Vancouver’s streets ain’t made of gold

By Sydney Stokoe

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last several years, allow me to fill you in. It’s 2010, and the Vancouver Winter Olympics are but a day away. The impending games have been drawing a great deal of media attention since they were announced back in 2003.

Although the real figures aren’t in yet, it’s estimated the games will end up costing somewhere in the area of $6 billion when everything is added up. Keeping in mind that the last winter games in Turin cost a total of $4 billion, this seems rather high.

What is it about these games that cost so much more? Every city that has hosted the games has had the same basic costs, so why are the Vancouver games expected to cost $2 billion more than the previous event? Perhaps a security budget of almost $1 billion dollars has something to do with it.

There is money coming from corporate sponsorships, but numbers are down from past games. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has been unable to sell a great deal of the $12 million worth of billboards purchased for games advertising. Besides corporate money, and contributions from the International Olympic Committee, the remaining costs are coming from taxes. Between federal and provincial Governments, $510 million has been put towards the Capital Infrastructure Budget, for the development of things such as the Richmond Olympic Oval. That’s a considerable sum of money considering the state of the economy the past couple of years.

Despite the fact that VANOC was calling for a $78.2 million deficit back in October, they claim to be “on track” with the budget. Sure, if “on track” means a jump in the security budget from $175 million to over $900 million. Perhaps the reason they don’t seem so worried is that the IOC, in an unprecedented move, has agreed to cover the deficit that VANOC may incur due to lack of sponsorship. This is a move that the IOC has never made in the history of the games.

With all of the costs and budget extensions, it would seem the only people making any money off the games would be VANOC, considering they have $30 million allocated for employee bonuses.

All these costs are meant to make Canada look good in the eyes of the world, and from a technical standpoint, the infrastructure built for the games — including the Olympic Oval, renovations to B.C. Place and the revamped sea-to-sky highway — is certainly impressive. It’s a shame that they had to go and do things like banning charity organization Right to Play from setting up booths on Olympic grounds because of sponsorship.

Right to Play is an organization that sends Olympic athletes to underprivileged communities all over the world. They bring organized play to children in impoverished areas, fostering sportsmanship and teamwork.

Unfortunately, Right to Play is sponsored by Mitsubishi, which is a conflict considering General Motors is one of the main sponsors for the games. Right to Play has been barred from Olympic grounds on a sponsorship technicality; doesn’t seem very sportsman-like, now does it?

So where is the line? When does this move from sporting event to look-at-how-much-money-we-can-spend? It is interesting to note that despite the fact that the economy has been in the hole during development for the games, organizers still managed to spend more than their fair share of money. When a country is suffering from economic woes, particularly given the reported cost overruns of the past year, the government would seemingly do better to put more money into social programs than bailing out the floundering budget of an organizing committee.

With all of the pre-Olympic drama, it’s easy to forget that the games are actually about the sports. I would like to see an event that is focused on the athletes; we have some incredible talent coming out of this country. It’s a shame it only gets noticed when we’re hosting the event. Considering all of the money the government is pouring into the Vancouver games, it’s surprising that very little of this money actually goes towards our athletes, most of whom live at or below the poverty line so they can represent Canada on the world stage. One would think that if the government can find the billions necessary to host the games, they can find a bit of money to help our own athletes.

Last I checked, this was a sporting event, a chance for nations to gather in the name of fair play and sportsmanship. The Vancouver games have turned into a five-ringed circus of media bullshit surrounding sponsors, deficits, displaced people and all of the other rigmarole that we’ve seen over the past few years. Lets get on with the games already. After all, that’s what this is all about, right?

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