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You Can’t Make Me Watch the Olympics

“I don’t support the Olympics,” is a phrase I’ve said repeatedly to friends and family and it’s one that rarely gets any backlash. The person I’m speaking to either stays quiet or faintly asks, “Why?” and as I begin to list the reasons, their Olympic-loving side tunes me out almost immediately.

“It’s all about the athletes,” I often here. Except that it’s not.

My partner loves the Olympics. They tout the merits of extremely disciplined and inspirational athletes; how hard these athletes work at their passion and how great it is that there is an outlet for such sport. Many athletes spend their every waking hour training their bodies and minds for these competitions, and they train really hard. “That’s not the part I dislike,” I told my partner. And they nodded like they knew what I was about to say.

People don’t challenge me because they know what’s going on, they just don’t want to talk about it.

CBC published an article today with the headline: ‘At the end of the street, you see total misery’: Life 2 blocks from billion-dollar Olympic reno. It’s the familiar story of what is happening blocks away from multibillion-dollar buildings, structures, pedestrian parkways, and sky-high visitor centres – all money spent on creating a face for international tourists. It’s the familiar story of a city turning its back on the societal and economic problems that lay just beneath the surface of the Olympic facade. It’s a reality that no one on ground level wants to discuss, unless it affects them personally.

In the CBC article Kim Brunhuber reports that two blocks away from the Rio Olympics the cost of living, food, and gas is already increasing due to “multibillion-dollar Olympic beautification,” pushing the working class out. And the troubles didn’t start with the games, they began with the construction of the structures long before the games.

“There were a lot of puddles from the new light rail line, and when it rained there was dengue, chikungunya, and lots of things,” seamstress Marina Modego is quoted in the article. “Almost everyone in the neighbourhood got sick.”

Yeah, it’s a great time to host the Olympics in Brazil… In the middle of a recession, the outbreak of the zika virus and urge by prominent doctors to postpone or relocate the games, with residents on lock-down and schools closed to ensure travellers see the safe and secure side of Rio… It’s a great time to host the games in a country whose population can’t even afford to attend the games.

This is a pattern that hasn’t change.

More than 2000 people, including youth, in Vancouver’s downtown eastside were displaced before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, an effort by the city to “clean up the streets.” Among the mistreatment of those living below the line was cultural misappropriation of Inuit history, an abhorring amount of greenwashing during what was considered to be the “greenest” Olympics ever, and the misdirection of social housing in the Olympic Village that was said to be the city’s answer to their downtown eastside community housing problem.

In Beijing in 2008, entire factories (over 300 of them) were shut down partially or completely, putting families out of work in order to control the haze hovering over the city. Much like Vancouver, a large number of migrant workers and people living on the streets were forced to leave Beijing alongside expats and foreign students due to visa restrictions. A number of language schools, local businesses, and nightlife were hit hard because of this.

In 2000, well aware now but too young to understand at the time, I remember the games being relocated from Berlin to Sydney. It only took a series of protests and over 10, 000 people in the streets for the government to pay attention. Why must we fight so hard?

I don’t watch the games because the practice of a commodified industry overtaking a city like a black cloud is not okay.

When the facade of a secure, safe, clean, fun, and frolick-able city remains the primary goal of the Olympic Committee above the security, safety, and social and domestic rights of its own citizens, it’s not okay.

Economic growth and stability is important, but not at this rate. Cities struggle, and so do their people, and that’s okay. Don’t brush this under the rug. What creates a city of stability and growth is acceptance and education. Use Olympic spend to create alternative ways to build a secure, safe, clean, fun and long-lasting identity for the cities it occupies. Create infrastructure. Create local business opportunities. Create jobs, and circumstance, and centres of education.

I don’t watch the Olympics because every season it’s the same story. I refuse to believe this can’t be done another way.

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