Monday, December 13, 2010

Procrastination prevails in the Olympic city

I’m forecasting a cross-Canada blizzard of information emanating from Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 17.

The Vancouver Olympic organizing committee will publish its long-overdue, post-Games financial report. (It hasn't published any financials since Dec. 21, 2009.)

The next phase in the PricewaterhouseCoopers study on Olympic economic impacts will also be released.

The annual disclosures of British Columbia legislature members will also become public, including what gifts they received during the Games.

Maybe the minority Tory government (that has hid what it spent on the Games) will join the party and finally cough up its information. City of Vancouver in April and Province of British Columbia in July told their taxpayers how expensive the Games were ($554.3 million and $925.2 million, respectively). Ottawa has been suspiciously silent on how much of your money it spent.

All this activity is coming at a time when citizens are more interested in Christmas shopping or traveling to visit loved ones or get a tan.

Timing is everything and all those who are issuing reports deliberately chose Friday, Dec. 17. That is essentially the last Friday of 2011 on which important public business will be conducted and two days after Parliamentarians begin their break until Jan. 31.

It is human nature to spread good news far, wide and fast. When the news is not so flattering, then procrastination prevails.

Politicians have parroted the line about the Vancouver Games being the most successful Olympics ever without fully quantifying their statements.

The Vancouver Games do deserve the top, golden step in Canada’s Olympic podium. Calgary 1988 gets silver and Montreal 1976 the bronze. Vancouver 2010‘s double gold in hockey and a record 14 overall for a Winter Games host are significant achievements. But the greatest ever?

The memories will inspire a new generation of Canadian athletes. Vancouver, Richmond, Whistler and West Vancouver have varying degrees of new sport and recreation facilities for all ages. The Sea-to-Sky Highway and Canada Line make it easier to move about the region. The Vancouver Convention Centre could be one of the world’s best places for mega-meetings.

Ultimately, the Games were not financially or environmentally sustainable. There were not 3.5 billion viewers, but an estimated 1.8 billion. Ticket sales fell below projections. Salt Lake 2002 organizers published financial results in June 2002, heralding a $40 million surplus for amateur sport. VANOC has waited almost 10 months. Along the way, CEO John Furlong told us there would be no surplus. The budget is expected to balance, but with at least $80 million extra from taxpayers. These were, after all, the Bailout Games.

Nor were the Games the solution to the great ripple effects of the Great Recession. A lot of people had a good time (myself included), but the party was a nightmare for some. The families of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and Minnesota bus driver Dale Roberge never got to welcome them back home to hear their stories of the Games. Instead, they hosted funerals. Drunken fights and sexual assaults were up region-wide. A woman staying aboard the Mona Lisa cruise ship for VANOC workforce was raped.

We still don’t know what conditions the makers of the famed Hudson's Bay Co. red Olympic mittens faced in their Chinese factory. There was no major legacy project to solve homelessness in Vancouver.

Torontonians should take notice and begin asking questions of their leaders -- including newly elected Mayor Rob Ford. Toronto is getting the Pan American Games in 2015. Four-and-a-half-years can go by quickly.

Multisport Games are massive spectacles that transcend sport. They are neither cheap nor easy, regardless of the season in which they're held.

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