Frances Bula header image 2

On the eve of the Olympics: Anticipation, excitement, anger, frustration

February 7th, 2010 · 20 Comments

I feel as though I’m in one of those ambitious liberal-arts programs put on by progressive colleges where, for an entire term, there’s a grand theme and all of life’s questions are filtered through that. I heard about one recently, where for the entire term they studied the literature, art, political science, economics and more of  war.

For all of us in the city, the grand theme is the Olympics. Love them or hate them or sort of half and half, they’re dominating our lives. Either you feel the physical impacts — hordes of people asking for directions or getting their pictures taken in front of the time clock downtown, work places shut down, streets barricaded — or you feel the psychological impacts, as your dinnertime conversations are taken over by contemplations of what the Games mean.

I was out for dinner last night with five friends and, over the wailing of ‘It’s Amore’ at Osteria Napoli on Renfrew, we went though the gamut of emotions and reactions. Three of us are looking forward to going to some events and are sort of excited about it, partly because we’re media/PR types who will get to hang around the periphery of the buzz. One is too busy with kids to care. Two others were distinctly unenthused. But even among those of us who are taking some pleasure in the Games, there are all kinds of troubling questions that we shared with our anti-Olympics friends.

It is hard to take unalloyed pleasure in hosting this expensive party when, for example, your eastside kids’ soccer fees are being doubled because there’s less government money or when your entire soccer team is dominated by refugee and immigrant kids whose families can’t afford any fees at all. That’s not much of an investment in sports for children. It’s also hard to party hearty when other services are being cut: in ESL services, for instance.

And then there’s the cost of the tickets. I finally got around to trying to buy some and — okay, call me naive and stunningly uninformed — but I was actually shocked to see that tickets for figure-skating are going for $150 to $450 at the regular prices, not even thinking about the current Craigslist price. The opera seems positively democratic in contrast. Who can afford to buy tickets at that price? (Even the tickets for the figure-skating training sessions have ballooned up to $100 a seat.) It makes me feel as though we all agreed to pay for a yacht so that Paris Hilton and her friends could have a really swell time.

And if it actually went to the athletes, I might feel better about it. But it doesn’t. My physio, who has worked with sports teams, said she couldn’t bear to go to the Games because she gets so angry about how little money trickles down to all those people who actually train for years. While VANOC is pulling in $150-$1100 a seat for various events, the athletes are, for the most part, living and training on peanuts.

In the end, as we went round and round these topics, I ended with the same ambivalent feeling I have every time I think about the Olympics too long. Oh, I forget it sometimes in the excitement of the moment. I was down at Robson Square today, where hordes of people had clustered to watch Katarina Witt and Elizabeth Manley do a few circles on the ice, while more hordes were bombarding the media centre for their accreditations. It’s fun to see your city dressed up, filled with people and activities. Whee! It’s like being in a truly big city.

But back home, I continue to have the odd bad taste in my mouth about how all of this is organizing and who benefits. I’ll see how I feel in three weeks: Better? Or worse?

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Bill Smolick

    A friend has a ticket for the opening ceremonies for sale for $600.


  • égalité

    Vancouver is “welcoming the world” yet the world is represented right here in Vancouver. It won’t be long before 50% of Vancouver residents are foreign-born. While many immigrant families are being impacted by cutbacks to community services, sports and education, as Frances points out, these same families are working in low wage, service sector jobs that are the backbone for providing services to Olympics visitors.

    Hotel, restaurant and retail jobs in the city are filled primarily by immigrants. Olympic tickets are certainly out of reach for most of these folks. Concerts and parties at the Live sites, while free, are not accessible to the many who have to work 2 jobs to support families. Yet hotel and restaurant workers want to do a good job for Olympics visitors.

    So it is shameful that Tourism Vancouver and VANOC chose to hold a pep rally for hospitality employees on February 5 (the “Rally on Robson”) and neglected to invite actual hotel and hospitality workers. The rally was a staged affair with an audience consisting primarily of Tourism Vancouver employees and volunteers and staff from other tourism agencies. There were also tourists, hospitality managers, students from VCC and media in the audience. While the folks in attendance certainly deserve a boost for their work in tourism, it was abundantly clear that few, if any, hotel and restaurant workers were on hand. 80% of the hospitality workers in Vancouver are immigrants; the audience for this rally was not.

    Mayor Robertson was a featured speaker at the rally, John Furlong spoke, O Canada was sung, prizes were given out. It was an event intended to recognize the work being done by the hospitality industry and raise spirits about the upcoming wave of Olympic visitors. There was significant media coverage.

