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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Olympics for Peace
    John Hughes

    Sigh. So the Olympics will come to Vancouver in 2010. Perhaps I ought to say that they will run roughshod over our fair town that year. Witness the last winter Olympics. Post 9/11 security/terrorism concerns turned the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics into an over-hyped military lockdown. This does not augur well for Vancouver as the war on terrorism is not likely to be declared over by 2010 even if Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are both making license plates at Guantanamo Bay by then. There has been much debate about the costs and benefits that shall accrue to Vancouver as a result of the 2010 Olympiad. Yet security costs, while accounted for in differing ways on different ledger sheets, are not spelled out in a way that describe how this city will live for two weeks in 2010. Does anybody remember the APEC conference in 1997? Vancouver looked like it was made out of a seemingly endless series of Berlin Walls. Checkpoints in any downtown building that one hoped to enter became the norm for the week that the heads of state of the APEC nations were in town, as did snipers on rooftops and SWAT team helicopters making regular passes that were extremely disconcerting. The feeling in Vancouver that week and in the time leading up to it was anything but peaceful and salubrious.

    Ancient OlympicsWhile this scribe lacks the omniscience necessary to provide a completely accurate view into how things will be eight years from now, the humble submission that we will be living in a sort of supercharged APEC zone is the best guess. The post-Cold War era of international political culture did not take on a distinct shape until September 11, 2001 and that culture is still developing. Overdone security is a paranoid byproduct of that culture and, as such, it has become has become a demented growth industry. The Vancouver Olympics should be a showcase of the latest and greatest in security gadgets and creepy security jargon. Can you imagine a city armed to the teeth while advertisers flog updated versions of those skyscraper parachutes now being advertised in New York? It is to shudder.

    The Olympics, of course, have had horrendous security problems in the past. The 1996 Atlanta bombing, the 1972 Munich Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered and the 1936 Berlin Olympics where all athletes who were unfamiliar with the goose-step had to watch their backs spring immediately to mind. The ancient Greeks who invented the Olympics saw that security was always a potential concern at the event. During the Olympics, the Greeks declared an ekecheriea or truce, which guaranteed safe passage to those traveling to the games as well as a laying aside of hostilities for their duration. The reign of Alexander the Great saw the Olympic festivities give rise to an amnesty in which prisoners were released, debts were forgiven and long serving soldiers released from their duties. Clearly, the interstate goodwill that characterized the ancient Olympics has disappeared from the radar screen. It no longer seems possible to simply declare an end to war for the length of the Olympics for the purpose of friendly competition. On the other hand, as the hosts of the 2010 Olympics, could we not claim a hosts’ privilege? Could Vancouver, in its endless quest to become a “world class” city, not take the lead from Alexander the Great and declare an ekecheriea of its own? How’s this for a slogan: “no 2010 games without at least two weeks of world peace.” I like it already.           

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