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  • Op Ed: Vancouver Musings


    A view of Coal Harbor from the IOC hotel for the 2010 Games, the Westin. (ATR)
    (ATR) After the struggles and worries that went into the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006, IOC President Jacques Rogge can’t help but be happy with what he found in his visit to Vancouver this week.

    Two years before the Turin Games, Rogge was seeking meetings with the prime minister of Italy, hoping to convince Silvio Berlusconi to provide support from the national government for the 2006 Games.

    This week, with nary a word of encouragement needed from the IOC President, the Canadian government announced that the new budget would include a jolt of $25 million for the Olympic Torch Relay along with a similar amount to help pay for the production of opening ceremonies.

    Meanwhile, the major contribution of the government to the smooth running of the Games -- expansion of the famous Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler -- continues without fanfare towards completion in 2009. The $600 million project will be one of the important physical legacies from the Games.

    Vancouver is also reassuring for the advanced state of construction on the venues built for the Games. Never before has an organizing committee finished as much as it has two years out: Nordic venues, the bob and luge run, and alpine courses are all ready and in the test mode.

    The biggest venue needing to be built is the $178 million speed skating oval in the suburb of Richmond. It appears to be headed towards completion late this year without cost overruns or scandal. And unlike past skating ovals built for the Games, solid legacy planning will make the venue a living part of the community after 2010. The facility will live on as a recreation center instead of dark and empty hall.

    In a nation where ice hockey is the sport of the people, the Vancouver Olympics may bring a peak for the sport at the Games. The main hockey venue -- 18,000-seat GM
    The glass-tower headquarters of VANOC are located in an industrial area on the eastern edge of Vancouver. (ATR)
    Place -- is always sold out for games by the home town Canucks. IOC Coordination Commission chairman Rene Fasel says he expects the same could happen with the dozens of matches that will be held in Vancouver. With prospects shaky for NHL players to participate in Winter Olympics after Vancouver, the 2010 Games could be the last chance for the best players in the sport to skate for Olympic medals.

    There really are few clouds hanging over Vancouver. Even the weather this week, which corresponds to what would be the final days of the Games, knocked back the stereotype of Vancouver’s grey winter. Brilliant sunny skies with warm temperatures provided an indication of just how charmed the setting for 2010 may be in two years.

    Vancouver organizers somehow need to emerge from a bunker mentality that’s been provoked in part by anti-poverty protestors. While IOC President Jacques Rogge applauded the transparency of Vancouver organizers during his visit, he and his colleagues were feted at a ceremony hosted by the First Nations one night that was treated as a big secret until after the fact, when a press release was issued. Rogge and Fasel were given tongue-tying honorary names by the hosts in a ceremony that took on the trappings of a super-secret Masonic ritual, given the pre-event news blackout.

    More seriously for media in a country that prides itself on its openness is the refusal of organizers to make board meetings open to the public. VANOC decides what the press should know – or not know.

    A stone inukshuk watches over the ski jump venue at the Whistler Olympic Park. (ATR)
    And we’ve heard anecdotal comments from international media that Vancouver 2010 is more interested in minding the domestic press than it is the press corps from around the world that will shape the image of the Games. “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” is the adage that applies here.

    Finally, there are the street people of Vancouver’s downtown east side. They may represent the biggest ever group of dispossessed living in a Winter Olympic city. Nothing in the Olympic Charter or the host city contract says the streets must be swept clean of homeless people. But the way government and private organizations deal with these souls will be noticed around the world and could be part of the story of success for these Games.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings founder and editor-in-chief Ed Hula. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: