Whistler Watch brings Poverty Olympics to town 

Organizer Jennings plans to continue voicing concerns throughout the Games

As someone who has lived in Whistler all her life, Sara Jennings has a laundry list of concerns about the 2010 Winter Olympics.

An organizer of the peaceful protest held at Skiers Plaza on Sunday, Jennings believes the Olympics could be much better than they currently are.

"I think that the Olympics could be more about sport and world unity, but the Games as we know them now are in serious need of reform," explained Jennings on Tuesday.

"We need to make the IOC (International Olympic Committee) more democratic and major changes should occur to make sure the Olympics don't have such a large environmental footprint and don't affect marginalized populations.

"The same social issues Vancouver has faced as a result of hosting the Games have occurred at every Olympics and is set to repeat itself in London, Russia and Brazil."

To bring attention to these concerns, last weekend Jennings and activist organization Whistler Watch teamed up with groups from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to throw a "Poverty Olympics" event in Whistler.

The mock-Olympic event included a 10-foot-high torch and three mascots, Chewy the Rat, Creepy the Cockroach and a non-official version of the Vancouver Organizing Committee's mascot Quatchi.

There was also a slapshot hockey game that featured Premier Gordon Campbell's photo as one of the targets, nicknamed "Gordo the Greedy Goalie."

Organizers handed out information about "some of the broken promises made for the Games" to people who passed by, said Jennings, with their fliers detailing issues such as social housing in Vancouver and protecting rental housing to make sure homelessness does not exist.

"While Whistler did get lower than market housing, the social housing needs of Vancouver have not improved and homelessness there has almost quadrupled since the bid," explained Jennings.

Ironically, added Jennings, some of the people who were planning to participate found out the day before that they were being kicked out of their housing and could not attend the Poverty Olympics. Instead they were scrambling to find alternative accommodation.

The Olympic Resistance Network, Streams of Justice and the Citywide Housing Coalition have thrown Poverty Olympic events around B.C. Whistler Watch only teamed up with them last week to start organizing a local event.

Beyond the Poverty Olympics, Jennings said she plans to continue speaking out against the Olympics throughout the next month.

"During the Olympics my main goal will be to ensure people know how hosting the Olympics has affected Whistler," she said, pointing to environmental issues like energy consumption at the Whistler Sliding Track and the habitat destruction to build the Whistler Olympic Park.

"I have been and will continue to do this by speaking to local, national and international media as well as reaching out to athletes, spectators and Olympic staff and officials."

Among other things, Jennings will be attending the Feb. 12 convergence being planned in Vancouver with other Whistler Watch participants. She invited anyone who would like to join her to call her at 604-932-2664.

She will also be working with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), Whistler Watch and the Whistler Chapter of the Council of Canadians. She added many Whistler citizens who have no affiliations with any of these groups have also contacted her.

"We have lost some important environmental habitat here as a result of hosting the Games and unless things change the world will lose more in future host cities," said Jennings about what drives her to continue to speak out against the Olympics.

"These Games are not green, the Olympics must be reformed and people who truly enjoy sport and the idea or the Olympics must stand up and demand this change."



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