While the core values of the Olympic Games will always be sportsmanship and athleticism, long ago the International Olympic Committee recognized the potential for the Games to have a profoundly positive impact on host cities, and to foster positive change world-wide.
Even being shortlisted to host a bid can have a positive change in a country, forcing it to re-examine its own global image, instilling pride, and encouraging it to imagine ways to make things better.
The bid group that was attempting to secure the 2008 Games for Instanbul, Turkey, asked only to be shortlisted, because they could use that as an opportunity to rebuild their own crumbling sports infrastructure, and because they could benefit economically in tourism and trade just by being in the global spotlight for a little while.
In 1994 the IOC expanded their mandate to include the environment, and since then every bid has had to have an environmental component.
Standards have been set, met and exceeded progressively, but according to Ken Baker, the head of the sustainability committee of the Vancouver Whistler 2010 Olympic Bid Corporation, there will be an opportunity to go even further if the bid is successful. In fact, sustainability is the core theme of the Vancouver Whistler Olympic effort, and "its already being incorporated into the DNA of the bid, at every level, in every committee, its there," says Baker.
Whether youre part of the committee thats planning athlete housing, or the construction of new sports facilities, every component of the bid will have to take economic, environmental and social sustainability into consideration. That means coming up with innovative ways to reduce and eliminate negative impacts that the Games will have on sites being used, on the people who live there, and on future generations Montreal-ers are still paying for the "Big O" stadium for the 1976 Olympics, for example, and some people are already calling for its demolition.
While other countries bidding for the 2010 Games will also have environmental components, Baker believes that the sustainability message could be a competitive advantage for Vancouver and Whistler.
"Theres a good chance that other groups will focus on sustainability, but I just think we can do it better," says Baker, who recently returned from the World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Nagano, Japan.
"One of the things I took away from Nagano was that although the organizing group understands whats possible on the environmental front, theres always a struggle to make sustainability real.
"I think the so-called green technologies weve already developed, such as our wastewater treatment systems, our forestry technology, our Ballard Fuel Cell systems are some of the most advanced in the world," says Baker. "A sustainable Olympics is possible."