the vancouver olympic legacy could break your heart

My city is under attack. Although I now live on Salt Spring Island, I was born in Vancouver - once a relatively quiet, multicultural city, until it was invaded by a vicious corporation seeking control of its citizens.

My city is under attack. Although I now live on Salt Spring Island, I was born in Vancouver – once a relatively quiet, multicultural city, until it was invaded by a vicious corporation seeking control of its citizens. We should call in the troops, but the corporation has already taken them by stealth in a scenario first sketched by the science-fiction film, Rollerball.

Now 6,000 Canadian soldiers are patrolling the streets of Vancouver and its suburbs, protecting us from ourselves. That’s double the number needed for Afghanistan! Fighter jets are roaring overhead. Helicopters are patrolling the sky, and predator drones spy on us.

A thousand cameras have been mounted in Vancouver alone, while Olympic communities pass laws allowing poverty-stricken homeless people to be dragged away against their will, and dissidents are followed and threatened. And every Canadian from Rat River to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, will be paying off the Olympic bill for years to come!

Does this sound far-fetched to you? Well, it’s today’s reality. I remember warning about this months ago, yet instead of improving, the event has only grown more scary.

For the first time, to my knowledge, in North America, citizens need passports and travel papers to go for a drive in their hometown. This is reminiscent of the internal travel papers of Nazi-controlled Europe or Maoist China.

In fact, the Nazi Olympics of 1936 are a model for the new era. Millions of dollars have been spent to imitate that Nazi invention, the torch. Unfortunately, ours resembles a flaming joint (how Canadian!) zig-zagging across Canada, which performance artist Sheri-D-Wilson has hilariously set up on Youtube.

Some among us fear a society where dogs patrol ferry terminals and airports and stadiums, while the hopeful tell us we should be pleased with our $1-billion “security legacy”- 25,000 people hired to spy on a city. A police state. If this is Canada’s legacy for the 21st century then we should be mighty ashamed of what we are leaving to our children.

Children? Ah yes, children. The young, the athletic. Aren’t they the idea behind this monstrous spectacle?

There’s few who don’t love the beauty of sport, bodies surging to the finish line. Fancy moves, grace in its simplicity. Pure competition. That was the ideal of the Olympics when it was revived 100 years ago.

But the Whistler Olympics has degenerated into a $6-billion corporate extravaganza and police state, while the ideal of amateur sport has been converted into the government slogan: OWN THE PODIUM. How ugly. How unsportsmanlike. Buy your victory. And it’s true. One mother estimated it cost her $300,000 over eight years to buy her child a chance at the podium.

Yet when you hear the greats, Silken Laumann, and our flag bearer this year, Clara Hughes, you hear the voices of elegance and graciousness. In a recent interview, Clara Hughes discussed her most satisfying moment after winning victories in both the Summer and Winter Olympics – it was the time she came in 13th. She’d been at the top of her form, confident, ready to go, and then was suddenly stricken with a cold and was deathly sick on race day. Still, she managed to achieve 13th in the world. She was so proud of herself striving, reaching so far in hapless circumstances. A prouder moment than her gold medals. Now that’s sport.

That’s an athlete, and how appropriate that she carry our flag into the ceremonies. But wait, the flag? Why do we want flags? Don’t we want sports? Why do we add up a nation’s medals? The medals have become an evil accounting that ignores the athletes, converting the dreams of striving children into a national product.

Why are we doing this to our children, those excited kids from Whitehorse and Nunavut and North Bay and Victoria, all of them giving their very best?

We lock them into programs that cost tens of thousands of dollars, affordable usually only for the affluent, inflict them with psychiatrists, GPS satellite imaging, branding offers, master chefs and body workers, $10,000 racing suits that last for one or two races. Barking bosses who demand strict adherence to their methodologies. Massive chemical laboratories and invasive testing programs.

Meanwhile the corporations are cleaning up. You can’t buy a ticket if you don’t own a Visa card. That’s right, the Canadian dollar isn’t good enough for official Olympic ticket sales. Seven million bottled beverages will be sold by Coca-cola alone, and all those empty plastic bottles will be shipped to China, melted down, recycling their pollution back towards us.

The security paranoia has created a city of fear. Thousands of citizens are fleeing their homes, and small businesses are closing up. UBC has shut down its mini-city of more than 20,000 students and supporting employees. The economic costs will haunt us for years, and the inconveniences will be epic: police enforcing the road blocks, and passports. Four-hour waits to enter the opening ceremonies – longer than the ceremonies themselves. Six-hour waits to view a few ski events that happen in the blink of an eye.

In some foreign nations the Olympics have become a recognized form of child abuse, children confiscated from their parents in their toddling years and trained ruthlessly, their bones deformed, chemically enhanced, disciplined brutally, the failures discarded onto the street, all for only a possibility of victory.

Meanwhile, the thirst for the podium in Canada has led to knee-destroying skis that have so far crippled five of our skiers this winter. Own the podium? Consider the swimmers and their ubiquitous asthma inhalers after a childhood of chlorine inhalation in the pools.

When a friend’s daughter handily won a local swim race I asked him if she was thinking Olympics. “Are you kidding,” he said, I wouldn’t inflict that on my child. It’s abuse.”

The Olympics have taken terrible advantage of the hunger of youth. Yet despite all my misgivings I know I will be watching the skaters, and the free-boarders, religiously. It’s too beautiful to miss.

But we can have our sport without the madness. It’s easy. Eliminate the corporate monster and the crazed, chest-thumping, nation-strutting Olympic ceremonies around the world. Give the Games back to Olympia for the Summer Games. Make it a permanent home.

And Switzerland should be the winter home. The only neutral country in the world. The Games are a European invention and they should stick to their roots. Then take the flags away from the podiums. No flags! No brands!

The money will disappear and what will remain? The athletes, of course! The exquisite bodies flying off the ski jumps and gracefully pirouetting on the glassy ice. The hockey player scoring for the love of scoring.

This is our chance to take our sports away from the corporations and return them to the athlete. The dream in a young girl’s eyes doesn’t need a $1-billion assault on freedom and health and national economies. Give the Games back to the little girls and boys with big dreams, the ones with a real sense of sport.

Brian Brett, poet, journalist and novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book, Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life, was released in the fall by Greystone Books.