VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Chris Shaw never wanted the Winter Olympics to come to Vancouver, but with the event now just a month away he says he’s already pleased with one result that Games organizers probably did not want -- a united opposition.
The Olympics has become a rallying point for a range of social groups planning their own “convergence” in Vancouver in February to protest against the corporate greed and injustice they say the Olympic movement has come to symbolize.
“What has emerged in Vancouver is really quite remarkable in the sense that there really is an anti-Olympic opposition,” said Shaw, a member of the Olympic Resistance Network, a coalition of activist groups.
Opponents in Vancouver lost a referendum over the Games in 2003 when the city was still bidding for them, but instead of “sulking in our basements” they kept organizing and linked up with anti-Olympic groups outside of Vancouver, Shaw said.
Local critics say the money spent on the Games would have been better spent resolving social problems such as poverty and homelessness. There are also allegations the event is being held on land that really belongs to Canada’s aboriginal people.
Olympic organizers say Vancouver’s poor will benefit through local redevelopment and other spin-off economic opportunities, while local aboriginal groups are supporting the event as co-hosts. The Games begin on February 12.
Vancouver’s anti-Olympics groups say their complaints go beyond just local issues and they hope the event on Canada’s Pacific Coast will become a focal point for a revitalized international anti-globalization movement.
“Part of the resurgence of the anti-globalization movement is fighting the Olympics,” said Shaw, a medical researcher with the University of British Columbia.
Geoff Meggs, a Vancouver city councilor and long-time community and labor activist who supports the Olympics, doubts the Games will actually draw that many demonstrators beyond those who often turn out for local issues.
“That certainly wasn’t the precedent from Turin,” Meggs said, citing conversations he had with officials in the Italian city that hosted the 2006 Winter Games.
Opponents will also have to struggle to be heard amid the influx of 5,000 athletes and officials, 10,000 media representatives, and thousands of volunteers and visitors.
Olympics critics may have inadvertently received a publicity boost from the police, who have cited the possibility that a protest could turn violent as part of the reason the security budget is a hefty C$900 million ($868 million).
So far, protests have been muted. There have been some small disruptions of the Olympic torch relay as it travels across Canada to Vancouver for the opening ceremonies, with most linked to local aboriginal rights claims along the route.
A poll in November by Angus Reid found 80 percent of Canadians felt the Games would have a positive impact nationally, but skepticism was highest in host province British Columbia, where 25 percent expect a negative impact on Vancouver.
The survey found that while only 14 percent of Canadians supported anti-Olympic protests, that figure rose to 32 percent in British Columbia. That shows the anti-Olympic groups have had some success in getting their message out, Shaw said.
Some Olympic officials have complained privately that media covering preparations for the Vancouver Games have given too emphasis to opponents of the event.
The growth of Internet blogs and social media like Facebook have also given Olympic opponents more ways to get their message out than in past Winter Games, said Mario Canseco, a vice-president at Angus Reid.
“It’s a lot more difficult for (Olympic officials) to control the message,” Canseco said.
Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson