2010 Olympics Business News for the Vancouver and Whistler
regions of British Columbia. Plus, Alberta, the rest of Canada, Washington
State, Oregon, Idaho, Montana & California
Politics and the Olympics seem incongruous to many people.
It happens partially because we romanticize the Games.
Like most multinational organizations, the IOC evolved with the times, but over the last twenty years most people ignored the shift as the Olympics grew from being sports centric to a profit driven business model. Too many people still think of the Olympics as they did when they were kids.
While people were looking the other way and ignoring the growing list of obscene cost overruns and human rights issues, the Olympics slowly and slyly transformed itself into a new animal. Like a great magician, they used distraction to entice us to watch their left hand, while the right was busy palming tax money to rebuild their empire.
The IOC doesn't want people to think of the Olympics as politicized because it makes it harder to conscript their lifeblood - VOLUNTEERS.
Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to be either hard line pro-Olympics, or swing all the way over to the often violent anti-Olympics extreme.
The IOC's "You are either with us or against us" manifesto is no longer as effective, especially after people started to realize George W. Bush used the same intimidation tactics to drag the world into war.
Much to the frustration of the IOC, and as a result of advances in online social media, there is now a large and growing middle ground that is well-informed and very politically oriented.
For example . . .
I am pro-Olympics ... but with a twist - love the sport, hate the politics.
Many different styles of politics are associated with the Games, like civic politics, corporate politics, and human rights politics - all intertwined and inseparable. Don't forget too, the politics of sport.
Most people want to see a more ethical Olympics, and I do too, but in China, I also want to see Canadian athletes kick Olympic ass at Beijing’s lucky 08 08 08 – which is voodoo politics.
Like most patriotic citizens, I want to see our divers and 100-meter running machines climb their way to gold medal status at the top of the podium, just like we watched Canadian winter athletes do in Turin.
Unfortunately, bookmakers say the odds aren't good for Canada to see a repeat performance similar to our winter wins in 2006, but win or lose, I hope our athletes go to Beijing and give it the best they have and come home HAPPY regardless of the outcome.
I cheer for all Canadian athletes, but during Beijing 2008 I'll probably follow a bit more closely competitors like Alexandre Despatie, a diver from Quebec, Adam van Koeverden, a rower from Oakville, Tyler Christopher, a runner from Chilliwack, and Brent Hayden, a swimmer from Vancouver.
For people north of the 49th, Canadians winning gold at the Summer Olympics seems incongruous, but the reality is the Games are always chaotic and full of twists and turns. Expect what you least expect.
Incongruity isn't the hallmark of only the Summer Games, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics also has its share of contradictions – some political, some not.
For example, when international athletes and spectators fly into Vancouver and step off the plane they'll see palm trees, and not only the giant red cedars towering in the mountains BC tourism promotes. Tourists are always surprised to see full-size palm trees in Vancouver.
Winter Olympic athletes will get up in the morning and see a palm tree outside their window, and within an hour they’ll be racing straight into the throat of a frozen Olympic half-pipe.
Here's another Vancouver incongruity, more political in nature .... it's against the law to smoke pot in Canada, but you can go to a den in downtown Vancouver and enjoy a puff with your buds while you sip herbal tea. Even more incongruous is that Vancouver promotes itself as the most livable city in the world even though you can walk down the street and watch homeless addicts smoke crack and crank heroin on our downtown sidewalks. In 1998, Vancouverite, Ross Rebagliati was the first snowboarder to win an Olympic gold medal, but as most Canadians know, he had it taken away when IOC doping labs surprisingly discovered marijuana in his bloodstream. After careful consideration though, they gave it back. How’s that for incongruous?
Olympic events are also a strange attractor
for two other big big vices . . .
SEX and GAMBLING
Sex is a given, and a very popular sideshow among an Olympic demographic that skews towards males between the ages of 18-34, but most people are surprised to learn they can also BET BIG BUCKS on Olympic athletes and outcomes using an iPhone or laptop while sipping espresso at Starbucks.
Betting on the Olympics doesn’t seem right, but it's big business.
The IOC is nervous not only because Olympic gambling has quickly grown so pervasive, but also because it's relatively easy for athletes, coaches, and trainers to manipulate or throw an event.
Betting creates an incentive to prosper that amateur Olympic athletes never had in the past. Today, not only can elite gold medal athletes score lucrative Olympic endorsements from companies like Nike and Coca-Cola, but fourth-place contenders who are shut out of financial rewards can get in the action too. It’s illegal and certainly not ethical, but it is reality.
Global bookies today (July 2008) are taking bets with odds that China for the first time in history is the favorite to knock the USA off the pedestal.
The two superpowers are going to duke it out once more on a world stage. As usual, the country that wins the most medals will use the cachet of political pride and patriotism to galvanize their nation and wave the flag while subliminally flexing economic and military might.
That's Olympic war politics.
China is taking no chances. Online gambling houses claim China has 3,200 athletes training for Beijing - twice the number that prepared for Athens.
Bookmakers believe hometown advantage will also tip the scale and allow China to snatch the crown from the U.S.
Gambling is highly regulated around the world, and as you know, politicians write and manage gambling laws, which means, once again, the Olympics is tied to politics whether the IOC likes or admits it.
Also, China successfully lobbied to have sports like softball extended through 2008. It was a shrewd political move that provides them with more opportunities to boost their overall medal count.
Countries employ every advantage possible to improve their odds.
It's all politics.
Here in Canada, the IOC partners with all three levels of government - federal, provincial, and municipal, which translates into pure play Vancouver 2010 politics.
As the 2010 Games approach the IOC constantly lobbies all three governments to change laws to make it easier to produce and manage the event.
For example, when zoning by-laws and the employment standards act got in the way, they changed them.
When copyright or trademark laws got in the way, they changed them.
And when gambling and vice laws get in the way, they will change them too, in fact Vancouver is currently scrambling to rewrite sex trade laws in order to be prepared for the Olympics. Since 2003, VANOC, Vancouver’s IOC puppet organization, have also been busy lobbying Canadian government partners to change laws regarding construction, transportation, accommodation, and security.
Taxes were also jacked up to cover Olympic expenses that will flood in at an unprecedented rate during the last year before the big event. It happened like this in a very similar manner in Salt Lake City, Athens, Turin, and China, and although VANOC would like residents to think they are special, and that these changes and expenses are impossible to predict, Vancouver residents, and Canadian taxpayers too are held hostage and trapped into playing along just like all the Host countries before them.
In pre-Bid days, when politicians sell the Olympics to taxpayers and businesses, they position it by promising huge civic gains totaling in the billions of dollars, but they never accurately share what it really costs, even though they have decades of history from which to draw.
Hidden costs surprise all Olympic Host communities.
It’s dodge ball politics at its finest.
Protesting the Games for political reasons has been a large part of the Olympic spectacle for many years, and it’s primarily supported by groups that have international political motivations. Local people also protest, but not nearly as effectively as global organizations, and not with the same vigor or for the same reasons.
Locals protest to protect their lifestyles and businesses, and to reduce Olympic related taxes, while international protestors, who always arrive in large numbers in the last three months before the Games, protest issues like homelessness and the environment, and use the Olympics to embarrass federal governments and multinational corporations.
And although it’s very difficult, and maybe even impossible to prove, it is rumored corporations that compete directly with Olympic corporate sponsors like Visa and Coca Cola, secretly fund some global protest groups. It’s a sneaky way to undermine competitors and have taxpayers foot the bill.
When Olympic events go as planned, which is rare lately, politicians are deemed media darlings for their brilliant strategies regarding the Games, but when things go wrong, which for the last two decades they most often have, politicians retreat into the shadows and finger point as costs and taxes climb.
For the most part, this is the politics we can see, but there is also a plethora of high-level corporate politics that exists behind closed doors. From almost day one, VANOC, Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee, has been accused of being secretive and lacking transparency.
As we all know, corporations contribute funds to political parties that, in some way, shape or form, eventually return the favor.
Patronage is also accepted and common in the Olympic network.
For example, on the very day it was announced VANOC CEO John Furlong won his coveted corporate position, lawyer Dick Pound, a high ranking and influential IOC executive, accused Furlong of winning the title based on patronage, not ability. Furlong's group barely challenged the inflammatory accusation.
On another front, when BC's opposition-party politicians, who are designated as official 2010 Olympics critics, are presented with well-documented historical data and offered viable solutions that would give power back to the community, they ignore it.
For example, when a politician knows in advance house prices in a Host region will inflate to an obscene level during pre-Olympic frenzy, and then, like clockwork, historically plummet as prices do in most Olympic regions, information like this should be shared with an unsuspecting public before it happens, not after the fact and after throngs have been sucked into 40-year mortgages with zero down.
Opposition party politicians do little more than grandstand and have little impact driving changes that could influence positive substantial transformation and evolution of the IOC business model - changes that would benefit taxpayers in an Olympics Host country and especially the local region.
Politicians complain after the fact, but rarely, if ever, offer viable solutions.
It’s reasonable to speculate opposition politicians don't want to push too hard because it contradicts and destabilizes the message local mainstream news media promotes. Keep in mind local newspapers are official, well paid Olympic partners and boosters.
Local newspapers and their companion television divisions have a vested financial interest to report primarily the Olympic side of the Olympic story, and local politicians know if they challenge media too strenuously, when the next election rolls around, newspapers can wreak havoc on their political career. That's news media politics.
Human rights issues also generate political controversies in Olympics regions and countries. Lhadon Tethong, mastermind of Students for a Free Tibet, and her partners bravely scaled and unfurled a political protest poster on the Great Wall of China in August 2007.
Just recently during the 2008 Summer Games, B.C. activist Nicole Rycroft and four friends unfurled another large Free Tibet poster from the side of a building in Beijing. They were immediately arrested and deported. Rycroft is associated with Students for a Free Tibet and also Markets Initiative. She is also an ex-athlete who had aspirations to become an Olympian.
North America held its breath expecting China to react harshly. They didn't. Instead, they immediately deported the social media activists in an effort to defuse the human rights issue. China also forcibly displaced 1.5 million people to build Olympic facilities and infrastructure. That's human rights politics.
Once Beijing 2008 is over, the lens will shift to Vancouver’s human rights issues regarding the hordes of marginalized people being pushed and evicted from their homes to make way for Olympics related housing in the ramp up to and during the 2010 Games. It’s estimated at least three thousand homeless people, and some claim closer to ten thousand, now live on Vancouver’s streets, a city of only 550,000 and ironically promoted as the most livable city in the world. Unrestrained and rapid gentrification happens over and over again in all Olympic regions, and even though politicians know the tragic consequences, they rarely, if ever, deal with it in a timely, ethical manner. Everyone looks the other way.
Star Wars icon Stephen Spielberg however didn't look the other way, and obviously doesn’t have plans to become a politician because he turned down what is tirelessly and shamelessly promoted by the IOC as an “opportunity of a lifetime” to be artistic director of the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing for 2008. With urging from activist actor Mia Farrow, who dubbed Beijing 2008 The Genocide Olympics, Spielberg snubbed China’s Games and sent a strong human rights message from Hollywood.
That's ShowBiz politics.
Multinational corporations also manage another influential type of Olympic politics. Most people don't realize shareholders of Olympic sponsor companies like Visa and Coca-Cola also influence the Games. Coca-Cola's corporate policy slogan is "Strengthening our Business. Sustaining Communities. Helping to Improve Lives." Tell that to the people dieing in Darfur, where, as reported by Mia Farrow, more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than two-and-a-half million driven from flaming villages by the Chinese-backed government of Sudan.
When shareholders see Olympic sponsors and partners do something they feel negatively impacts their dividends, they complain loudly enough to either reverse the decision, or they convince sponsors to lobby the IOC to make changes. When shareholders don't get satisfaction they sell their shares. That's corporate Olympic politics.
Today . . . the politics of PUBLIC OPINION is arguably the most influential politics of all. Olympic organizations, their sponsors, and government partners are no longer able to so easily look the other way. If they ignore overrun costs, or human rights issues, consumers will inevitably vote with their money and as a consequence drag down the value of a gold medal endorsement, and when that happens, we will shift back closer to the old days of sports centric, instead of today’s profit-driven Olympics.
Ask yourself, "What corporate director in his or her right mind would want to associate their brand with an event the public deems unethical? "
That's economic politics.
If you are still wondering how much of a role politics plays in the Olympics, consider how Athens was picked to host 2004. Relatively speaking, Greece is a small country with a very small infrastructure and oppressive air pollution. Dick Pound, a high-ranking IOC executive wrote in his book “Inside the Olympics,” that almost everyone on the IOC panel felt it would be dangerous to award Greece the Games.
Rome, Stockholm, and Cape Town were also in the first-tier running, and just like in elections for civic leaders, people sometimes vote against certain politicians as much as they do for them. According to Pound, very few IOC members wanted Cape Town to win, but they voted for the Cape in the first round in order to imply, that possibly, in the future, Africa could have a crack at the Olympics.
It’s politics within politics, and ironically, in sync with Greece being the birthplace of democracy. Athens ended up beating out Rome on the strong platform of it being of historical importance to bring the Olympics back to its birthplace regardless of whether they could produce a good event or not.
Few expressed concern it could harm the country's financial health.
My political question for the IOC is, if it was so important to have the Games in Athens, and especially against such great economic odds, shouldn’t the IOC and their wealthy sponsors, including the NBC television network help them out of the $12 billion sinkhole? They knew Greece would struggle, as surely as they knew 4 billion people around the world would watch the 2004 Summer Games on television and buy products being advertised in the commercials. NBC reported in August 2008 viewership for the Olympics was up by 20% as a result of the controversy in Beijing.
People mistakenly believe they will hurt athletes or besmirch the ‘good’ name of the Olympics if they stand up and demand an ethical Games.
So instead they look the other way. It's not right.
If you speak up nothing will happen except to improve the Olympics.
It worked for Rosa Parks.
The IOC unfortunately perpetuates the "You are either with us or against us" notion because it’s the easiest way they know to maintain control, increase sponsor profits, and attract volunteers.
Hopefully, politicians will enact some type of rental cost control in your region [Vancouver/Whistler], but don't count on it because it's not something politicians and the IOC want to deal with, and historically rarely do. If your local Olympic committee doesn't step in to force legislation at an early stage you will be at the mercy of your landlord, and if you look at it from their perspective, why shouldn't they capitalize on the Olympics too, especially when their cost of doing business also increases? Someone has to pay for the new infrastructure and roads.
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A wide variety of small issues popped up [in Sydney Australia 2000] that created controversy, but again Aboriginals chose their fights wisely and only expended energy where they knew it would benefit them the most. For example, they won a contract to develop a cultural pavilion, but discovered the agreement they signed with Olympic organizations allowed Olympic leaders to control exactly what was displayed in the pavilions. Olympic leaders would initially not let them display boomerangs or spears. When they looked at the agreement carefully, they discovered Olympic organizations could censor anything they wanted except for the words describing works of art. In a shrewd move by Aboriginals, they decided to use the pavilion as an assembly area and a global soapbox. Olympic organizations recognized what they had done and reminded Aboriginal leaders of the IOC regulation, stating that no political messages could be disseminated in or near Olympic facilities. It was impossible for Olympic organizations to keep Aboriginals from using the pavilion as a political platform because political issues in that era defined who Aboriginals were. You could not separate the issues. Everything they did had political ramifications. Just the fact that Olympic organizations vetoed the display of boomerangs and spears made a strong political statement. (hjl45)
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As Lenskyj [university professor Dr. Helen Lenskyj] described in her book, everyone knew it was important during the Bid stage to have Australia perceived as a country that “embraced its oppressed minority culture” because it would stand in stark contrast to China who was also in competition for the Games. (hjl46)
It was a political move manufactured to win the Olympic Bid for 2000, and if Olympic organizations could have predicted how it would have unfolded they might have acted differently. They had no idea Aboriginals would call them to task so strongly. How could they? They foolishly underestimated the intellectual capacity and creativity of Aboriginals.
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In the first couple of years after winning the [Sydney 2000] Bid, when Aboriginals threatened to boycott the Games, politicians and media painted them as anti-Olympic and un-Australian. SOCOG sent stern messages and Samaranch “warned” Aboriginals not to hijack the Games. Political analysts in Australia reported that the IOC needlessly turned a “peaceful protest and boycott into a criminal act of terrorism.” Olympic organizations banded together and tried to turn the public against Aboriginals, but when Aboriginals saw what was happening they modified their strategy. In 1999, mainstream media began to report that Aboriginal leaders decided not to shun the Games (at one point they also considered running their own games in parallel in 2000) and instead decided to leverage Olympic momentum to bring global awareness to the way the Australian government regarded Aboriginals.
Rock alternative band Midnight Oil brazenly challenged Olympic organizations during their performance and brought to light the plight of Aboriginals. Olympic organizations were incensed the Olympic stage was being used for social and political purposes, but there was nothing they could do about it. Midnight Oil wore black t-shirts and pants imprinted with the word "sorry" in large white lettering while they performed “Beds Are Burning” – a song about returning Australian land to Aboriginals.
On the ramp up to the [Sydney 2000] Games many Australians expected huge riots as disenfranchised Australians used the international media exposure for social gain. It escalated to the point where people were concerned about terrorism, bombs, and shootings. It became so unsettled Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and “The Hurricane” Ruben Carter intervened to try and calm the Aboriginal community. As a gesture of recognition, over 250,000 white Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to say sorry to Aboriginal groups waiting on the other side. It sent a strong message to the prime minister who still refused to apologize. Thousands of white people carried placards around the Games with "sorry" written on them while others said sorry to Aboriginals they didn't know as they passed them on the streets. (hjl50)
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Richard Pound [IOC executive] criticized, in the national media, John Furlong’s capabilities as [newly appointed] CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. He stated Furlong does not have the global experience to do the job. He implied Furlong’s appointment was gained through patronage and that it serves political agendas, as opposed to the practical responsibility of delivering a successful Olympic experience. He brazenly attacked Furlong in the media on the day Furlong was appointed CEO of VANOC.
