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What do Olympic sponsors know?

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Much was made of Whistler’s designation as the first ever “Host Mountain Resort” for a Winter Olympics, but there are indications the world may not be beating a path to our door.

Birks Jewellry, an Olympic sponsor, feels it’s not worth being in Whistler before or after the Games. The Canadian institution promises to have “a presence” in Whistler during the Olympics and Paralympics but the company no longer feels it has to have a proper store in Whistler. Birks closed its Whistler shop last week and there’s now paper on the windows.

Earlier PetroCanada, another Olympic sponsor and Canadian institution, decided not to rebuild its service station in Whistler prior to the Games. There are likely many factors in this decision, including the cleanup of the site of the original PetroCanada station that was contaminated by leaking fuel. The Creekside property, which is owned by PetroCanada and sits next to the highway, may also have become too valuable for a gas station. And the company could be in discussions with the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations about the service station they have planned for their property at the entrance to Function Junction.

But PetroCanada, like Birks, will in all likelihood be a 2010 Olympic sponsor with no retail outlet in Whistler during the Games — despite the fact Whistler has been a one-gas-station town since the PetroCanada was shut down in 2006.

Among the international Olympic sponsors, there are rumours that Coca Cola may have decided not to book any rooms in Whistler during the Games for its executives. Instead, they’ll stay in Vancouver and commute to Whistler for events they want to see. They’ll return to the city for nightly festivities, receptions and parties.

Last week’s Olympic update to council, from Whistler’s own 2010 office, included the written statement: “More than 45 commercial spaces have been registered with the Commercial Space Matching Program, which is coordinated in partnership with Whistler.com and Tourism Whistler. The database will allow local businesses and property owners to connect directly with potential renters from groups associated with the Games (such as National Olympic Committees, International Sports Federations and sponsors), who have a variety of space needs. As of March 31, 2008 no official enquiries from the Games related parties have been received.”

That prompted Councillor Tim Wake to ask: “Is everyone doing it privately?”

“There will likely be an increase after Beijing,” was the response.

And maybe there will be.

Or maybe there won’t be.

The Games are 22 months away, so there is lots of time for VANOC’s 31 other corporate sponsors, the IOC’s seven other international sponsors, and all the sports federations to decide what sort of space they need in Whistler. And right now they have their pick of 45 commercial spaces.

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