    Because the rally was held during a time of day when most hotel workers are on the job, because the unions representing hospitality workers were never contacted about the event, and because the rally was never publicized outside a small circle of tourism agency people, the folks doing the real work of cleaning hotel rooms, serving breakfasts and brewing lattes will remain invisible during a time when their contributions to the Olympics and Vancouver’s hospitality industry could have been recognized.

    Vancouver, you can do better than this.

  • Glissando Remmy

    SIX & FIVE, 4, 3, 2, 1…The Olympic Countdown Thought of the Day (weekend edition, eh)

    Paint Vancouver Red during the Games… What does it mean? Is Mao Zedong visiting? Was I asleep for too long? Martians are coming? What is going on? Must I wear something from GAP? The only way you’ll make me wear red is if the North Pole calls… to let me know I’ve got the job, you know, Santa’s gig! For my friend Lucy, however, it’s a simple matter; she said that the only RED she is going to wear during the Winter Olympics is her tampons. Always!”

    Something that caught my eye; for the Olympicos, there are nicely crafted SELF CONGRATULATORY hand held mirrors. They come in various sizes of EGO: S, M, L, Mayoral and Premier. The target market is 60 to 100 IQ. Enthusiasm may differ from subject to subject.

    For the nay-sayers there is a nicely bottled perfume for both men and women called REPULSION. Spray it once, don’t inhale and you are not going to be bothered by the SCHH mirror people, guaranteed.

    Also, nice T-Shirts (white with red lettering and red with white lettering). The most popular by far are “THEY LIED TO US, THAT’S WHY WE LOVE THEM”; “HOW MUCH? SHUT UP!” and my personal favourite “IOU FOREVER”.


    For the past few weeks, most radio stations played those pathetic messages, maybe just maybe, some Olympic athlete will listen and maybe just maybe, they will try a bit harder to get a “gold around their neck”. To which, 50 CENTS, the rapper, replied “Wha’, WTF? Nobody messing wee ma’ BLING man!”


    You know what made my day today? The two girls, visibly pissed off, walking in circles in Granville Island and swearing like truck drivers, in some sort of Canadian Mandarin “Uhe ees da shitty Pakin meeta?” Punchline? They were both wearing Olympic jackets, the official Bay ones and proudly made in China, red & white, those with the appropriate…Canucks logo on front upper left. I know, I know you want to show me you belong, you little schoolgirls, keep on looking for that Parking Meter for a $6 pop for two hours. Ironic, eh? Your friends at VANOC are giving you a preamble. Have a nice stay, enjoy!


    Now seriously, if we are to call ourselves the Capital of Green (as in $$) how on Earth can we justify those Official GM SUV’s, driving over the speed limit in most cases, erratically, around the city, in almost all the instances I’ve witnessed, with only the driver present? Even a sperm platoon, during their “n” mission in friendly territory is moving in a more organized manner. Oh, and the looks on those driver’s faces is priceless. The deep thoughts they are in, can only be matched by the guy’s hanging by two fingers from a ledge over the Grand Canyon, while the other hand is desperately trying to solve a Rubik cube.

    WORKING VISA – the official sponsor

    I wonder, keeping in mind that all these Olympians are in town to, who are we kidding, make a buck (sponsorships, endorsements…) and are they here, on a Working Visa or a just on a Tourist one? Just asking.
    So which country are you going to be cheering for? The owner of one West End restaurant answered thoughtfully “for whoever drinks more in my joint”

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.


    Well I am disappointed it may take you six weeks to figure it all out.

    For the rest of us “NON-CELEBS” we get to pay for your BC beautiful people party for the next thirty years.

    So when you and the rest of your Royalist gang are drinking Chablis from Gordon Campbell’s Gucci shoe . . . think of us common folk with a cold Tim Horton’s coffee stuck in a VANOC No Go ZONE traffic jam, and two hours late for work.

  • david hadaway

    GR, you’re right. These Olympic vehicles are a menace. I’ve already been nearly sent to my maker on a controlled crossing by one going through a red light, another cut me up as I was driving, and today I saw one parked across two metered bays (for free of course) about 30″ from the kerb. And they are all empty except for the driver. The arrogance and entitlement filters down.

    Overheard conversation from the drivers of two massive limo buses parked in my local residents only zone.

    “We’ve been told not to go down Commercial Drive because we could be attacked by protesters.”

    “Yeah? Hey, I’m picking up Nelly Furtado!”

    “Yeah? (pause) Who’s she?”