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China wants to [use Beijing 2008 to] improve the perception of their political and human rights issues. (dp8)
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In the grand scheme of life and death does it really matter how many gold medals China or United States win? Does it signify anything relative to their quality of life? Two of the most feared countries on earth collect the most medals and use it as propaganda to boost pride and separate themselves even further from the rest of the world. Not exactly what the founders of the modern Olympics had in mind, but it does sell advertising and boost much needed morale for disillusioned countrymen. Pitting country against country has the exact opposite effect of what they had in mind, yet we continue to follow the old rules. Over the years something went terribly wrong and no one in the IOC jumped up to curtail it. The Olympics were originally conceived to be an event of individual competition. Politics was not supposed to enter into the equation and neither was money. What went wrong? Maybe it’s not wrong. Maybe it was a great idea at the time, but like driving without seatbelts we got smarter and moved on. Why is it so difficult for anyone connected with the Olympics to admit they’re in it for the money? Absolutely no one will admit they have economic motives, Not the IOC, not the sponsors, not the coaches or the athletes. Something stinks when billions of dollars are riding on one one-hundredth of a second, but no one will admit to wanting to collect the pot of gold attached to the gold medal. Is everyone in it simply for the glory, the fame, or patriotism? If so, when was the last time you heard of an athlete giving away their economic windfall? Granted, some miss out because they don’t leverage it properly, but it wasn’t for trying. How about a sponsor contributing millions of dollars and not demanding that their name be plastered or emblazoned all over the place? When was the last time you heard of an anonymous corporate benefactor? Private persons maybe and most recently athletes, but I can’t recall ever hearing of the IOC letting us know an unnamed corporation just cut them a check for forty million dollars out of the goodness of shareholder’s hearts.
Ironically, Joey Cheek, an American speed skater donated the $40,000 he received as a bonus for winning gold and silver medals to “Right to Play,” an organization for disadvantaged youth in struggling countries. Joey feels athletics is a “selfish pursuit” and he wanted to give something back. You’re going to hate me for playing the devil’s advocate here, and my apologies to Joey, but from a PR perspective, Cheek will make his donation back tenfold. If he manages it properly he will easily come out further ahead financially than if he would have kept the award, because with this one ‘seemingly selfless’ act he elevated his visibility from gold medal Olympic athlete to philanthropist. A reputation like that is highly coveted in the sports endorsement world, and incredibly valuable on the speaking circuit. As of April 2006, several companies have matched his donation to the tune of $300,000. Go to JoeyCheek.com for updates. If you are a company or a celebrity, as soon as you attach your name to a donation, it is no longer just a selfless philanthropic act. Not only is it a tax write-off, when people know the name of your company it translates into good PR and it becomes a business proposition. (vs18)
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How did the Olympics ever become so wrapped up in politics it couldn’t breathe? Some members of the Sydney Summer Games in 2000 had the right idea. They knew exactly where their loyalties lay. Some of them wanted the Games to be a success for everyone, not just the big box corporate sponsors. The country in general, much to the consternation of ‘official’ Olympic organizations, worked hard to protect the interest of not only the region surrounding Sydney, but of the entire country. And hurray for them, unfortunately, or fortunately, it depends on how you look at it – they did it at the expense of the IOC. Independent Aussie business organizations wrote their own rules. The Aussies actually licensed a sponsorship to one of their local courier companies and pushed UPS, who had an agreement with IOC to be an official TOP (The Olympic Program) sponsor, right out of the picture. In effect the Aussies said to the IOC, run your Games anyway you want, but if it doesn’t benefit our community in the manner we feel is fair we will make new rules. And they did. In effect, Australia and their local shipping company TNT worked hand in hand to put the IOC on notice. The short-term result was that the IOC lost a valuable international sponsor in UPS and they were unable to find a company to take their place for 2004. On the upside, the long-term message Australia sent to the world was ‘you don’t have to be bullied by the IOC.’ If you treat them more like a friendly adversary you can still produce an extremely successful Games for the world, your region, and your country … and politics be damned. (dp23)
Salt Lake City Winter Games generated $480 million in revenue for regional businesses. And although it’s hard to nail down exactly, it is alleged local taxpayers also picked up a $400 million tab they weren't expecting [in 2007 CBC reported it was actually $1.2 billion]. This number is controversial because politicians and Olympic organizations have methods of burying and deferring costs to make it look like it wasn’t part of the Olympic program. When they do this they are off the hook for costs and taxpayers pick up the tab.
The reality is that taxpayers pick up the overrun. It rarely becomes public knowledge because politicians and Olympic organizers know how to bury overrun costs. As you will see in your region, there will be many arguments, protests, and court battles to try and decide exactly what an Olympic cost is, and what taxpayers should pay for directly.
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You would think after all these years of promoting Olympic events that the IOC would have a handle on how to keep everything running relatively smoothly. Unfortunately, as evidenced in Athens in 2004 and Turin in 2006, it appears smooth management is still elusive. The IOC is caught in a situation that makes it hard to share legacy information of past events. It is a combination of bad organization, complex political intervention, and the fact they have so many secrets and clandestine affiliations that it is impossible to share good information without throwing light on past corrupt and fraudulent indiscretions.
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It’s also important to consider the political implications of being an Olympic security supplier. The top companies in the region often indirectly establish municipal licensing regulations. They train their employees, and through this training maintain competitive advantage over the industry. Small companies cannot afford comprehensive training facilities and the capital needed to get recruits up to speed. Municipalities create licensing standards in conjunction with the top companies in the region. In other words, politicians and security companies work together to decide exactly what skills and accreditation is needed for specific license levels. You can’t just fast track a recruit through two hours of training, give them a uniform, and expect them to manage high-level security situations. Many companies are moderated through government licensing, including security.
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Caterers have strict health and safety issues governed by the law. They also have varying levels of expertise that make the workforce hard to manage. But as you might guess, it isn’t the standard rules they have to worry about. Once again the biggest challenge is Olympic politics. The Olympics is big business driven by sponsors. Federal laws can be changed, municipal regulations bent, but when it comes to protecting sponsorship contributions, absolutely nothing can deviate. If Coca-Cola is the official supplier, then a subcontracted caterer cannot use Pepsi products in any capacity even if they have a long-term exclusive agreement. There are literally hundreds of conflicts that have to be worked out in advance, and sometimes at the last minute.
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Politicians in partnership with big business work hard in the Bid stage to convince people it [the Olympics] is good for the world. They appeal to the goodness in people and convince them they should make sacrifices in order to make the world and their community a better place. It is euphoric and addictive and Olympic committees need to keep the faith strong all the way through to completion.
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The Olympic charter states that each Olympic committee must promote a cultural events program that “serves to promote harmonious relations, mutual understanding, and friendship among the participants and others attending the Olympic Games.” It also states the program must focus on the cultural traditions of the host country as well as include entertainment, music, dance, art, and theatre from international artists. How it is done is left up to the interpretation of each local Olympic organizing committee, which as you can imagine creates a slipshod and haphazard environment. Sometimes it works, other times it’s a train wreck. Culture and politics are distant cousins and interplay off of each other in a way that is not conducive to promoting Olympic spectacles that are supposed to be politics free. Some of the cultural programs run for a few weeks, and others for up to a year. Some are extremely politically charged while others have a decidedly POP culture theme.
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As you can imagine Aboriginal issues play a big, and often controversial role in cultural events. I’m not going to go into it here because I’ve covered the Aboriginal influence in great detail in other parts of this book, but suffice it to say that culture and politics are inseparable in regard to Aboriginal lifestyle and it creates incredible tension in almost every Olympic region where Native rights are an issue. In almost every case where Olympic organizations use Aboriginal art and culture to boost the Games, Aboriginals protest they are being exploited. It happened in Calgary, Salt Lake City and Sydney, and it is already occurring in Vancouver regarding Ilanaaq the Inukshook. It is happening even though First Nations representatives were part of the Bid and have seats on the 2010 Executive Board of VANOC. Olympic organizations are incredibly wily. They’ve been doing it so long they can manipulate anyone. Ironically, they learn how to do it through legacy information passed on by the IOC.
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Many locals have no interest in or cannot attend Olympic events, but they are still interested in special events and they will come to “party.” Popma [Anne Popma - researcher] made an interesting comment in this regard when she pointed out that visitors to a region hold little interest for local politicians, but a politician will tend to get involved if locals are part of the mix. She reports that “seventy-five percent of the 400,000 tickets purchased” in Salt Lake City for cultural events were by “locals living within a forty-five minute radius.” In many cases it was the only connection they had with the Games. (ap13)
In some countries, a few years before the Games, governments start to pay more attention to Aboriginal groups. Politicians will, out-of-the-blue, make promises they will never be able to keep, and they will adopt new policies to placate Native leaders. Considering what happened in Australia, Olympic organizations are learning how to manage indigenous peoples more carefully. This is not to say they are prepared to treat them with more respect, it simply means they know they have to institute strategies that will allow Olympic organizations to maintain control. Offering an olive branch and tying up Native leaders in long drawn out negotiations based on fanciful promises is a well-worn tactic governments have used for hundreds of years. They know that if a promise for change is on the table that Aboriginals, or anyone will be less likely to leverage Olympic momentum for humanitarian reasons. After the “sorry” campaign in Australia Aboriginals now recognize how bright the spotlight is on Olympic regions and they know the window is narrow. Anything that Olympic organizations and governments can to do pacify them will be done. Don’t be surprised though if issues explode a few months before the Games after First Nations leaders become exasperated with foot dragging and empty promises.
Olympic organizations and governments have huge incentive to mollify Aboriginal groups when you consider Olympic facilities are often constructed on land owned by indigenous peoples. If it isn’t owned outright it has been contentiously claimed to be. In some cases the land that is used to transport Olympic spectators is also owned by or claimed to be under the control of Native groups. Native title claims are a sensitive issue that have been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be sensitive until they are settled to the satisfaction of Aboriginals, which means leading up to, during and after the Games leave town.
Expect governments to change laws a few years before the Games regarding how Aboriginal and environmental rights and procedures are followed. It happened in Australia and it will continue to happen in other sensitive areas. It started in British Columbia as soon as the bid was won in 2003. It’s not unheard of for environmental protection provisions to be changed or eliminated entirely. If a law gets in the way, simply remove the law.
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One of the most infamous media events in recent Olympic history occurred in Sydney in 1996. A battle brewed between the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the New South Wales government (NSW). Basically, television broadcast profit estimates increased from $26 million to an astounding $210 million. The corporate world knew they would do very well if the projections played out. The Herald’s Glenda Korporaal kept tabs on the changes and reported in detail as the controversy escalated. Originally, the NSW government agreed to contribute one billion for Olympic construction and overruns, while the AOC signed an agreement that would award them ninety percent of SOCOG profits, which they would use for Australia’s Olympic athletic program. When the profits looked like they would increase so radically the NSW government wanted a new deal. Korporaal reported that the AOC did not want Games revenue to shell out for long-term facilities in NSW. It was a ridiculous position to take considering Olympic Bids are always pitched to residents by dangling a carrot regarding how communities would come away from the Games with new sport venues and other related legacies. It is exactly how politicians and Olympic organizers lure residents into complying, and it is the cornerstone of the Olympic strategy. You can read Lenskyj’s book [Dr. Helen Lenskyj - The Best Games Ever?] for details, but suffice it to say that name-calling and political backstabbing through the newspapers escalated out of control. The arguments for either side became so convoluted residents lost track that profits for the television broadcast company were going to increase almost tenfold and that taxpayers would not reap any of the benefit. The NSW government would still be on the hook for possible overruns while television broadcasters carted off wheelbarrows full of money to the bank. Although Korporaal’s version seemed objective, the Herald tactically ran articles in pages opposite of Korporaal’s that pushed a previous Atlanta financial fiasco to the forefront. The Herald pointed out that the Atlanta Olympics was an economic nightmare, and implied Australian residents should be happy to break even. In the end the AOC gave up their ninety percent cut of profits and power of veto regarding SOCOG business for a guaranteed $100 million one-time payout. In a follow up article Korporaal showered accolades on the ACO for taking the payout deal. Two months later it was reported taxpayer-contributions for the Games increased by $400 million. Incredibly the Herald blamed the overrun on environmentalists for making it too costly to clean up polluted industrial land (Homebush Bay) slated for Olympic venues. (hjl13)
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When the Olympic Bid is won a chain reaction law enforcement strategy is automatically engaged. It affects everyone including politicians and the public. Decisions are made that will change how residents of a community regard the world. As the Games draw near, your happy, laid-back community will slowly turn into a pseudo-military zone. You might not notice it at first, but shortly after winning the Bid, police forces will divide and separate the criminal hot zones in your community. The first thing to change will be the most visible sore spots. Neighborhoods that have the greatest potential to catch the eye of unaccredited media will be cleansed and prepped for gentrification. Gentrification is the physical, social, economic, and cultural task of converting working-class and inner-city neighborhoods into more affluent middle and upper class communities. It’s done by displacing poorer residents and remodeling buildings, which results in increased property values and a prettier city. The first things to go are low-income hotels. It started as early as 2005 in Vancouver. Olympic organizations have been doing this for decades. They know that some members of the community will create serious opposition when low-income residents are displaced. Pushing out marginal neighborhoods means low-income housing will disappear. It is the quickest, and in the short term, most effective way to tweak the style of the city. In some cities it is nip and tuck, and in others it’s major surgery.
