Skip to content

Update on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

September 3, 2009

An update from Mediascapes contributor Michael Real, September 2009:

The press narratives about the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics have continued to be familiar ones. Social activists decry the size of the outlay of public funds. In a city with a large and obvious homelessness problem, lethal gang-based drug traffickers, social services on basic budgets, a policing system embarrassed by the taser death of a Polish immigrant, and many other competing public needs, protests have been frequent. The public vote in 2003, with 64 percent favoring hosting the Games, means that there is nonetheless more than a third of the population opposed to it.

One year before the games, a front page account of real Olympics costs raised eyebrows. The January 23, 2009, Vancouver Sun put together a detailed budget sheet for the Vancouver 2010 Games. The Province of British Columbia insisted tax payers were paying only $500 million, but an estimate of combined federal, provincial, and municipal costs for infrastructure and the Games in reality added up to almost $5 billion ($5,840,862,600 in Canadian dollars). This included the off-the-Olympics-books costs of $3.5 billion to upgrade the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler, improve rapid transit, and expand the Vancouver trade and convention center, which would serve as the Olympics broadcast center. In addition to these costs, when the budget for security jumped from $150 million to more than $800 million less than a year before the Games, many accused officials of either unrealistic planning, deceit, or both.

The formal Olympic part of 2010 preparations has proceeded smoothly with plenty of lead time and prior testing of facilities, unlike Athens and Turin. The obvious expectation emerged that the Vancouver Olympics would be efficiently successful for athletes, events, and ticket holders, but with many sidebars of criticism and political debate. But the global economic downturn has created new pressures – on Olympic budgets, sponsor dollars, provincial support, and possibly ticket sales. Vancouver politics are the opposite of Beijing’s – so volatile that the paraplegic mayor, who famously rotated his wheelchair as he waved the Vancouver flag in the Turin closing ceremony, was voted out of office more than a year before the Vancouver Games.

Here are possible contrasting back stories. Vancouverites will protest the Games while visitors praise the dynamics of the city, whereas Beijing residents praised their regime while visitors questioned it. But, in any case, there will be a vast difference of scale. The attention of the world was focused on Beijing. Vancouver faces the threat of being lost in the abundance of television channels, Internet sites, and public distractions. If it draws low television ratings and fails to capture world attention, the public expenditure on the publicity value of hosting the Olympics will have been in vain. The Turin Winter Olympics in 2006 lost out in American television ratings to reality shows like Dancing with the Stars. The meta-narrative begun in Turin may continue: The Olympics are losing the power to dominate global public attention.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: