The world may come, and go, before the city wakes up
Questions are now being asked whether the laid back wet coast of Canada was really the right place to conduct something on the scale of the Olympic & Paralympic Games. And the person asking is not who you want to be doing so – IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge.
In today's Globe and Mail Rod Mickleburgh reported comments from the Olympic boss as follows:
In an interview with the respected online publication Around the Rings, Switzerland-based IOC president Jacques Rogge did not dispute a suggestion that the 2010 Games have a very low profile.
"I agree ... that a bit more promotion would be useful," Mr. Rogge said.
Rogge is not the only one who's been wondering when Vancouver was going to wake up and realize it's hosting the world, and the biggest show held in BC in over 20 years was mere months away. Back in January, CityCaucus.com asked why the City of Vancouver decided to pass on acknowledging the one-year countdown for the Games. What was Mayor Gregor Robertson's response?
"That's a good question. We gotta kick the fun into gear here."
Well said, Gregor. But that was January, and the clock just keeps ticking.
Rogge's remark stirred up a lot of opinion, including a blistering and at times xenophobic response from The Province's Mike Smyth, who is hosting the Bill Good Show this week. Smyth's rant was the verbal equivalent of giving the finger to the IOC's Belgian boss, arguing that we've spent a lot of money already, why do we need "an outsider" to tell us how to hold a party? Well maybe because he's held this party before, and we haven't.
Vancouverites are notoriously thin-skinned when criticized from abroad. We love the gushing praise we receive for our city, with annual reports putting us at the top for livability, but whew, when someone says something unkind about us, we unload with both barrels. David Duchovny's shot at our town back in when the X-Files series was filmed here resulted in front page news and public outrage.
To my fellow citizens, can we all just relax? Our city is just fine...
The Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee is one noted local Olympics watcher who's guardedly optimistic that Vancouver will come to life. "I decided I've no doubt that Vancouver will be 'ready' for the Olympics," says Lee. "But I wonder where all the glowing hearts are across Canada that VANOC CEO John Furlong has talked about. The Turin 2006 Games were marked as going relatively unnoticed by Italians at large, and VANOC promised that wouldn't be the case in Canada. But with six months to go before the Games I don't see Vancouverites jumping on the bandwagon as Calgarians did for the 1988 Winter Games. On the other hand, we may be surprised with a 'better late than never' bump in support."
However, Bob Mackin, who covers the Olympics beat for 24 Hours Newspaper, is less forgiving. "VANOC and its political partners have done a shameful job by not shamelessly promoting these Games domestically, regionally and globally," comments Mackin. "Inclusivity, like transparency, is not apparently in their vocabulary. The official one-year countdown was closed to the public. Nothing happened publicly on international Olympic day or even the six-month countdown. Wander the streets of downtown Vancouver and look for the Inukshuk logo or five rings. I was in Victoria last week and I'm in Seattle now. You'd never know the world's biggest winter sports festival will happen in the region early next year."
Mackin suggests that planning for the Games didn't include a recession scenario, and he warns that VANOC's transportation plan is badly behind schedule, the launch of the Canada Line notwithstanding.
It's true that we're in tough economic times, and the public are in a pissy mood about money. But after a decade of planning, Vancouver and the Province have a lot at stake. Games organizers and Metro Vancouver cities, who anxiously await the completion of massive new sport venues, highways and transportation improvements, have yet to really devote their attention to the emotional side of the Games. It's people who will make the Games a winner, not another venue with ice within.
By all accounts the actions of Olympics protesters have put staff on their guard. The fear that a few political miscreants will spoil the party is preventing some organizers from focusing on the fun factor. These guys are at all Olympics, but do you remember them at Calgary or Sydney? These towns overwhelmed the world with their city pride.
Rogge's comment is, I hope, a wake-up call to VANOC, Metro Vancouver, and the Province of BC. In particular, the government at the City of Vancouver needs to get off its duff, and acknowledge the Olympics and Paralympics are coming. The Vision Vancouver Council seem to have had an aversion to promoting the Games since they were elected, so as to not upset part of their base who oppose the event. If the Games' business plan was to reap endless publicity and develop lasting business relationships that will enhance industry and grow tourism, we may be in for a rude shock when none of the above happens.
Dwindling public dollars needn't be the stumbling block for BC and Vancouver to sell itself to the world. Any savvy marketer knows there are a million opportunities to generate international buzz, and we only have to exploit them — NOW!
Just look at the AMAZING public reaction to the new Convention Centre, the Golden Ears Bridge, and the Canada Line. A few months ago I attended a PACKED preview of the new Hillcrest Curling Rink, and soon the public will access Southeast False Creek (aka the Olympic Athlete's Village). I sensed an extreme enthusiasm coming from the crowds at Hillcrest, same for those on the Canada Line. We know that the Games will be great, and that most of us just want to start the party.
So let's stop holding back...and get on with the celebration!
Answer the CityCaucus.com Poll Question: Will Vancouver ever get "excited" about the Olympic Games in time?