Lenskyj sees little change in Olympic machine 

Former U of T professor to speak Saturday at Whistler library

A respected author on the Olympic Games has seen little change in the Olympic machine in the last 10 years.

But, said Dr. Helen Lenskyj, what has changed is the increased voice of those who monitor the Games.

"The only thing on the plus side is that Olympic resistance around the world has grown by leaps and bounds compared to what it was 10 years back," she said this week from her Toronto home.

Lenskyj, who recently retired as a professor at the University of Toronto, will be speaking Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Whistler Public Library at 6:30 p.m.

Her books include: Inside the Olympic Industry (2000); Best Olympics Ever?
 (2002) and the most recent: Olympic Industry Resistance: Challenging Olympic Power and Propaganda (2008). A scholar and activist Lenskyj has researched how basic rights and freedoms are compromised as result of the Olympics.

She admits to be being disappointed that the Olympic movement has not improved since she studied its impact closely at the Sydney 2000 Summer Games. Many of the big issues that were in the news at those Games are the same ones Lenskyj sees today.

"There is still the social issues, issues around housing and homelessness and gentrification, criminalizing poverty, harassing homeless people, the impact on affordable housing, the evictions and so-called cleaning up of neighbourhoods," she said.

"Then there is the suppression of protests and free speech, and freedom of assembly being in jeopardy in Olympic cities, the environmental impacts, and that is the short list."

Asked if the 18 low income hotels bought by the provincial government in recent years, the promised 1,200 units of social housing and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's promise to end homelessness by 2015 are not addressing these issues, Lenskyj said it is not enough.

"When you think back to the way that every level of government has cut back, if not eliminated, funding geared to low income housing it is just a drop in the bucket to have units in an Olympic host city," she said.

On the environmental front Lenskjy believes much of the publicized stories from the 2010 Organizing Committee (VANOC) on sustainability and the environment do not go far enough.

"In the case of luge runs and ski jumps we know from Calgary they tend to be white elephants after the Olympics are gone," she said.

"They cost a huge amount to build and they cost a lot to maintain. In some previous winter host cities they have just been abandoned or they have (been) re-designed..."

She also points to the decision to build the Sea to Sky Highway through the Eagleridge Bluffs at Horseshow Bay, as opposed to tunneling and preserving the natural fauna and flora in the area.

Then, said Lenskyj, there is the cutting of forest for the Nordic venue at the Callaghan and the freestyle at Cypress, and the large amount of ammonia now used at the sliding centre on Blackcomb.

According to Whistler Watch, the group bringing Lenskyj to the resort, over 100,000 trees have been cleared in the Callaghan Valley, a rare wetland has been destroyed to house the Hydrogen Highway, mountains have been blasted to expand the Sea to Sky Highway, Whistler's last remaining urban forest has been cleared for a temporary medals plaza and 68,000 kilograms of ammonia are being used to power the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Lenskyj's Whistler talk will focus on questions surrounding whether the Games align with Whistler's principles for democracy, promotion of sport through healthy living, environmental awareness and social responsibility, and the actions Whistler can take to prepare for the post 2010 period. She will also discuss her latest book.

Admission is by donation.

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