By Isaac Oommen
On Friday (February 12) at 3 p.m., thousands of people from Vancouver and around the world will arrive at the downtown art gallery for a massive festival that will march to the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Although the city, Olympic organizers, and security officials will brand them as protesters or demonstrators, they will be there to celebrate their right to be active participants, not just of their respective cities and neighbourhoods but of the world.
The convergence welcoming the Olympic torch in this way is made up of a number of groups that stand for everything from free-speech rights to the abolition of racist immigration policies. One thing in which they are all unified is their basic human rights, including the rights of expression and assembly.
For years, the Olympics have branded those that have resisted this $6-billion showdown as being “anti-Olympics”. Very rarely do we hear about everything that the Olympics stand against. From a historical opposition to women’s rights in sport to today’s Orwellian surveillance state, the Olympics move in and oppose everything that we as responsible people of the world are trying to achieve.
At the end of the day, the Olympic industry—via the International Olympic Committee, Vanoc, and the plethora of alphabet agencies with which it partners—wishes to turn the people of this city, as well as every city left devastated in its wake, into mere hosts to drain dry, all under the guise of sport and nationalism.
Criticize the Olympics, and you will get from Vanoc the glib “Why do you hate amateur sports?” No one in this convergence hates sports. Most of us play a wide variety of sports, but do not mercilessly monetize it. Most of us cheer our local and international teams with all our lungs and souls.
What the people that will be converging stand against is not sports or even the Olympics as an idea, but the way in which the IOC and Vanoc have gone about their business, both historically and in Vancouver. The IOC has drained the municipal, provincial, and national treasury of money that should rightfully go to schools, libraries, hospitals, and a range of other more vital programs. All the while, Vanoc-endorsed politicians trumpeted lies that the residents of this town and province would not end up paying much for the Games. The result of this spectacle, we were told, will be the long-term benefit of investment in the city, since no one but the IOC will actually reap the money from ticket sales and corporate sponsorship.
It’s not just the matter of what Vanoc does but also the cloak-and-dagger way it goes about doing it. The Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit has visited the residences, workplaces, families, and neighbours of dissenters in a blatant show of intimidation. Vanoc’s city-official friends enacted laws that tried to impinge dissent of any sort, whether it be signs in private homes decrying the Games or placards voicing protest against the IOC’s tactics.
The protest on February 12 will include people from all over Canada and the world that came to this city because they believe in democracy. What Vanoc and the IOC are perpetrating is the very definition of what Mussolini called fascism or corporatism—the merger of state and corporate power. It is the IOC that is anti-democratic. Everyone that stands against the Olympics is saying that they are a political participant and not a serf, and that they will not allow basic democratic rights to be destroyed so that the IOC can profit.
The Olympics may be here, but the people of this city are too and they will make their voices heard. They will also loudly tell other people of the world and Olympic host cities that we can together stop this behemoth from destroying entire cities under the obfuscation of “bringing the world together for sport”.
Isaac Oommen wrote this commentary on behalf of the 2010 Welcoming Committee, which is organizing the Take Back Our City festival and march on Friday (February 12).