concern is Eagleridge Bluffs. This is a nesting area for bald eagles, and cutting down the trees will eliminate a rare ecosystem. The Ministry of Transportation’s own report stated that Eagleridge Bluffs and the Larsen Creek Wetlands are “extremely rare, unique, and highly susceptible to disturbance.” This area is having a highway plowed through it so that people can drive to games, despite alternate methods of transportation. The Vancouver Sun recently released an article stating that Canadian athletes won’t be told to wear sealskin at the games, but they were considering it.
Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that we stop the games entirely. I think that we need to re-evaluate their cost, and do things more sustainably. Do we really need all of this destruction and social discrimination for a three week party? Is this really the Olympic legacy we want to leave for future generations?
Many people are pushing the Olympic Committee for change, but few are looking to the Paralympics. To me the Paralympics represents social change and public recognition of people with disabilities as contributors on the international stage. I also believe that with that recognition comes some responsibility to ensure that we are not passing the oppression we face as people with disabilities onto people in poverty (which includes people with disabilities) or the environment.
At the very least those of us who by tickets or otherwise support the games should look at this like we do with carbon footprints. We can’t undo what’s been done, but we can do things to improve the situation. The disability movement does not exist in isolation; we can and should use our existing advocacy networks to make sure that the planning committee is accountable for its impact.
Equality for people with disabilities should never create the oppression of others. Part of the International Paralympic Committee’s vision is to”Inspire and Excite the World” by contributing to a better world for all people with a disability, so let’s include the people of Vancouver.