THE ANTI-OLYMPICS (what happened in Vancouver)

By Jules Boykoff:

Walking along east Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver one crisp January morning in 2010, I came across a perplexing set of white panels on the outer flank of the refurbished Woodward’s building. The panels featured an explosion of repudiation: stark, black-lettered phrases like ‘hell no’, ‘i said no’, ‘no bloody way’, and ‘no way josé’. Four placards simply read ‘no’. Later I learned that this was a site-specific installation by Vancouver artist Ken Lum for Simon Fraser University’s Audain Gallery, challenging a ‘2010 Winter Games By-law’ passed by the City of Vancouver in the run-up to the Olympics. The by-law outlawed placards, posters and banners that did not ‘celebrate’ the 2010 Winter Games and ‘create or enhance a festive environment and atmosphere’. The ordinance criminalized anti-Olympic signs and gave Canadian authorities the right to remove them from both public and private property.


Vancouver has become a poster city for neoliberal-era gentrification, the gap between rich and poor widening into an abyss. (…) Nowhere is the difference between nouveau riche and old-school poor more glaring than in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, an 8-by-15-block strip of gritty urban intensity that—outside aboriginal reserves—is Canada’s poorest postcode. Yet the sharp juxtaposition between high ‘liveability’ and dire poverty does not undermine Vancouver’s status on the silver-frosted terrain of global capitalism. Hosting mega-events like the Olympics tends to enhance this status, a massive extra boost for turbogentrification.


Having poured $8 billion-plus into the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canadian officials have announced severe budget cuts. Funding for the arts was slashed drastically, leading to the bc Arts Council Chairwoman’s abrupt resignation in August 2010. The Vancouver School Board announced an $18 million funding shortfall for the 2010–11 school year, which translated into reduced music programmes and hundreds of Vancouver teachers receiving pink slips. Adding insult to injury, the province made receiving money from its ‘2010 Sports and Arts Legacy Fund’ contingent on participating in ‘Spirit Festivals’ designed to fabricate a positive Olympic legacy. Vancouver got a new and much-needed train service, connecting downtown to Richmond and the airport; but it also acquired a massive debt. As activist Am Johal put it, ‘the Olympics are a corporate franchise that you buy with public money’. In addition, the City used its loan guarantees to rescue developers who went belly up while the Olympic Village was only half built. Those who have tried to follow the Olympic money have been stymied at every turn. The complex patchwork of public–private partnerships screams out for an audit, but neither the Auditor General of British Columbia nor the Canadian Auditor General have been granted access to vanoc’s books.

The government also reneged on promises—ostensibly because of fiscal exigency—to convert a sizeable swathe of the Olympic Village along the False Creek inlet into social housing. The athletes’ living quarters were supposed to be the crown jewel of the social sustainability promise, but the city government prioritized market rental units instead. The building of the Olympic Village has been described as ‘an aluminium-clad symbol of spatial injustice’ that:

marks the long reterritorialization of the waterfront as an elite space, burying its working-class history deeper into the mud to have the waterfront transformation emerge as a real-estate gamble that hopes to shape the city’s future yet again.

Read full article for free at New Left Review

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