Archive for the ‘olympics’ Category

Well, that was unexpected.

Passing through downtown Vancouver yesterday on my last errands until the end of the Winter Olympics, I imagined I’d be affected by the games preparations in any number of ways. Not being a sports fan, I thought I might be offended by the waste. I might flee the crowds and the traffic prepared to be a hermit. I might be angry for the sake of the business owners who had to close down because the traffic restrictions mean that their staff can’t get in and they can’t get deliveries. I might even have been blown away by the spectacle and find myself looking forward to the games after all.

What I didn’t expect was to look around and feel that I had been dipped in tacky excess. Everything I saw was so over the top that it might have been orchestrated by Albert Speer.

The first thing that caught my eye were the banners covering a few of the buildings. Do we really need blowups of athletes six stories high? A Canadian flag ditto, covering most of two sides of a building? Boasts that the corporate owner of a building was an Olympic sponsor? Endless urgings to “Go, Canada, Go?”

Descend to the Skytrain stations, and the excess continued. So far as I can figure, three advertisers had each won the privilege of monopolizing a transit station, and responded by covering as much of their station as possible. At Granville, it was Coca Cola, at Burrard, Macdonald’s, and Acer Computers at Waterfront.

Junk food and cheap computers? How does Vanoc square these with the Olympic ideals of athleticism and excellence? And I wonder who first imagined that repeated the same half dozen ads fifty or sixty times in a confined space was effective advertising, instead of an annoyance.

And everywhere, there were the officials and athletes from out of town, wearing their team uniforms that were not only gaudy but usually with the manufacturers’ names as large as the names of the country. Again, the connection to the Olympics eluded me. The out of towners were so gaudy that they might almost have been wearing Hawaiian shirts.

Yet the out of towners were restrained compared to some of the locals. Well over three-quarters were simply going about their Sunday business, but a minority were as gaudy as the out of towners and jingoistic as well, with Canadian flags flying from their cars and the marquees on their buses giving us a “Countdown to Gold” and urging Canadian athletes on. It was like the hockey playoffs, only on a larger scale.

A two year old might be fascinated by all the bright colors and larger-than-life consumerism, but it’s been a while since I was a child. Surrounded by such general tackiness, I could only complete my errands as fast as possible, and get out of the downtown. Except, perhaps, to see the Aboriginal Pavilion, I don’t plan on coming back until after the Olympics, when the city is back to itself.

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I’m not looking forward to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I never watch sports, and I’m concerned about the costs, traffic, and the virtual declaration of martial law during the games. The fact that I once dreamed of being in the Olympics myself only makes me angrier at the travesty that they have become.

Still, I could almost reconcile myself to the games for the sake of all the First Nations art commissioned for them. Some of that art was on display this weekend at the Aboriginal Art Exhibition at Canada Place this weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – even if the lack of organization at the event seems ominous if it is a foretaste of how the games themselves will be run.

Being appreciative of the commissioned art is something you can file under No-Brainer. I mean, what’s not to like about the art? There’re medals with Corrine Hunt designs, commemorative coins by Jody Broomfield. The snowboarding pavilion at Cypress Bowl will have a wall graced with a new work by Dean Heron. GM Place will have a new work by Alano Edzerza, Nat Bailey Stadium a new work by Aaron Nelson-Moody, and the list goes on and on.

After fumbling badly by making the symbol of the game the inukshuk – a symbol that has nothing to do with British Columbia, much less Vancouver – the games organizers have had the sense to commission locally, focusing on less established artists and on members of the Salish nation, whose territory the Vancouver venues are on. I understand that some 45 works of public art will be added to the Lower Mainland as a result of the games, and I consider that an unalloyed good.

Sadly, though, the Olympic organizers fumbled again in their first efforts to bring most of these works to the public. The display was almost completely unpublicized except for newspaper stories just before the event and some Internet transmission. Even then, it was called an exhibition, so that most people arrived unaware that most of the work on display was for sale – an oversight that bitterly disappointed the artists who had taken tables and paid the exorbitant prices charged for parking at Canada Place.

Even worse, the management of the event was haphazard. I heard artists complain that they were unable to set up for credit or debit cards, and the rumor was that the one bank machine in the exhibit hall required a substantial surcharge to use.

And perhaps the worst thing was that, in order to fill up the hall, the organizers seem to have let anyone exhibit who cared to pay for the table. As a result, many tables displayed tourist junk that did not belong in the same exhibit as the commissioned artists.

For me, the incompetence of the organizing was summed up by the sight of two singers on the stage gamely belting out songs to rows of empty chairs, and a snack bar that had closed down at least two hours before the end of the show. Meanwhile, the exhibitors were strolling around talking to each other.

Such poor planning undermines the celebration of the artists. My impression is that the exhibition organizers couldn’t have cared less if the artists were treated with respect.

Perhaps the organizers can learn, but if this is how they put on such a relatively small event, then we should expect chaos during the games themselves. I might be lured downtown to see the aboriginal market at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, but I, for one, plan to spend the three weeks of the games bunkered down safely in Burnaby, far away from the insanity.

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