TO Olympic bid ignites controversy

Even though there is a definite sense of competition between potential host cities, the growing economic and social concerns about Toronto’s 2008 Olympic bid is putting a damper on some of the city’s Olympic enthusiasm.
Canada’s national Olympic Committee, the Canadian Olympic Association, and the City of Toronto submitted Toronto’s name as a potential host city for the 2008 Olympic Games to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Feb. 1, 2000. On Aug. 28, 2000, the IOC selected Toronto as one of five candidate cities to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
In a recent press release regarding Toronto’s bid status, Mel Lastman, mayor of Toronto was quoted saying, “I bring with me the support of the wonderful people of Toronto. [This city] is made up of people from 169 different countries speaking over 100 languages. Toronto is diversity. Toronto is a year-round Olympic village. Toronto is a city of nations.”
The other cities selected as candidates were Beijing, China; Istanbul, Turkey; Osaka, Japan and Paris, France. The Toronto 2008 bid intends to host a unique cultural festival to showcase Toronto through its arts community. The festival — entitled “Expect the World” — will involve a variety of spring arts events from May 26 to June 23, 2001, leading up to the July 2001announcement of the host city.
“The Toronto bid has momentum and a winning formula for securing the 2008 Olympics for Toronto,” said John Bitove, president and chief executive officer of Toronto’s bid committee. “We have a great place, a great plan and great people who are ready to host the Olympic Games.”
The intent of the festival is to showcase the scope, diversity and excellence of Toronto’s arts community in order to secure the city’s position as a potential candidate. However, questions surrounding public spending, homelessness and debatable democratic processes are being voiced by many social justice organizations, namely Bread Not Circuses.
Bread Not Circuses (BnC) — a coalition of approximately 30 groups and hundreds of individuals — works closely with academics in various parts of the world who have done extensive research on the impact of hallmark events, such as the Olympics. The organization maintains close contact with community-based groups in cities that have staged the Olympics and cities that have bid for the Games.
Helen Lenskj, a professor of sociology and equity studies in education at the University of Toronto, is one such researcher. Lenskj suggests that democratic processes have suffered throughout the bid’s developments and says that this can be attributed to the fact that Toronto’s Bid Committee is a private organization and is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act — an act that forces certain agencies to provide information to the public that requests it.
“Because they are a private organization, they are unaccountable to the tax-payer. The [bid committee’s] numerous trips to Sydney to discuss the bid are being paid for with city money,” says Lenskj. “Government employees’ salaries are being paid while they are spending their days on the details of the Olympic bid.”
She says that Olympic opposition is coming primarily from Toronto’s anti-poverty groups, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association (SNLA), which represents thousands of owners of condominiums, tenants of non-profit housing, and members of housing co-ops. The SNLA represents the neighbourhood immediately adjacent to the main Olympic sites and has voted to oppose the Toronto bid.
The association’s decision to oppose was prompted by the overwhelmingly negative social and financial impact, and also because of the lack of effective consultation and communication by the bid committee with neighbourhood groups. Lenskj does not hesitate to point out that “the Olympics are a social justice issue.” She cites Toronto’s homelessness disaster as an area that will suffer the most if Toronto wins the bid. “Housing and rent will sky-rocket, and boarding house tenants will be kicked out. There is no way that Ontario will get rent control in the foreseeable future and poor people and lower middle class people will suffer the most.”
Toronto’s bid for the 2008 Olympic Games plans on accommodating 25 of 28 sports taking place within six kilometers of the Olympic Village and the city’s downtown financial and entertainment core, along the shores of Lake Ontario.
According to the web site dedicated to Toronto’s Olympic bid, the estimated budget for Toronto to host the 2008 Olympic Games is $2.6 billion, which includes capital costs such as building the Olympic Stadium. The Olympic Games’ revenue would be approximately $2.8 billion. Most revenue would come from the International Olympic Committee grants, which include broadcast revenues of approximately $1 billion. The remaining revenues will supposedly come from a combination of sponsorship, ticket revenues, and merchandising and licensing. Funding is coming from private sector supporters.
According to Lenskj, there are many hidden costs that won’t show up on an Olympic budget.
“If Toronto got the games, the police and RCMP budget alone would be in the millions.”
On Mar. 6, Stephen Brunt, senior sports columnist for The Globe and Mail, wrote: “Like every Olympic Games, these would involve a massive public works project backed by an enormous infusion of public money. Any accounting that shows the Games paying for themselves is phony, or so narrowly defined as to be irrelevant.
“It would cost billions of dollars for Toronto to stage the 2008 Games, the blank cheque for which has already been written.”
Morley Kells, an MPP and the Ontario government’s former Olympic Commissioner, resigned in April of 2000 saying that he had serious doubts about the Toronto 2008 Olympic bid. Kells said that he had concerns about everything from the government guarantees required to put on the Olympics to Toronto Bid Committee’s plans for an Olympic village and stadium on polluted industrial port land along Toronto’s waterfront. Kells told journalists: “I can’t see how we’re going to do it. I just don’t want to finish my political days tied to a guarantee that’s going to hurt the taxpayer down the road.”
The long-awaited announcement of the host city for the 2008 Olympic Games will be take place in July 2001 at the International Olympic Committee Session in Moscow, Russia.

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