Something is rotten in the city of Vancouver. It's the Olympic Village, which is costing the city over $875 million with all the cost overruns. Over the last weekend, the City of Vancouver found itself in a pot of boiling water as creditors flexed their leather-gloved fists waiting for their money. Premier Gordon Campbell quickly recalled the British Columbia Legislature to pass a special resolution to allow the city unlimited borrowing power. The money is necessary for the city to complete the Olympic Village on time, sure, but at the cost of a large debt.
The Olympic Village disaster is yet another chapter in the long sordid story of how the Olympic Games can bankrupt a city and steal its soul in the process. In simple terms, the International Olympic Committee is a group of vampires, locusts and gold-diggers.
Athens, the proud host of the 2004 games found itself in a $17-billion U.S. debt. In 2006, the Italian government stepped in with $159.11 U.S. million to help bail out the Turin Winter Games, which was experiencing a $196 million shortfall. Beijing's bills set a record by posting $50 billion with its "Bird's Nest" stadium, which already needs new tenants only a few months after the Olympics ended. Starting to see a pattern? When Montreal was selected to host the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Jean Drapeau, Montreal's mayor at the time announced, "the Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby." A fateful forecast to be sure. In Dec. 2006, Quebec finally paid off its $1.5 billion CDN debt from the 1976 Summer Games through the tobacco tax. A great example of the problem of the games is the infamous Montreal Olympics Stadium. Nicknamed "The Big O," it never had a retractable roof and the construction of its tower wasn't completed until 1980, four years after the games. The construction was plagued by labour strikes, the low value of the Canadian dollar, high prices of steel and maintenance problems, which prevented the retractable roof and tower from being fully completed. Even after all the debts, the stadium had no major tenant and would become useless after the Montreal Expos moved in 2004. The 1976 games were successful without any major problems, but the debt still blackened Montreal's legacy. Could the same await Vancouver's Olympic Village, with hundreds of condos unsold and unwanted?
Only Los Angeles managed to make a profit with its 1984 Summer Olympics-- even with the U.S.S.R. and its Warsaw Pact allies boycotting the games. It reaped a $225-million U.S. profit since it had the infrastructure in place and companies paid for upgrades via advertisements and endorsements. Athens, Turin and Beijing all have to pay off debts and there is no evidence of new economic activities despite all the promises of regeneration.
Anger is rising in Vancouver due to the Vancouver Olympic Committee's habit of breaking promises, like respecting environment regulations, which went downhill after construction of the highway link between Whistler and Vancouver. Despite promises of a solution to the housing crisis, squatters and people under the poverty line are still unable to find cheap housing, even with all the construction going on.
If Vancouver is hoping to recoup much of its debt, it needs to sell the condo units in the athletes' village as quickly as possible. One thing Vancouver should learn from the Olympic Village debacle is to avoid the IOC next time around, so it isn't stuck with this much hard work. Those guys are vampires.