Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Olympic $pirit

Visualize the Olympics as a multi-tiered pyramid.

At the apex, we have the self-perpetuating dynasty of nabobs and bureaucrats known as the International Olympic Committee (IOC). These travelling salesmen roam the world demanding luxury suites in five-star hotels. They are courted as royalty in those countries that prostitute themselves in order to host this orgy of wasteful unimportance. The un-consulted local citizen pays.

A photograph in The Globe and Mail of May 28, 2011, shows Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury relaxing on a California bed that makes a king-size look like a cot. As Canadian chef de mission for the 2012 Olympics, Tewksbury gets to hole up in Toronto's ultra-expensive Windsor Arms hotel. No economy hunting for these guys.

"The Youth Olympics were designed to shift the focus away from the win-at-all-costs mentality and relentless commercialism of the adult Olympics." Toronto Star editorial, Aug 27, 2010.

In its bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, South Korea offered Olympic officials free flights and hotel rooms. Another prospect offered free education for their families. Top honcho Jacques Rogge made a back room deal for China to get the 2008 games. In return, he got Chinese support in his successful bid for the IOC presidency.

The City of Chicago spent $60 million in its unsuccessful bid for the 2016 event. The Greek parliament has opened an investigation into allegations that German industrial giant Siemens AG paid bribes to secure contracts before the Games.

Citizens of the free world are entitled to a referendum before their governments apply to host such events. The result would be that only nations controlled by dictators and despots would ever apply. No public opinion was sought for the London 2012 Olympics. As of September 2007, the estimated cost has tripled to £9.3-billion ($19.2-billion).

In 2007, three Norwegian cities vied for the 2018 winter games. When a poll showed that only 38 per cent of the citizens thought the Olympics a good idea, all three dropped out. In Vancouver, voters turfed out of office the mayor who imposed the Olympics on them. Taxpayers in Colorado voted overwhelmingly not to spend one dollar for the 1976 winter Olympics. That, after a cabal of Denver businessmen had already been awarded the games. This exercise in democracy, an Olympics first, stunned the boys from the land of secret bank accounts. They quickly rescinded the original award.

The Olympic hierarchy has arrogated to itself a status higher than diplomatic immunity, and intimidated the B.C. court into accepting it. Its arcane structure allows the IOC to keep secret the salaries and bonuses paid to its officials, despite millions of Canadian dollars put at their disposal.

This small IOC group control every aspect of the games, and are above the laws of the nations which receive their beneficence. Witness the refusal of the IOC to include women ski jumpers in the 2010 Vancouver event. The British Columbia Supreme Court declared the action discriminatory, but the IOC to be immune to Canadian human rights laws because decisions are made in yodel land. That, despite the enormous subsidies from all levels of government in Canada.

These people tout the Olympic spirit, yet do not prevent the host nation from turning nasty. Vancouver has severely limited foreign competitors' use of the venue facilities for training. The true Olympic spirit is own the podium at all costs.

On the national level, the Olympics capitalize on unresolved adolescent loyalty -- my school is better than yours. The cry now becomes ugly chauvinism -- my country is better than yours, because our athletes won more medals than yours in events most people never heard of. Why should we feel proud of a fellow citizen who succeeds at something only family and friends will remember? When one wins a gold medal by 1/100th of a second? Small the mind whose national pride hangs on such trivia. At base, this is an appeal to tribal instincts.

The IOC manipulate public opinion by convincing the media to equate a ribbon and a piece of tin with national greatness. How else to explain governments spending vast amounts of taxpayers' money to stage a three-week party other than to boost the chauvinistic egos of a small minority?

Of course, the media love the advertising dollars generated. Curiously, few athletes actually consume sponsors' unhealthy sugar and cholesterol-laden products -- a giveaway that some athletes are in it for the money.

The Olympics provide a forum for global politics. This mischief started, or was ratcheted to fever pitch, by Adolf Hitler and his 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Nazi despot used the event to flaunt the superiority of the Aryan race, whatever that is. As a publicity stunt, Der Führer inaugurated the carrying of the lighted torch from Mount Olympus in Greece to Berlin.

