(FWD) Circuses Not Bread

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Mon, 14 Sep 1998 01:39:57 -0400


---------forwarded message---------
September 13, 1998

Stay silent about Olympic bid? No way

IT DOESN'T bother me to read about David Crombie
and Mike Harris winging off to Kuala Lumpur in a
private jet in order to kneel at the feet of the
self-annointed Olympic gods. It's an ignominious
and tainted process, but if they want to grovel
for their lordships' permission to spend billions
of dollars to stage the 2008 Olympics in Toronto,
let them.

No, what bothers me more is the insistence by
everyone with a stake in the secretive bid process
that we local peons give our total, unanimous,
unquestioning assent. The mere fact that
anti-poverty activists protested the last Olympic
bid was allegedly a grave mark against us. And
look who's imposing these ridiculously medieval
rules: a crew of autocrats who swan around the
world led by a president, Juan Samaranch,
distinguished only by his unearned pomposity and
his malodorous past as an associate of the Fascist
dictator General Franco.

What are we supposed to be, the Stepford Citizens,
zombie-ing with fixed stare and robotic step in
total mass obedience toward the goal of the
Olympic gods' blessing? The sports moguls who
engineered Toronto's $40 million Olympic bid
demanded one thing of us - ask no questions! - and
a childishly over-excited Toronto City Council
complied. The proposal was rushed forward with
zero public debate.

No way.

Maybe the Olympics will be good for Toronto; maybe
not. We'd be crazy to get behind it until we know
much, much more about costs and benefits.

The evidence so far is not encouraging. We have a
severe housing crisis in Toronto - 28,000 without
shelter, including 5,000 children, and 80,000 at
imminent risk of homelessness - thanks to total
de-funding by the Harris Tories and the federal
Liberals.

What has happened to housing in other Olympic host
cities?

In Atlanta (Olympics '96), 9,000 homeless people
were arrested before the Olympics under trumped-up
bylaws that, for example, forbade ``remaining on
parking lots.=B4=B4 It was a kind of ``homeless
cleansing=B4=B4 designed to clear the streets so as
not to offend the delicate nostrils of Olympians.

Atlanta=B4s tough Task Force for the Homeless sued
the city for its illegal people-sweeping and
managed to embarrass officials by winning a
federal injunction two days before the Games
began. The city has just settled the lawsuit,
paying out sums to the homeless that might better
have been spent to house them decently in the
first place.

In Barcelona (Olympics '92), widespread
gentrification, price inflation and loss of
affordable housing were among the urban costs of
the Games. In Sydney (Olympics 2000), an activist
group called Rentwatchers has already protested
spiritedly against rent gouging, mass evictions
and conversion of cheap boarding houses to
``backpacker hostels.=B4=B4

Toronto could do things differently. At least
Toronto City Council was willing to contemplate
Councillor Jack Layton's housing scheme, by which
private developers would build the 3,000 units
needed by 15,000 athletes, using vacant waterfront
land to be donated by the federal government.
Extra, Olympic-glamour profits from the sale of

half the condos would help defray the cost of
building 1,500 rent-geared-to-income apartments to
be available by 2003.

Layton's proposal needs more work - it's a bit of
a mystery where the tenants of those 1,500
affordable units would go during the Games - but
at least he's thinking about how to use the
Olympics to our collective benefit.

Of course, that makes the high-rolling sports
czars seriously annoyed. They want their billions
of dollars of profit, and a pesky little thing
like democracy isn't supposed to get in their way.
Why, why, have they always had it their way?
Because TV sports - forget religion - are the
opiate of the masses. It's the ultimate capitalist
dream: a global population made compliant,
co-operative and eager to buy many, many running
shoes and sugary soft drinks, thanks to a direct
electronic I.V. to their brains.

The sports czars still need those ``amateur=B4=B4
world athletic events, however, lest that global
audience become cynical or even disenchanted with
millionaire players of less than admirable
character. What better than the Olympics to give
the network owners and advertisers a chance to
slobber on about youthful idealism, ardent effort,
noble aspiration and patriotic pride?

And because some of those qualities really do
exist for many of the competitors and their
audience, we let the hypocrites get away with
their smarm. This time, we ought to counter the
politicians=B4 agenda for us - I believe it=B4s
something like Circuses Not Bread - with a list of
our own proposals.

This week, the International Network for Urban
Research and Action will bring activists from
several different Olympic cities to Toronto to
share their experiences, good and bad. The forum
on ``urban mega-projects and resistance=B4=B4 will be
held at the Toronto Board of Education auditorium
on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Phone 499-1703 for
information.

Michele Landsberg's column regularly appears in
The Star Saturday and Sunday.

When we're driven to share a car   Drastic new low
for teachers

Contents copyright =A9 1996-1998, The Toronto Star.


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