White elephants and grizzlies in the Olympic zoo


As February 2010 creeps up on us we are gradually coming to understand what it means to co-host the Winter Olympics. And one of the most important points to keep in mind is that the Games are a complex amalgamation of business, sport and culture, with a zoo full of interests.

Whistler’s own interests have been roughed out in the 85-page Strategic Framework for the Olympics, presented to council last week. In typical municipal-speak, the Strategic Framework lists 11 strategic objectives and a number of key deliverables for the 2010 Games.

The Strategic Framework also talks about “our Games partners — VANOC, the IOC, the COC, the IPC the CPC, Host First Nations, the City of Vancouver and the City of Richmond.” And this is where we need to understand that we are just one of the players in this zoo. We may be partnered with this alphabet soup in putting on the Games but that doesn’t mean we all share the same interests in the Games. When they are over we’ll go our separate ways and be left to do our own evaluations of how the Olympics went and what they left behind.

What’s left behind are the legacies of the Games. Whistler’s Strategic Framework document lists Our Lasting Legacies, ranging from the 300-acre community land bank to “personal memories and stories of the 2010 Games…”

Legacy number 8 is the Whistler Nordic venue, which “…post-Games will be a legacy for the enjoyment of local residents, visitors and athletes in a variety of recreational uses to high-performance sport.” The Nordic centre is, currently, a $115 million facility under construction. And like most Olympic venues it is being funded by taxpayers.

The original plans for the Nordic centre called for additional trails, beyond what are needed for the Olympic competitions, in order to make the post-Games facility more economically viable. But when the Nordic centre was going through the environmental assessment process a couple of years ago the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations had concerns about the so-called legacy trails disturbing lands they consider sacred. Some commercial operators in the Callaghan Valley also raised concerns about the legacy trails.

So the legacy trails were put on hold; their exact configuration to be determined at a later date. And in the interest of moving along construction of the Nordic centre only the core Olympic trails and facilities went through the environmental assessment process.

Last month acting Auditor General Arn van Iersel warned of the dangers of this approach to the long-term viability of the Nordic centre.

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