By coincidence or design, the Olympic salute resembles the Nazi salute. The torch is still carted around the host nation, but now to create commercial interest. Each carrier pays $349 to participate. This non-event costs the Canadian taxpayer $14-million. Advertising-hungry media massage it into a symbol of national pride.

A controversy arose when CTV, an official games sponsor, announced that 27 of its broadcasters would carry the torch. "They're supposed to be journalists," complained former Globe and Mail columnist William Houston. "They are not supposed to be part of the Olympic cheer-leading torch procession . . . The torch relay is an event used to promote a business enterprise, the Olympics. That's why the relay is a good thing for reporters to stay away from."

As a sop to freedom advocates, the boys from Switzerland claimed to offer "free speech zones" during the Beijing show. It did not happen. For the Vancouver games, the free speech zone was far from the games.

Taking a page from the Beijing Olympics, the musical performers of the opening and closing ceremonies in Vancouver will mime pre-recorded music. This decision has caused Bramwell Tovey, celebrated conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to withdraw from this "fraudulent" procedure.

The poor suffer the most. Why is there more money for a few athletes than for social services for thousands? Citizens of every host country, Canadians included, are evicted from their homes to make way for Olympic sites, or housing for the rich after the games, or accommodation for visitors.

Real estate speculation abounds. Once out of their homes, the poor cannot protest within camera range. To help convince taxpayers that the poor are not evicted permanently, promoters claim that the athletes' accommodations will become social housing. This has yet to happen.

Fortunately, not all are treated as badly as the estimated 40 to 300-plus Mexican students murdered, machine-gunned by their own government while protesting the 1968 summer games. Any civilized organization would have the decent thing and cancelled the games. Not IOC President Avery Brundage and his crew. There's too much money to be made. They blamed the students. Ten days after this massacre, Olympic officials released white doves to mark the opening of games -- symbols of peace, goodwill and brotherhood. The families of the victims were hardly impressed.

Olympic officialdom turned Canada into a temporary police state. Part of the $925-million of the overall cost to taxpayers (out of an operating budget of $1.884-billion) was earmarked for a security force of 15,500 police, military and other personnel. The IOC brainwashed guards on both sides of our border into treating critics as terrorists. The Vancouver police force was already notorious for its pepper spraying of a photographer at a public protest several years back. The perpetrator of this weapon mishandling is fondly remembered as Sergeant Pepper.

The IOC has raised censorship to an art form. It bares its financial and legal fangs to frighten off advertising by anyone not authorized to do so anywhere in the host city. Canadian media remained silent.

Instance: The Australian Olympic team was ordered to remove its boxing kangaroo flag from the athletes village because it is a registered trademark, not a national flag.

Instance: For the Vancouver Winter games, the IOC bought up the city's entire outdoor advertising space for the ten days of the event, in order shut out non-Olympic sponsors, that is, companies which refused to pay the high sponsorship fees.

Instance: The IOC muzzled students, successfully banning them from posting in their dormitory windows, that is, private property, anti-Olympic signs visible from an event site.

Instance: The City of Vancouver must "ensure that no propaganda or advertising is placed within the view of the television cameras covering the sports at the games or of the spectators." Censorship police will scour the area day and night. Swiss autocrats dictate to Canadians limits to freedom of expression.

Instance: In early December, Canadian border guards detained U.S. broadcaster Amy Goodman and demanded to know her views on the Olympics. They examined her notes for a projected speech. They demanded to know what she was going to say, whom she intended to meet. News of this incident spread quickly across the U.S. This mischief garnered for Canada the award for the "best paranoid freedom of speech suppression" from television commentator Keith Olbermann. Complained Lucy Dalglish, head of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, "I could see any country in the world doing this, except Canada." The IOC just stands back and laughs at us.