  • Bill Lee

    Any complaints about the No Parking signs newly put up on all residential streets from First Avenue north from Boundary to Nanaimo?

    Makes one want to move to the Republic of Burnaby: no olympic banners, few olympic billboards, no parking restrictions. Peace and calm.
    Many discovered this when the City lockout closed the library, but our cards were honoured ‘over the border.’

  • MPM

    Walking around downtown this weekend, you can certainly notice a different ‘look’ to the crowd.

    We have a lot of tourists, many from different income brackets, but with this Olympic crowd is all from one income bracket. Who else can afford $5000 for accomodations, a couple of grand for tickets, plus food and expenses.

    It is a truly sad view of the world. As Francis said most atheletes live in poverty, while the rich party and frolic around them, and the tax payer is told to smile and not ask any probing questions.

  • Mr Clean

    You are not Serious are you Ms Bula in using the word “wailing” in the same sentence containing ‘It’s Amore’…. Surely you jest, for no Liberal Arts trained person could ever so be-little the great Dean Martin. I am shocked. As penance you would be advised to load up Dino’s greatest hits onto your iPod and have a full day of listening to “his” Voice. Or Else…

  • Bill Lee

    @Mr Clean
    Then you haven’t heard Canadian folk rock band Spirit of the West who frequently cover the song in concert, with drummer Vince Ditrich taking the lead vocal of that 1952 song.

  • Bill Smolick

    > Makes one want to move to the
    > Republic of Burnaby

    Having worked out there until recently, trust me when I say: No, it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. Just don’t.

  • Mr Clean

    @Bill Lee Sir, should I ever hear Mr Ditrich not treating that song with the outmost respect … i’m gonna but a big hurtin’ on him… bada bing bada boom succa

  • gmgw

    On a completely trivial note, and at the risk of further perpetuating a digression from what could have been a worthy discussion, the pop-culture obsessive in me feels compelled to point out that the song in question, (which, incidentally, I despise) is actually entitled “*That’s* Amore”.

    I mean, really, folks. Didn’t any of you ever see “Moonstruck”?

  • Mr Clean

    @GMGW We all love you for this. You are a classy person.

    BUT in talking about Dean Martin… remember this… and remember it well… Dino is NEVER a “digression” … That is all.

  • Frances Bula

    OMG, how could I get it wrong? THAT’s Amore, THAT’s Amore, THAT’s Amore. But I’m sorry, it really was wailing.

    Tragically, it wasn’t Dean Martin singing. It was a hired person doing a kind of karaoke to the accompaniment of a digital music/noise-making machine.

  • landlord

    When. The. Moon hits your eye,
    Like a big pizza pie……

  • Dan Cooper

    Another digression:

    “your eastside kids’ soccer fees are being doubled because there’s less government money or when your entire soccer team is dominated by refugee and immigrant kids whose families can’t afford any fees at all. ”

    My son’s westside soccer fee is $180. Just curious, what were yours before the increase and what are they now?

    Actually, a majority of our team is also made up of immigrants (including my son), among them people originally from the US, Israel, UK, Malaysia, Phillipines, South Africa, Japan and China – and as far as I know all the parents pay the full fee. Worth remembering: immigrants are often well-educated and, deservedly, well-paid for their skills and work.

    But back to the Olympics. I share your feeling of ambivalence. I would rather the whole event was somewhere else, but since it’s here, I’m going to several sporting events and plan to make the rounds of the “houses.”

  • Dan Cooper

    (p.s. The kids on my son’s team who were born in Canada probably also have parents or grandparents who were immigrants, at least to judge by the Italian, Punjabi, Ukrainian and German names….)

  • Frances Bula


    It’s not my kid’s soccer team. (My son is 27 and hates organized sports.) It’s a friend’s and they are not kids of well-off immigrants from the westside. They are kids of refugees and really poor immigrants who don’t have anything. My friend has given up driving her own son to the games — he has to walk — because she and a couple of other parents have to pick up all these other kids for the games, since their parents don’t have cars or the wherewithal to get them there, it seems.

    A second friend is the one who talked about soccer fees doubling recently. She happens to live on the east side, but, yes, I imagine they doubled everywhere.

  • spartikus

    Worth remembering: immigrants are often well-educated and, deservedly, well-paid for their skills and work.

    This isn’t true, statistically. Regardless of education level, immigrants to Canada are over-represented in low income groups.

  • MB

    I was born in Saskatchewan and raised in Alberta. I suppose that makes me an immigrant now that I’m a BC resident. But not an overly well-paid one.