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Do Olympic critics confront their enemies?



The countdown is on.

We have five months left before we're hit by the tidal wave that is 2010. I don't even call it the Olympics anymore, because simple references to sporting events don't cut it. Five months until we're smacked by a wave of red, white, yellow, blue and green that will take over an entire month of our lives. Better wear those Arc'teryx jackets to keep dry!

In such a short time we can expect the anti-Olympic movement to intensify as 2010 approaches. The Art Gallery could become a permanent home for sit-ins and the Sea to Sky Highway a battleground of blockades and interruptions to the Torch Relay.

We'll hear that the Games are being held on stolen First Nation land and that governments should collectively cancel the Games and put the money into social housing.

And all the while I'll be thinking: have Olympic opponents ever sat down with VANOC and listened to some facts they can offer?

In early August VANOC hosted a series of "game plan" meetings designed to put out important information about 2010, whether it be transport, logistics, security or otherwise. Representatives from the Organizing Committee, ISU and local governments were there to be queried on any and every issue you wanted to know about.

At one point during Pemberton's Game Plan meeting, Communications Director Maureen Douglas stood up and raised the point that Olympic critics aren't necessarily clarifying their concerns by asking questions of VANOC.

In the months leading up to that meeting I came to agree with the critics, but that night I got to thinking: how can we take Olympic opponents seriously if they can't even query the organizers directly?

I'm not here to say that Olympic opponents don't have legitimate gripes. The Games are, indeed, being held on unceded First Nation territory, the same place where we've built our homes and workplaces. None of us are about to vacate what we have but it doesn't hurt to acknowledge this.

There are also compelling arguments about a lack of social housing in Vancouver. Thousands of homeless on the streets suggests there might not be enough. It's hardly the solution to the epidemic of homelessness but it's not a hackneyed explanation either.

Then, of course, there's the gripes about surveillance during the Games and the fact we'll all be watched by closed circuit cameras when we visit Olympic venues. This doesn't bother me too much - I don't plan on doing anything that would warrant surveillance but I can understand the discomfort of people who will.

Likewise I share the concerns people have about free speech restrictions in areas with Olympic activities. Point taken on all counts.

But how often have Olympic protesters actually brought these complaints before VANOC itself?

Groups like the Olympic Resistance Network and the No to 2010 coalition pride themselves on "direct action" techniques that have included crashing Olympic announcements, holding up construction at Eagle Ridge Bluffs and putting up posters in the Downtown Eastside that encourage people to "behead the snake" when Jacques Rogge comes to town.

The tactics suggest that protesters are setting themselves up for another APEC '97, the famous clash that saw activists bump up against RCMP officers who seemed to be taking instruction from the Prime Minister's Office.

It's perhaps to the advantage of Olympic opponents that they're not addressing their concerns directly with VANOC. They don't want their concerns calmed. They want to keep up a frenzy about Olympic activity in order that protests can hit critical mass come 2010.

Vancouver and Whistler will become a world stage in less than five months' time. It's the best chance for protesters to bump up against authorities and they need to work themselves into a kind of warp-spasm to ensure maximum impact at Games time. Facts might calm too much their fervour.

I realize it's too much to expect diplomacy out of some Olympic opponents but I put very little confidence in the fury of protesters who don't just calm down a second and listen to the facts offered by their enemies. Too often passion is placed ahead of pragmatism and there's sure to be no better example than the 2010 protests.

Sit back, watch and remember that there's nothing, not even facts, that will get in the way.