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Police also inject a dose of fear into the equation. Not just directed at criminals, but at the public too. When they do it is easier to justify going to politicians for more money to police the city. It works very well, and although it puts the entire community on edge it does create a climate where millions of dollars are spent to get the city up to Olympic speed, but without making it look like it is an Olympic expense. It’s a brilliant maneuver to get taxpayers to foot the bill. They’re so scared they don’t dare complain. Breaching is the physical displacement of criminals from one part of town to another, and sometimes into a completely different community. Police forces refuse to admit they do it, but it’s an effective way of getting rid of smalltime criminals who are especially problematic. It’s also not beyond the scope of the police department to silently condone, through inaction, having criminals physically harassed, sometimes to the point where people die, and charges are laid. The irony here is that whenever it happens there are always media outlets making money off the controversy, the same media companies that support developers who push gentrification. For the most part, and I know this sounds cruel, residents in the community aren’t too concerned about losing a few criminals along the way. The only residents you hear complain are the immediate families of the victims and those in the communities where the criminals are exported. The Olympics sets up a chain reaction that impacts almost all of the communities in the region. The smarter that politicians and police departments are, the smoother the operation, and the less that residents notice and complain. It’s just the cost, and an effective method of doing Olympic business. Eventually, mistakes are made and politicians and police forces are called to task over their actions. Olympic organizations are experienced and prepared for all eventualities.
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An aspect of security most people overlook is the protection of dignitaries from protestors. Olympic events are magnets for protesters from around the world. Local laws are enacted many years before an Olympic event to make it extremely difficult for protestors of any type to congregate and create a public disturbance. Local police chiefs are assigned the daunting task of re-training the public. Protest is strenuously suppressed in Olympic regions. Municipal regulations change to give police new powers of dispersion and arrest. It is also incredibly difficult to attain a license to congregate for any type of public gathering. Politicians, police departments, and sponsor media work together to manage public protest. Politicians write new laws, police enforce them, and sponsor media newspapers ignore protestors. (hjl30)
Thousands of protestors clashed in the streets during the Games in Athens in 2004, but it was barely reported. It’s not good for business to show people being pepper-sprayed and clubbed in the immediate vicinity of Olympic venues.
Politicians have a hard time making the link between the Olympics and the need for law and order, or human rights. They don’t get it. As Lenskyj describes [university professor Dr. Helen Lenskyj], politicians and mainstream sponsored media refuse to acknowledge there is a problem because they want to market the region as an area of stability. Police on the other hand feel a personal responsibility, so they raise an alarm to get everyone’s attention. Somewhere in the middle lays reality. It’s up to the local Olympic committee to find balance, but if they are out of control and drowning in operational and logistical nightmares they can’t possibly become the influential voice of reason. (hjl37)
Before reading this book you might have thought politicians and the police departments work together in harmony regarding the Olympics, but as I’m sure you now know, they are often at each other’s throats. Imagine what it is like for the police commissioner or chief to watch politicians and Olympic organizations flounder in the ramp up to the Games. How long do you think it will be before the police chief wakes up in the middle of the night, in his seventy-fifth cold sweat, before he resolves to take matters into his own hands? It spawns the birth of a police state. Can you blame him? A sane responsible person can only watch someone fumble the ball so many times before they pick it up and run. For example, during a public meeting in April of 2006, as councilor Peter Ladner told an audience that ‘reductions’ to staffing requests made by the Vancouver police department were arrived in cooperation with the police department, Chief Jamie Graham and Deputy Chief Bob Rich sat in the audience literally shaking their heads. They publicly addressed the decision later in a manner described as being “unusually critical.” (vs29)
In Sydney they also passed the Olympics Arrangements Act. Its purpose was to augment old regulations and cover for hastily passed new legislation. Acts similar to this also cover “over commercialization,” if that’s even possible, of the Olympics. The idea is to have a legislative tool to manage ambush marketing and prevent so-called ”tacky” advertising flooding the streets. In other words, corporate sponsors can buy up every billboard in town (and they do), but if a small business wants to put a sign in their window or sidewalk the Olympic sign police will slap them with an injunction and fine.
