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Olympic bid to be monitored by Vancouver watchdog group



The 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which would be held in Vancouver and Whistler if the bid is successful, has its first watchdog group.

The Impact of the Olympics on Community Coalition will launch this month out of Vancouver.

"Our mandate is basically to act as a pubic watchdog over the games," said Am Johal a founder of the new coalition group.

"The main issues we want to focus on are housing, civil liberties, the environment, and economic opportunities such as training for low income people as part of the Games."

The coalition is not against the Olympics. Rather the members want to ensure that they are a positive experience for the communities they impact and that active community dialogue takes place as long as the bid process and Olympic idea are pursued.

Johal said member groups of the coalition, which so far include the Tenants Rights Action Coalition, The Carnegie Action Project, The Society Promoting Environment and Conservation, and the Better Environmentally Sound Transportation group, want to use the Winter Games as leverage to achieve social programs and help those they represent.

For example the coalition wants to ensure that the homeless or those on income assistance are not cleaned out of Vancouver’s downtown eastside.

During the 1988 Calgary Winter Games 740 people were evicted so landlords could make more money.

"We don’t want that to happen here and we don’t want police sweeps to be the response to the homeless either," said Johal.

"If (the Games) don’t meet the communities’ needs then we need to work to make it better," he said.

"And if we can’t make it better then people need that information because we need to have a real rich civic debate about this and that hasn’t been happening."

The Salt Lake City Winter games, which start next month, have an active watchdog coalition, The Salt Lake Impact 2002 and Beyond Coalition.

"We got something rather than nothing," said Glen Bailey a co-ordinator of the Salt Lake coalition.

"But it fell far short of what was possible"

Bailey said the Salt Lake Olympic Committee paid little attention to the coalition and failed to deliver on grand promises on affordable housing and other projects made during the bid process.

SLOC promised to create 2,500 units of affordable housing but in the end only 150 units will be available.

The Vancouver Tenants Rights Action Coalition plans to work through the 2010 watchdog group to ensure low income housing in Vancouver and Whistler does not fall victim to greed.

"If Vancouver-Whistler is going to make the bid then they need to ensure that the bid will produce positive legacies for both municipalities and people are not unjustly dealt with to make way for the Olympics, as we have seen in every city where they have been hosted," said Linda Mix of Tenants Rights.

"There is a rental squeeze in Whistler now. Nine years from now it might be incredible, so we are hoping the bid committee will work with the province and municipalities to close loopholes to prevent market driven evictions and rent increases."

Bid CEO Jack Poole has said the athletes village planned for Whistler would become employee-restricted housing following the Games.

The 2010 bid corporation has already had a number of meetings with Johal as part of extensive on-going community discussions.

And, said bid spokesman Sam Corea, it’s been decided a Vancouver based social impact working group will be formed.

"In terms of this community impact situation we are looking at gathering an additional work group in Vancouver," said Corea.

"We will be inviting people from various areas in the social and community side of things... to advise on the social side of the sporting events."

"Community representation and thoughts are of course important to the bid because it comes down to community support, which is one of the criteria that is used for the evaluation of the Olympic bid. The IOC wants to deliver its franchise to where it is wanted."

Whistler’s AWARE group will be in discussions with the Vancouver watchdog coalition but, said director Eckhard Zeidler, it’s not likely it will formally join.

"We certainly welcome any dialogue to try and do this thing right," he said. "But will we organize ourselves into a larger block? I doubt it. We are the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment and we represent our members in this area."

AWARE is active on the bid corporation work groups said Zeidler and is hopeful the Games can be run without compromising the sustainability framework adopted by the community.