Instance: A Canadian critic of the Olympics, Marla Renn, was denied U.S. entry. On her return, she was questioned at length by Canadian guards who recorded all the numbers on her cellphone, and demanded to know the names of those she had intended to meet.

Instance: Other Olympic critics were tailed and questioned by plainclothes police. Neighbours, associates and former spouses of Olympic critics have been questioned in an attempt to extract damning evidence against the critics. The Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver meekly accepted these acts of intimidation.

Instance: Such is the censorship choke-hold of the IOC that the City of Vancouver ordered removed from an art gallery window an Olympic-mocking poster, declaring it illegal graffiti. The city conveniently ignored the fact that this gallery has been posting "graffiti" for years. Why enforcement now? Think subservience to Olympic blackmail.

Instance: The Vancouver Public Library is also into censorship. It has advised all branches not to have Dairy Queen or Pepsi sponsor any event during the games period, but rather approach McDonald's or Coca Cola, official sponsors, instead.

Instance: The Olympic Committee filed a legal objection to the Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance's (CCHA) use of a torch in its logo. The IOC wants world-wide exclusive use of the torch symbol, as well as the five barrel hoops. They might also consider registering the swastika to acknowledge the origin of the Olympic torch.

Instance: IOC officials ban reporters interviewing torch carriers.

Soon after the closing ceremony, the host nation's hope for a polished image goes down the memory hole. Then begins the hangover, the long process of clawing its way from under an Olympic debt. The $10-million roof over the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium ultimately cost $60-million.

The left-over bad taste in Vancouver is in the mouths of those employees who stayed on until the end of the games. They were promised retention bonuses. Olympic officials reneged. 

Montreal's 1976 Olympics $1.5-billion debt took 30 years to pay off, and the city still has a crumbling white elephant to feed. Former Mayor Jean Drapeau's promise of an east-end renaissance did not happen. The neighbourhood surrounding Olympic Park, a concrete wasteland, remains among the most depressed areas in Canada. The original estimate was $120 million. About $300-million is required to replace the ill-designed roof.

The $12-billion cost of the 2004 Athens Olympics, plus infrastructure projects rushed to completion at inflated cost, caused the debt rating for Greece to be lowered from stable to negative, and their bonds close to junk status sparking their current debt crisis. The national economy will be crippled for at least a generation tending the disintegrating unused sites, and removing the debt which turned out to be double the original estimate. The boom in tourism touted by promoters did not happen. The annual maintenance cost of the mothballed complex is $100-million. The International Monetary Fund declared that Greece must slash wages and social spending. The IOC richer; the Greek citizen poorer.

The $6-billion 2000 Sydney Olympics cost the Australian taxpayer triple the original estimate Again, the anticipated influx of visitors never materialized. Areas of the Seoul Olympic Park (1988) "sit like a graveyard today," with only minor pedestrian traffic.

The Chinese government, being criticism averse, need not explain to anyone the $44-billion cost of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But reality overtakes even despots. The showpiece Water Cube is losing just under $2-million annually. The other showpiece, the Bird's Nest is now a tourist attraction. At the current rate of income, it will take 30 years to recoup the $475-million investment. Reports says that other venues have fared even worse.

On the commercial level, we see the one, the only, the sole reason why the Olympics exist. Corporate and Olympic interests pocket billions of dollars every two years, peddling gimmicks, unhealthy food and over-priced services. The IOC hierarchy keeps the money from sponsorships, media rights. NBC paid $2.2-billion for the rights to the Vancouver Olympics and the 2012 London summer games. The IOC sells licences to produce logo-bearing t-shirts and other obsolescent paraphernalia. It has failed to remove the suspicion that it scalps its own tickets.

In February 2011, IOC President, Jacques Rogge, advocated that the IOC  get into the gambling business to take advantage of event outcomes. They "must" do it to stop others from doing it with no profit to the IOC. It's just another way to increase the flow of money to their mountain vaults. And the host country will bear the cost of enforcement of this money grab.

