On March 31st, the Vancouver City Council voted in favour of considering a bid to host the 2030 Olympic Games in Vancouver, which would be the second time the city has hosted the event. Some arguments in support of a Games included large private sector funding, as well as the use of existing Olympic facilities built or renovated for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
However, three Council members opposed the motion to consider a bid. Councillor Jean Swanson voiced concern that the city’s opioid and housing crises are much more pressing issues that could have been mitigated if funding for the 2010 Games was rerouted to social initiatives. In a similar fashion, organizations across the city are calling on the Vancouver City Council to retract the motion, citing the increased marginalization of unhoused communities, as well as the rise in gendered violence, following the 2010 Games.
Support for a 2030 Olympic Games
Those in favour of a 2030 Olympic Games in Vancouver believe that an increase in jobs and tourism will not only help businesses rebound from the pandemic but could also incentivize the province to address the city’s pressing social and economic issues.
In addition, plans to build a new Olympic Village are said to also include the construction of affordable housing and transportation projects. John Furlong, former CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, has also stated that First Nations will be key partners if a 2030 Olympics were to go ahead, which could also include the construction of high-density residential buildings on the lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Wautush First Nations. He also believes a 2030 Games in Vancouver could be “the most sustainable Olympics ever.” However, details regarding the implementation of these plans remain unclear.
News that the motion passed has left many concerned about a repeat of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics’ discriminatory legacy on marginalized communities. In response, the Vancouver-based intersectional feminist organization Women Transforming Cities (WTC) published an open letter to the Vancouver City Council, which details the negative impacts the 2010 Vancouver Olympics had particularly on unhoused communities, Indigenous peoples, and women.
Ellen Woodsworth, Co-Chair of WTC and a former Vancouver City Council member, was one of two Councillors that opposed the motion of a 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. “I was horrified that the city and the province agreed to have the  Olympics,” Woodsworth told Spheres of Influence. “I knew it was public money that was desperately needed for housing… there were outbreaks from the impact of drug use, the SRO’s were falling apart.”
The WTC’s open letter highlights that a 2030 Games in Vancouver “will have a detrimental impact on the city’s equity” and the potential economic impact does not justify the consequences on “those racialized, precariously housed/unhoused, the working class, and sex workers.” The letter points out that increased policing during the Games is used to further criminalize and displace residents of the Downtown East Side (DTES), which leads to greater violence particuarly against women and sex workers. If a Games were to occur, the letter also urges that the Council have the free, prior, and informed consent of host First Nations, as well as consultations with “disabled, working-class, Indigenous, Black and racialized women and front-line organizations who provide essential services.”
The letter features signatories such as the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective, Our Time Vancouver, and the UBC Social Justice Centre.
The Other Side of the Story
Reports on the negative consequences of the 2010 Olympics on Vancouver’s most marginalized communities have been overshadowed by tales of “success” that include civic pride, economic boosts, and transportation expansions. However, these stories do not represent the full picture.
For instance, in addition to the increased displacement of unhoused residents, promises made to build low-income housing alongside the construction of Olympic venues were largely forgotten. Instead, it is believed that the Olympics were a contributing factor to Vancouver’s current housing crisis, and consequently the growing unhoused population. Whether or not low-income housing would actually be built for a 2030 Olympics is far from clear.
Also, the notion that host First Nations must give their “free, prior, and informed consent” for a Games to take place on their territories is important when facing the fact that Indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere have faced further discrimination as a result of the Olympics. The British Columbia provincial government is also recently guilty of violating this right to consent to build infrastructure on ancestral Indigenous territories.
Increased security presence cost taxpayers close to $1 billion in 2010, and had negative consequences for low-income people and sex workers, who are disproportionately Indigenous women. The 2010 Games saw the closing of parks used by unhoused residents and reports of plain-clothed officers patrolling the Olympic Tent Village in the DTES. A study also revealed that sex workers were exposed to increased violence during the Games, as they were forced away from regular pick-up spots, which are typically close to health services and other colleauges who help keep each other safe.
“Most of the public doesn’t know this,” says Woodsworth. “Security for whom? When you put a racial and gendered lens on [the Olympics], you realize how few people are served by them.”
For people concerned about the impacts of a 2030 Vancouver Olympics, WTC is working to make it easier to contact city councillors. Their Hot Pink Paper Campaign also holds candidates for mayor and city council accountable for implementing intersectional feminist policies by monitoring council meetings and policy decisions.
“Contact as many public officials as you can to voice your concerns,” suggests Woodsworth.
Lack of diversity on the Vancouver City Council is also a problem, as it doesn’t reflect the identities and experiences of residents. Nine out of the ten councillors are white, while more than 50% of the city identifies as a racial minority.
“Especially at a time like this in COVID, they’re not registering that we don’t want to go back to the old normal, we want a new world, we want our governments that are spending our money to be spent for the social good… [we] need a new order that includes everyone with an intersectional lens on it.”
Part of the solution involves asking “how do we empower diverse voices to come forward and actually get elected to public office?”
As well, WTC has goals of building a larger coalition of concerned community members inspired by the grassroots movements #NOlympicsLA and #NOlympicsTokyo. Cities with Olympic bids around the world have started building alliances to address the ways the Olympic Games exacerbate economic and social inequities, often by plunging cities into debt and heightened gentrification that displaces low-income and disproportionately racialized peoples.
Through her research as the Campaign Lead for WTC, Mahtab Laghaei has learned “how similar these issues are across cities.”
“We are pretty early on” she continues. “We are at a great juncture and point in time to try and avoid a formal bid from going through.”
While Olympic Games tend to be portrayed as beacons of economic prosperity and national pride, these expensive events require intersectional analyses to better understand the inequities they exacerbate. As a city that prides itself on being progressive, Vancouver should allocate more resources to address its worsening housing and opioid crises, rather than invest in a 2030 Olympic Games.