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Politicians often take credit for everything and responsibility for nothing. In Vancouver when house prices started to blow through the roof as a result of Olympic frenzy politicians got on the soapbox and tried to convince everyone the soaring house prices and booming economy were a result of something good they did. They quoted esoteric global economic reasons no one could really nail down and talked about how well they managed the province relative to the last political party in power. It sounded like oil companies trying to explain rising gas prices. They also spent millions and millions of taxpayer dollars on television ads to brainwash residents into thinking everything was rosy. It was interesting to watch because all that the rest of Canada saw was a B.C. premier who was arrested for drunk driving, a B.C. pig farmer who allegedly murdered fifty prostitutes over a twenty year period and fed them to his pigs, a Vancouver mayor who only lasted one term because, and as he readily admitted it, he liked to ‘play’ mayor but wasn’t a politician (surprise, surprise – now he’s a Senator), a B.C. member of parliament who stole a $64,000 ring from a merchant, B.C. parliamentary aides who were involved illegal drug manufacturing, bribery and kickback schemes, the Vancouver international airport at the centre of one of the worst air bombing disasters in history, a province whose biggest cash crop is marijuana, ferries that sink or run aground crushing pleasure boats, the worst drug ghetto in all of Canada, the highest car theft and home burglary rate per capita in all of Canada, and the list goes on and on. Yeah! B.C. politicians rock.
B.C. is primarily booming because of the Olympics . . . period.
I’m wondering how politicians found any time to do such incredible things for the province when it’s obvious they were either breaking the law or putting out fires. What could the rest of Canada possibly learn from this anthology of controversy? Even more importantly, how well do you think politicians will manage the Olympics? After all of this crisis, local politicians in late 2005 were still telling residents that soaring house prices are good and that politicians are responsible for the booming economy. Interestingly, only a small number of people in Vancouver recognize that the booming economy is a direct result of euphoria over the Olympics.
As you saw earlier in this book soaring house prices and property values are predictable occurrences in all Olympic regions. House prices almost always go up, at least in the first few years, and taxes and rent follow. It is a given, and smart developers, media, politicians, and real estate agents know it, but still try to convince residents it is a result of something good politicians are doing. If Vancouver and Whistler have plans to turn the region into a perfectly manicured mountain community for the wealthy and elite, possibly like Geneva, we are well on our way. We will have mountainsides that look like golf courses, but what are we going to do with all the upper-middle income, middle income, lower-middle income, low income, and no income homeless people in the province? You guys are going to have to go. Where? I don’t know, but it’s obvious if things keep improving the way they did in the two years after the Bid was won you won’t even be able to afford the taxes, let alone your mortgage or food. Politicians have done such a good job we are about to implode in our own success. Politicians have done such a good job that consumer spending at B.C. restaurants from December of 2004 to December 2005 was DOWN 1.6%, while Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario were all up in the double digits. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out people are already house poor and tax laden. (vs11)
I don’t have a problem with house prices going up, but I do have a problem with media misleading residents into believing it is because of something great politicians have done. It’s a dangerous belief to perpetuate because in many Olympic regions house prices spike in exactly the same way, and inevitably the bottom falls out. Salt Lake City is a good example. Residents were promised by Olympic organizations that they would make a killing renting their properties out to Olympic spectators, but by the time the Games rolled around the market was flat. However, taxes were still astronomically high as a result of the early spike in real estate after the Bid was won, and horror upon horrors, all those SLC homeowners who bought in high, and renovated wrecks, well they were left holding the bag when it came time to rent out their properties during the Games. Developers, real estate agents, and banks didn’t mind, but it’s not the legacy residents expected. Real estate markets actually went bone dry in the months surrounding the Olympics. Realtors in Park City didn’t sell one home during the three-month span surrounding the Games. Already in February of 2006 local media are reporting a slumping real estate market in Vancouver/Whistler. Some even dance around the possibility it could lead to a burst bubble. Media don’t want to even mention the ‘bubble-word’, because even a hint will piss off the real estate industry. Self-titled ‘real estate experts’ claim the ‘indicators’ do not exist to create a bubble. They claim they see no examples of speculation.
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Olympic spirit isn’t just for the wealthy. It must satisfy everyone. Instead of attributing the boom to Olympic frenzy politicians take personal credit for rising house prices and the booming economy, and they do it for two reasons. First, in the short term it looks good on them, but secondly and something most people don’t realize, it leads residents to believe it’s a unique scenario. By virtue of it being unique, politicians don’t have to bring to light that it happens in almost all Olympic regions and that it is predictable, along with the very serious downside of artificially inflated taxes. (bv2)
Without question, it’s best to let the market flow, but if you truly want to let it flow politicians, developers, realtors, and media can’t collude to artificially push it along.
Considering that ninety-eight percent of businesses in B.C are small and midsize, what good will it possibly serve to have property values, rent and taxes artificially skyrocket? Where is the upside? I can clearly see how it benefits everyone in the political, land development and real estate sector, but what good does it do for SMBs? The cost of doing business clearly goes up and that isn’t good for anyone, especially when it flattens out, and in most Olympic regions it flattens out as fast as it rises. Politicians should be sharing with everyone what happens economically in other Olympic regions. Residents shouldn’t have to rely solely on what they hear from the Olympic camp, because what they preach is biased. What’s in it for them to tell residents the truth? By the time you figure it out they will be long gone. If you are curious about what happened in other Olympic regions you will find the following paragraphs interesting.
