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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?

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