The 2010 Winter Olympic games are just over six months away from visiting our fair city & region & I would like to make some observations regarding some of the effects as I see them. In their current form the Olympic games require very large amounts of public funds to operate & I have serious concerns as to the benefits that the public gets in return. In the specific case of Vancouver/Whistler, it is estimated that the public funds to be spent will be approximately 5 Billion dollars (900 million for security alone). There is much debate as to what specifically is an Olympic cost , however this amount must be extracted from the working public over the next several years, regardless.
I shall attempt to explore the value of the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics in the contexts of, the process, global economic conditions, public/private funding, exposure, & individual atheletic accomplishment.
The original cost estimates that the Vancouver/Whistler team provided to the public in a referendum were between 600-900 million dollars, 50% of eligible voters cast a ballot & 64% accepted this as a reasonable cost that would provide an estimated return of 1.2 billion dollars. Obviously the numbers were severely lacking. To suggest that these numbers were presented in a manner that indicated a reasonable return, when a more conservative estimate of both cost & return was more realistic, appears to be the case.
An explanation often put forth for the large gap between the original cost estimations & current state is that no one could predict the global economic chaos that has beset us all, in one degree or another. It would appear to me that any prudent manager of finances, would at a minimum, allow for a worst case scenario , & have a plan to completely remove liability at a point where the value in return was being diminished to a negative posistion? In discussing the homeless situation in Vancouver, the initial monetary cost is often used as a major problem. If the same monetary commitment that is made to the Olympics(no choice..we are commited..cannot change course now), to the state of homelessness, imagine what could be achieved. The point here is commitment . our inability to provide this type of commitment to our social woes will surely leave us with a huge social debt.
Much is made of the contributions of private corporations to the Olympic Games. A local radio/TV personality (who will be a featured TV host during the games), is very quick to heap praise on the private entities who are contributing financially to the games. This personality, is one who was very quick to condemn the use of public funds to support large private corporations (ie banks, auto makers), however is very supportive that Olympic family members receive special status regarding trademarks, & exclusive rights where the free market is concerned. Just a cotton blinking minute....While large corps may be contributing funds, I suspect that they are doing so with an expectation of a handsome return...oh on whose penny is this being funded? I seriously doubt that these corps would or could even do such an undertaking without the subsidy provided by the public purse.
The idea that Vancouver & Whistler will reap massive gains from exposure seems an outdated idea, left over from Expo 86. This city & Whistler garner global attention, (largely from Expo 86) on a regular basis, if our local media are accurate. Vancouver is often rated very highly in surveys that are conducted globally, & when information abilities are considered it would appear that a lack of exposure is NOT a consideration for the region.
While individual achievement is commendable, is it not somewhat ironic that it requires massive support from society at large to make it possible. My country of Canada decided that because of past dismal results in the Olympics, that it would identify individuals that showed the greatest potential for success on the international stage & dedicate the vast majority of financial resources to them, thus excluding many others. The result..an awesome individual moment , possibly great individual financial rewards, & a bit of national pride. Could this not be achieved in some other way?
In general, my concerns may be broadened to critically examine what, where, when & whom we decide to dedicate our resources to. I have no doubt that many individuals will benefit largely from the 2010 games: however I have doubts as to the value as it relates to society at large. The radio/TV personality that I referenced earlier, has steadfastly held that the benefits are worth the investment. I have NOT heard this person or any other, present a balance sheet that supports this claim. With the global economic situation being what it is, general claims are difficult to match up with hospital & schooll closures, homelessness, job losses etc. I am definitely thinking that while the Olympics have many positive outcomes, can it's present form of public reliance be sustained?
As humans we are first & foremost social beings, & the planet we inhabit is finite , if we ignore our basic social nature & continue to treat this place as an infinite resource, IMHO our future is bleak.