In Australia all residents have the right to shelter, but pre-Olympics there was no legislation in place to guarantee them “security of tenure.” As long as landlords gave “sixty days notice they could increase rents and evict tenants without cause.” In Vancouver landlords have to give a ninety-day notice to raise rents, but they can also do it retroactively. In both cities there is a tool to appeal excessive increases, but in both cities it is unwieldy and biased towards landlords. Already in 2005, landlords on the guise of doing major improvements evict tenants. The tenant is forced out, the landlord paints, and then rents the space to new tenants at highly increased rates. Laara Raynier, whose apartment is in the vicinity of the soon-to-be-built Olympic speed skating oval in Richmond was served eviction notices four times in 2005/06 and has had to appear in court at her own expense each time to defend herself against the notice. The judge rules in her favor every time, but still the municipal government has done nothing to intervene. Situations like this happen in every Olympic region and as time progresses it escalates in frequency. According to local bylaws, if a tenant is evicted, and can then prove the landlord did not do substantial improvements, the most the landlord has to do is pay the evicted tenant two months rent. It is well worth it for the landlord to simply pay the fee and repeat the process over and over. It is exactly the same method used by landlords in all Olympic regions to get around rent caps. Unfortunately, there has not been one mention of this trend on lo-cal community watchdog websites. (hjl52;rn1)
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A challenging aspect of becoming an Olympic sponsor, partner, or supplier is losing your freedom of speech. Everyone in business understands clearly why we need confidentiality clauses in agreements between companies. They are necessary to protect company secrets and to help companies retain their competitive advantage. Olympic organizations also need to protect their secrets in order to remain competitive. Unfortunately, Olympic organizations are tightly woven into the fabric of society and as such must also be transparent regarding how they operate. There is a distinct conflict of interest that only recently has been challenged. It is hard to keep a secret in the internet era. Someone somewhere will leak information, and once it is out it can’t be put back. Confidential information about many companies and organizations is leaked anonymously every day. The Olympics are no exception. Consequently we have a better understanding of the process today than we did yesterday. And it will be even clearer tomorrow. The paradox is that Olympic organizations pass themselves off as responsible altruistic components of society, but in reality, over the years they have evolved to be very efficient profit-centric corporate entities. The rules they leverage were written in simpler times for organizations or associations with a mandate to improve the fabric of society. However, today Olympic organizations mix and match these rules with corporate convention. They have the best of both worlds and they pick and choose. When it suites their purpose they can act either like a responsible political leader, or like a shrewd and aggressive corporate shareholder. By partnering with governments they are able to maintain equilibrium in a very fast changing and volatile economic landscape. They make and break their own rules and in doing so limit freedom of speech for those who partner with them. This omnipotent control they wield over their partners is the best-kept secret and most powerful tool in their arsenal. If you want to play in their sandbox they demand that you play by their rules and keep your mouth shut, whether you win, lose, agree or disagree.
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Olympic protesting is often an illegal, violent event. Protestors wear masks, police officers remove badges and everyone involved would prefer to remain anonymous. For some it’s simply because they have regular jobs that could be negatively impacted, for others it allows them to commit illegal acts and reduce their risk of getting caught. Anti-Olympic protesting is an especially dangerous form of protest because in essence you are acting out against the state. Many countries don’t take kindly to what they erroneously perceive as treason and they react accordingly. You can guarantee that if you are caught in an anti-Olympic protest someone is going to get hurt. Olympic organizations do a good job of hyping politicians and the public into thinking peaceful protest against the Olympics is an act of treason. In some respects Olympic organizations are ‘almost’ justified because the Games are so easily disrupted that even the smallest controversy can put them on the road to ruin. Any type of scandal can have a devastating effect when you operate on the border of chaos. It only takes a small push to put you over the edge. Consequently Olympic organizations have a zero tolerance attitude when it comes to people criticizing their activities. They hit back hard and swiftly. Sometimes it works, and other times it blows up in their faces.
Politicians have a lot to gain by bringing the Olympic spectacle to a region. As long as they don’t get caught red handed in a bribery scandal or kickback scheme they look like heroes, at least until it leaves town and before taxes rise to cover overrun costs. The public falls for it every time when politicians tell us we should accept the Olympics unconditionally and it will be nothing-but-good for the community. If it was so good for the community why do so many people protest it? Can so many individuals be so wrong time after time?
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Local protest is very rarely peaceful. Most of the time it starts out that way, but the police and military in Olympic regions are extremely sensitive and often have zero tolerance to any type of protest. When they react to a protest they often instigate violent reactions. Most people around the world still don’t have a clue that violent protests erupted in Athens during the 2004 Games only blocks from Olympic traffic and hotels hosting politicians and Games officials. Thousands of people clashed violently with police and military, but the media downplayed it. Reporting about it after the fact when tempers abate doesn’t happen either because there is no financial incentive for media to do so. Go ahead, search online for ‘riots protests Colin Powell Athens 2004’ and see what you find. I’m betting you had no clue this was happening during the 2004 Summer Games, or if you did you dismissed it as a non-event. When it hits your city you’ll soon look at it with a different perspective.
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More taxpayer dollars are spent promoting and protecting the torch event than some nations spend to feed their starving. But it is a fun and necessary tool used to elevate excitement. Other than the occasional group of young men in the background mooning the camera as the flame passes by, the torch relay is mostly political posturing until a protestor or a publicity seeker tackles one of the torchbearers. In fact accosting a torchbearer and trying to extinguish it happens so often it’s possible it could become an Olympic event worthy of a medal and a trip to the podium. Tackling the torchbearer is kind of like a wrestler getting hit in the head from behind with a chair. It gets the crowd on its feet.
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Media tie politics to the Olympics when it serves their purpose, but if anyone else does it they chastise them.
1st printing no longer available at CHAPTERS locations in Vancouver
Own the Podium?
The official creed (guiding principle) of the Olympics is a quote by the
founding father of the modern day Games Baron de Coubertin. He said, "The
most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
The Olympic motto consists of three Latin words Citius, Altius, Fortius,
which means, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." The 1924 motto is meant to encourage
athletes to embrace the Olympic spirit and perform to the best of their
No where does it imply that winning the most gold medals for your country
is part of the agenda. In fact it implies exactly the opposite.
The IOC maintains that it doesn't actively encourage countries to collectively
win the most gold medals, but on the other hand they also don't institute
anything to ensure that the Games are not turned into corporate money
In fact, IOC sponsorship and partnership business models encourage a win-at-all-costs
mentality. It is the reason they have doping, fraud and bribery scandals.
The IOC invites young people to compete in the Olympics using the original
Creed & Motto. But when it comes to delivering on the promise they
fall incredibly short.
The Olympics today isn't as much about sport as it is about money and
Priorities changed over the years and so too should their Creed &
If athletes go for the gold, and the IOC goes for the gold, and corporate
sponsors go for the gold, and governments go for the gold, and considering
that you will have to foot the bill for their gold, why should
you be edged out of the race?
Move to the starting line.
Own the Podium?
Own Your Home?
Real journalism consists of
what someone doesn't want published,
all the rest is public relations." George Orwell