From 2001 to 2004, this "non-profit" money mill amassed $4.2-billion. We wonder what benefit accrues to the Swiss government, The latter does not levy taxes on this bi-annual windfall. An independent British think tank, One World Trust, ranked the IOC as the least transparent of the 30 non-profit organizations it measured (Transparent.Org). Both the Swiss government and operate in secrecy.

Local charlatans jack up hotel and restaurant prices. In the best spirit of free enterprise, home owners rent their abodes at extortionate rates. The mentality of those willing to be gouged is another matter.

On the people level, we have the athletes. They represent the only legitimate participants in the entire scheme, that is those not drugged, doped, granted expedited citizenship so they may join the team of a richer nation, using forged passports with false birthdays, of indeterminate sex, seeking special tax exemptions, or unabashedly competing for commercial sponsorships.

They work for the lowest return for their time, energy and financial investment. The Olympics encourage them to damage their bodies with freakish diet and training regimens, a "brutally harsh experience" as one athlete described it. Certain blood-doped former East German athletes have become permanent invalids. How many around the world? ["Who is it that does not voluntarily exchange his health , his repose, and his very life for reputation  and glory, the most useless, frivolous, and false coin that passes current amongst us."   Montaigne essay "Of Solitude"]

All this for a piece of metal on a ribbon, and the hope of being featured in television commercials. Men would die for baubles Napoleon sneered when he created the French Legion of Honour. Our Olympic heroes have their moment in the sun, if it can pierce the smog of the host city. They are then soon forgotten, unless they hailed from a small town which named a street after them or posted their names at the town entrance.

Our winning competitors are now being paid. In Beijing, the Canadian Olympic officials awarded money to medal winners: $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for a bronze medal. This becomes laughable in case Canada wins in hockey. All but three of the Canadian men's hockey team already average over $3.5- million per season.

Fifteen months after being awarded medals in Beijing, five athletes were ordered to return them. The IOC decided they were guilty of drug cheating. Did the Alpine boys store these athletes' urine samples for all those months while they worked out the chemical formulas for banned substances? Henceforth, medal winners will be under a cloud of suspicion for at least fifteen months.

There's one more tier in the Olympic structure: pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers will offer their wares and services. Our courts and human rights commissions will soon declare such behaviour as socially acceptable. The Swiss princes will then live off the avails by declaring these activities Olympic demonstration sports.

On August, 27, 2010, months after the 2010 Winter Olympics had ended, The Globe and Mail editorialized, "The Youth Games were designed to shift the focus away from the win-at-all-costs mentality and relentless commercialism of the adult Olympics." Now, they tell us.

Within a year of the Vancouver games, the hangover set in. "Taxpayers could get snowed under with Olympic loss," claimed a September 25, 2010 Globe and Mail headline. The story was the anticipated bath Vancouver would take in the vain hope of recouping its $1-billion-plus investment in the Olympics athletes' village.

The city was betting on a rising housing market to help pay the bills. "As things stand today," the report continues, "the project is shaping up to be a financial disaster for Vancouver taxpayers, with losses totalling in the tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars."

In January 2011, Vancouver Olympic Committee CEO, John Furlong, confirmed in a leaked internal memo that pensions and bonuses promised to certain employees would not be paid. VANOC reneged on an obligation in order to show the public a balanced operating budget.

Olympic critic Kathy Corrigan: "We've said all along VANOC should have been more forthcoming about their finances. They don't comply with freedom of information requests. The Auditor-General has not been able to take a look. It's hard to get information about what's going on. It's been like that from the beginning."

April 12, 2011. As more information becomes available, the financial picture gets worse. The of Olympic Village-related costs to the Vancouver taxpayer now totals $300-million. Final figures are about two years away.

If you think this post shows a disgraced IOC, and an embarrassed Vancouver, see A Shameful Track Record by Laura Robinson, Literary Review of Canada, Jan-Feb 2010, and Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games by Chris Shaw.

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