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Column Mon Jan 26 2009
This Saturday evening, Chris Shaw, author of the book Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, will be taking part in a panel discussion at UIC entitled "Why we should say 'NO' to the Chicago 2016 Olympics Bid." A professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, Chris Shaw is also a founding member/lead spokesperson for the No Games 2010 Coalition and 2010 Watch. He recently discussed his book Five Ring Circus with Mechanics contributor Bob Quellos.
BQ: Your book is subtitled "Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games," but Five Ring Circus is not about Greek mythology, correct?
CS: No, sadly it's not ancient Greek myths that are the problem with the modern Olympics; rather, it's the corruption at all levels and the massive debt that cities incur holding the Games that are the problems.
BQ: How did you become interested in this subject?
CS: My interest began when I heard Vancouver was likely to be short-listed and about to submit their detailed bid. It was the period in 2002, very much where Chicago is now in its bid process. We tried our best to prevent Vancouver from getting the bid. Sadly, we failed and all the negative consequences that we predicted came to pass. Chicagoans have the opportunity to prevent the same mess from occurring in their city, but the time to stop the bid is short.
BQ: Vancouver's Olympic Village for the 2010 Winter Games has recently encountered financial trouble -- forcing the city of Vancouver to fund the project. According to a writer for the Vancouver Sun, this move could eventually leave the city of Vancouver bankrupt. Do you think the possibility of the Olympics bankrupting Vancouver is overstated?
CS: Vancouver finds itself on the hook for almost a billion dollars to finance the construction of the Athletes' Village. They are unlikely to recover the money by selling the units in the near future. They also face nearly another $500 million, or more, for other Olympics costs. We were promised by a former mayor that hosting the Games wouldn't cost Vancouverites one penny. Clearly, he was wrong by a spectacular amount, and that is only the direct costs for Vancouver and not the costs to the province or the federal government. The total price tag is now well over $6 billion; we had been told in 2002 that it would only be $600 million. London's bid has gone from about $4 billion to $18 billion. At the same time as Vancouver's costs go up, we suddenly find that half of the City's property endowment fund has vanished. Could the city go bankrupt? Yes.
BQ: As you are aware, Chicago is bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Why should Chicagoans be wary of hosting the Games?
CS: Costs, just like the above, displacement of the poor and homeless (the city police are already planning sweeps to get the homeless out of the city before 2010). Environmental destruction also always occurs and there is no transparency to any part of the process, etc. This is the history of all recent games and there is no reason to believe Chicago would be different. After all, no offense, but the recent governor couldn't even appoint a Senate replacement for Obama without trying to get a bribe. Imagine what it will be like when billions are up for grabs in construction.
BQ: Your book concludes with a chapter entitled "No Games! A Citizen's Manual of Resistance to the Olympics." It isn't typical for authors writing on political/social topics to include an activist guide for resistance in their books. Why did you feel it was necessary to include this chapter in Five Ring Circus?
CS: The main reason is that, ultimately, I'm an activist. The book details ways to stop bids rather than trying to fight the circus after the fact. This is important because the pro-bid side usually has so much money and so much political clout that average citizens think there is nothing they can do. This is not true; there is a lot you can do. We've had great success so far helping the citizens in Tromso, Norway, stop the 2018 bid. If we can help Chicago's resistance, we'd be delighted to do so.