When the news came that Vancouver would be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, I was jogging down from the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station to the Yaletown office where I was working. I didn’t hear the announcement, but I heard a cheer go up from the offices on all sounds of me.
Personally, I was surprised. At that point, I had no strong feelings about the Olympics one way or the other. But I had thought that the logistical problems of keeping people moving along the road between Vancouver and Whistler would prevent the bid from being successful. Even more importantly, my own contact with the bid committee hadn’t impressed me much.
About six months earlier, I had applied for a job as a writer on the bid. It wasn’t a position that strongly interested me, but I thought it worth a hour or two of my time to satisfy my curiosity. So, I duly strapped myself into my interview suit, stripped any obvious signs of eccentricity from my person, and presented myself at the Gastown office of the bid committee.
I was interviewed by two women who I quickly classified as marketing and communication workers. That isn’t prejudice; I’ve done similar work myself, after all. But, after a while, you get to know the signs. The two women talked in generalities, and displayed an artificial optimism and enthusiasm at all times. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine them taking part in a casual Friday.
Mostly, the conversation went well enough, so far as conversations during a job interview can ever be said to go well. But when I asked about how the logistical problems might be overcome, the women’s reply boiled down to, “Somehow, everything will work out..” I could also see that, in their minds (and probably on their clipboards), I had set a black mark against my name. That was all right; their replies had cost them points with me, too.
However, two other points were what really disturbed me. First, they said that working on the bid committee would be no guarantee of a continued job if the bid was successful. Since I was sure that the leaders of the committee would land jobs in Vanoc, that seems a lack of loyalty to staff members.
Secondly, as part of the interview, they asked me to go home and write seven or eight pages on how I would promote the Olympics. That is a considerable effort to ask someone to do on spec. Combined with the lack of a guarantee of continuation, I concluded that the request showed a cavalier attitude towards employees. I thought for a couple of days, then phoned the interviewers to say that I would not be responding to their request and that the job no longer interested me.
I have no idea whether those particular women found work with Vanoc. I no longer even remember their names. But it seems to me that their attitudes are echoed in everything I’ve heard from Vanoc ever since, from the feeling that problems would work themselves out to the assumption that local residents will put their lives on hold for the duration of the games next month.
It is not an echo that promotes happy thoughts about how the games will be organized and what the after-effects will be. Frankly, it has kept me from supporting the games ever since. I might talk about the financial and social costs, but behind them is an emotional core of distrust based on this one brief encounter.
This attitude puzzles people from outside the Vancouver area. When I was in Calgary last spring, people were surprised by my lack of enthusiasm. Remembering the Calgary games twenty years and the very different social attitudes in which they took place, everyone assumed that I must be looking forward to the occasion. They were surprised by my lack of enthusiasm, even when I explained my reasons. I’m not sure they ever did understand.
However, I don’t think my attitude is unique in anything other than its origins. No doubt it’s the company I keep, but I’ve found that only one in four – or thereabouts – actually supports the upcoming games. The intial cheering at the news of the bid just doesn’t seem to have lasted.
In fact, I’ve only found one person who defended the games with any passion, and her criticisms were bizarre – she argued that nobody who objected or even questioned the games should use the newly improved highway to Whistler (never mind that she also insisted on the official line that such improvements were not part of the costs of the games). But of eight or nine people in the store, nobody felt like taking her side in the discussion.
Maybe more people will show enthusiasm as the games approach, but, I don’t expect that most people will. The average person in the Vancouver region seems resigned to the games, largely indifferent and if anything mildly hostile, although you wouldn’t know that from the media.
You might say that, for most of us, 2010 will be divided into two parts: enduring the preparations and the games themselves, and the rest of the year. And, like most people, I find myself looking forward to the rest of the year far more than the preparations and the games. If I became dubious earlier than others, it is because I was exposed to the spirit of the games earlier than others.