Since I was a kid, I have loved watching Olympic sporting events. I love Johnny Weir's tassel. I want to run my fingers through Shaun White's hair. The chattering of skis as they cut past a gate, the whooshing of the bobsled and the roar of excited fans are all music to my ears. But this year, the Olympic games are tainted for me.
This year I am having a hard time relishing in the glory of the U.S.'s 24 medals (as of Monday) because I discovered something new, something I didn't know when I was a kid cheering for Picabo Street and Nancy Kerrigan. This year I was made aware of the staggering and appalling human rights violations accompanying the Olympics whenever and wherever they go.
Criticism of the Vancouver Winter Games has centered around the budget-busting $6 billion spent on hosting the event. Accusations by indigenous peoples in British Columbia have surfaced that ski resorts and other Olympic facilities were built on stolen land. Also, there has been a rash of criminalization and displacement of the poor, both in the construction of Olympic facilities and during the prep for the games. During Vancouver's bid for the Olympics and throughout the past week and a half, protestors from around the world have gathered in Vancouver to bring attention to the humanitarian and civil rights violations that accompany the Olympics.
But this isn't a phenomenon unique to Vancouver. Wherever the Olympics go, the money and space required to host the big games inevitably leads to the oppression of the poor. The poor are the ones who suffer the most when cities decide to forego public service expenses in favor of Olympic attention and debt. In Vancouver, for example, the city has cut back on public spending in order to fund Olympic-related projects. Cuts in public spending have meant a decrease in funding for social services, housing and health care to name a few.
In addition, since 2003, when Vancouver won its Olympic bid, the city has lost over 850 units of low-income housing. During the same time period, homelessness has increased from 1,000 to over 2,500, with some estimates ranging as high as 6,000. But again, this is not a problem specific to Vancouver; according to the Fair Play for Housing Rights report of 2007, since the 1980s the Olympic games have caused the displacement of over 2 million people. Olympic host cities, in order to make room for Olympic facilities and fund the games, flatten city blocks and rewrite city budgets. The flattening and the cutbacks inevitably and disproportionately harm the poor.
These troubling facts make it difficult to justify the existence of the Olympics. It makes it hard to enjoy watching Shaun White land a double McTwist. So it's no wonder the media in this country has largely ignored this dark side of the Olympics and the opposition to them. In most instances, the media has sought to demonize the protestors in Vancouver with footage of them limited to the smashing of store windows in downtown Vancouver (incidentally, the businesses have largely been those that played a major role in bringing the Olympic games to Vancouver, and additionally, were responsible for colonial oppression, such as the Hudson Bay Company).
The media's poor and biased coverage of Olympic oppression and resistance to the games has glossed over the gross violations to human rights at the Olympics. Nationalistic rhetoric and patriotism dominate Olympic news coverage, which serves to turn bad boys like Bode Miller into national heroes and role models. And who can blame them? The American public doesn't want to hear about the police brutality or increased homelessness associated with the Olympics.
But the only solution to this Olympic problem is one that requires the attention and support of the world. Once spectators and fans of the Olympics are made aware of the humanitarian and civil rights woes plaguing the games, perhaps something will be done to prevent the loss of homes and the emptying of public coffers. Let the International Olympic Committee and its corporate partners (McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Chevrolet) foot the bill for Olympic facilities since they are the ones benefiting most from the games. And put the interests of citizens and taxpayers ahead of those of the Olympics.
Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in English and French. Please send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.