Open Letter about the Olympics Games Bid

RE: Report Back on Council Motion “Beyond 2010: Consideration for the City of Vancouver to Participate in a Future Olympic Winter Games Bid”




Dear Vancouver City Councillors,


We are deeply concerned that City Council has passed a motion supporting the opportunity for another bid for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.


As a city positioning itself as a leading municipality for progress and justice, hosting another Olympics will have a detrimental impact on the work done thus far to make Vancouver a more equitable city, especially in light of the continuing social impact of COVID-19. The potential for the economic gain associated with hosting another Olympics does not justify or outweigh the short and long-term consequences on Vancouver residents and, in particular, those racialized, the precariously housed and unhoused, working-class and sex worker women in our community. These individuals are made vulnerable in our city; have been erased from the conversation surrounding the previously held Olympics, and have been most impacted by COVID-19. The response required to support the execution of this mega-event – which is often used to justify increased policing and displacement which leads to gendered violence – will only magnify existing entrenched and intersecting policies and manoeuvers that oppress our communities.


We urge the City Council to reconsider another bid for the Winter Olympics entirely. Should these conversations move forward, we urge Council to first and foremost receive free, prior, and informed consent from host First Nations. We also believe that an intersectional lens to the legacy of the 2010 Olympics and its impacts and the potential impact of another Winter Games in Vancouver is necessary, and urge the City Council to consult with disabled, working-class, Indigenous, Black, and racialized women and front line organizations who provide essential services to gain a more informed understanding of the potential detrimental impact of another Olympics.


Policing and Criminalization

Amidst calls to defund and abolish the police, hosting another Olympics will lead to the demand for increased policing by the Vancouver Police Department, while bringing in even more policing institutions like the RCMP and the Armed Forces to support such a massive event. We are concerned that their presence will repeat the events of 2010 where RCMP officers exhibited excessive force and labelled movements against the Olympics as terrorist organizations to justify increased surveillance. It is especially baffling–especially amidst an international reckoning on police violence–as to why the City of Vancouver would consider an event that requires the presence of institutions that perpetuate cycles of harm, whose actions often leave ‘generational scars,’ and have misogyny and racism embedded within their cultures. In the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics, the Vancouver Police Department received more funding for crowd control and anti-terrorism. As expected, the impact was felt most in the DTES by those already the subject of policing and criminalization. The city also backed a proposal to fund an increase in private security guards. This rise in policing targetted women in precarious work, particularly sex workers, who were subjected to increased harassment by police before and during the 2010 Olympics. Hosting the Olympics will only counteract the efforts of community organizations who work towards alternative forms of community safety; further, it is antithetical to the goal of the Women’s Equity Strategy of increasing women’s safety in the city especially for women living in the DTES.


Displacement and Homelessness

Housing remains one of the biggest issues surrounding mega-events such as the Olympics. A comprehensive study from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions with examples across host countries demonstrates the extent to which the Olympics actively results in the displacement of those with precarious housing, particularly racialized people, and that these events can lead to a drastic reduction in the availability of affordable housing. The report also drew attention to City Hall’s 2007 “Civil City” initiative prior to the Olympics for its potential to contribute to displacement. Residents of the DTES – an area in which Indigenous women are overrepresented in the population – and those in the Downtown core also faced rent increases and displacement through low-income tenant evictions. This can also be considered part of the ongoing colonial violence linked to the Olympics, seen from Brazil to Vancouver, in which Indigenous people have protested against the Games and experienced further silencing, violence, and marginalization as a result. In 2021 and beyond, this cannot be countenanced.


Mega Sporting Events and Gender-Based Violence

We also object to the proposal for another Vancouver Winter Olympics on the basis of the proven association between mega sporting events and increased gender-based violence. Multiple studies and articles have considered sporting events from rugby, to Formula 1, to the Olympics, and have shown increases in gender-based violence and exploitation linked to all. In Australia, authorities report an over 40% increase in intimate partner violence linked to rugby game nights and an associated mix of toxic masculinity and substance use. Furthermore, previous Olympics events, such as that taking place in Athens in 2004, saw human trafficking cases double around this time (Keilholz, 2008). In Vancouver 2010, although no evidence of international sex trafficking was documented during or after the games, this is likely “because there was an absence of a centralized strategic plan by the national and city governments to address the issue…[and] the central agency tasked with combatting international human trafficking did not focus on the Olympics”. Vancouver is a known hub for human trafficking and yet, to our knowledge, the City neither tracked nor collected evidence on women’s safety, increased gender-based violence, and human trafficking during or after the 2010 Olympic Games. But we did see that some areas of Vancouver reported increased reports of sexual assault during the Olympics than they did in the same month the previous year. Should conversations as to a second Vancouver Olympics continue, we would urge the City Council to consider the research on mega sporting events and gender-based violence and to seek evidence specific to Vancouver before moving forward.


The Economics

Olympic Games are often touted as economically beneficial to cities and countries around the globe. This is how Olympic bids are sold to residents and cities often paint a rosy picture. We do not doubt here that the Olympics can be painted as either a great boon or a great boondoggle, depending on your perspective, the economic modelling you employ, or the aspects upon which you choose to focus. What is clear, however, is that the economics of the Vancouver 2010 Games were of less value for women, particularly those of low-income or who are already precariously employed, than they were for men. As described by Jacqueline Kennelly of Carleton University in her 2016 book on the topic, “...job opportunities were significantly gendered; some young men benefitted from opportunities in construction or security, for example, but young women as a group received very few employment opportunities related to the Games. Such a finding is consistent with broader research on employment opportunities for low-income youth, which has found that young women tend to be more precariously employed than young men, and receive less income for their paid work”. She further states that “...while potentially some of the white-collar work and volunteer positions were more equitably distributed between women and men, the work that was going to those at the lower rungs of the social opportunity ladder were distinctly skewed towards men.”


We again urge City Council to consider the evidence, take an intersectional approach, and contextualize not only the revenue or prestige gleaned from hosting an Olympic Games, but also the impacts unevenly felt across our city.



SIGNATORIES


Women Transforming Cities

UBC Social Justice Centre

North Shore Women’s Centre

Our Time Vancouver

AMS Sexual Assault Centre

Atira Women's Society

BC Civil Liberties Association

Vancouver Women's Health Collective

The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC


*If you'd like to sign-on to this letter as your organization, please e-mail info@womentransformingcities.org