Human rights abuse at Winter Olympic Games

Not even the Olympic Games wow me anymore. Olympicsdotcom via Getty Images

What the Olympic Broadcast doesn’t show

Due to COVID-19, the Olympics are airing twice within a year’s time. Despite countries coming together in unity of sport and friendship, it is important to analyze elements of the Olympics outside of the broadcast special to know what is really occurring within the host country. While harmful actions are occurring in host city Beijing, many harmful actions also took place in the Vancouver 2010 winter games. Both hosts tried to divert the attention through the platform that hosting the Olympic Games gave them.

As Beijing takes center stage to host the Olympics, many ethical concerns have been raised about China’s treatment of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities have been forced into labour camps and have experienced much human rights abuse by the Communist Party in China. Many countries have avoided acknowledging horrific actions going on in China as genocide, and many athletes will continue to compete. China denies all complaints of human rights abuses. On Dec 8, the federal government announced that no Canadian government officials will attend the ceremonies of the Olympics. The government demonstrated the boycott, but Canadian Olympic athletes will still be allowed to compete.

The Olympics are the epitome of irony considering they enforce ideals of friendship through sport. Many of their campaigns acknowledge that they enforce and support activism towards countries in danger, but do not follow through with physical and emotional support. This year, the Olympics are being hosted in a country where there is genocide occurring. By making Beijing the host city for the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee is awarding China the great honour of hosting the Winter Olympic Games, demonstrating that serial human rights abusers can get away with it because they were the highest bidder.

The Olympics have been no stranger to controversy over the years. Many countries have a history of covering up their colonial, patriarchal, and imperialistic values by hosting the Olympics. When the opening ceremonies air, you are seeing the most manufactured, nationalist ideals of each country. It is a celebration of the hosting country’s culture and values all packed into one orchestrated event. It quite pointedly covers up all the monstrosities that are occurring in their country behind the scenes. It is comparable to someone who has a perfectly manicured front lawn to receive complements on how lush and beautiful it is, but their backyard consists of sun-bleached grass that is dying for water.

A great example of this happened when Canada hosted the Olympic Games in 2010. Canada’s 2010 Olympic Games opening ceremonies began with a land acknowledgement of all First Nations Peoples whose territories reside in British Columbia. Then, they invited all other tribes existing in Canada to partake in hosting the Olympic Games. They performed a beautiful culturally uplifting ceremony welcoming other countries to Turtle Island. The performance really showed the unity and humanity that exists in the relationship between Canada and First Nations people.

While this performance was beautiful and inspirational to onlookers, it does not adequately represent the colonial standards that have been set in place by Canadian settlers. Organizers of the opening ceremonies represented the ideals of the relationship between settlers and Indigenous people rather than showing the reality of our relationship because they do not want people to think anything bad is happening. Performative activism is described perfectly by this situation; Canadians want to have a better relationship but are not willing to do anything to fix it.

During the Vancouver Olympics, colonizer conglomerate The Hudson’s Bay Company was the Canadian Olympic team outfitter. During the 2010 opening ceremonies, the Canadian flag bearer was seen wearing a Hudson’s Bay staple scarf solidifying their mark as Canada’s official supporter. While this may seem like an incredibly small act of significance, it shows that the Canadian Olympic team represents ideals enforced from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Hudson’s Bay Company is largely marketed as a white modernity store.

The Hudson’s Bay Company came to Turtle Island guided by Charles II and snatched up 1.5 million square miles of land via the Doctrine of Discovery. Colonizers worked with Indigenous people to learn the ins and outs of the fur trade before kicking them to the curb. The Hudson’s Bay Company only operated 100 storefronts on reserve locations in the twentieth century and sold high priced goods for low priced pelts provided by Indigenous people. Indigenous people were then subject to cruel and violent behaviours of settlers. In the “Cash Back” report, over 40 Indigenous leaders found the Hudson’s Bay Company had made $97.5 million off of land deals. The Hudson’s Bay Company has promised Indigenous people the equivalent of $50 million when they first began trading, but this was never paid to them. The Bay was the Canadian Olympic outfitter for 16 years before the switch was made to Lululemon for the upcoming Games in Beijing.

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies clearly want to showcase the best aspects of Canada which means getting rid of the things that do not look good for Canada’s brand. In order to protect Canada’s brand and image, many Olympic host cities passed legislation to round up the homeless population in East Vancouver. The Assisting to Shelter Act gave authority to travel around wrangling anyone who was deemed as undesirable to the Canadian identity. The legislation is implemented for other reasons, like helping homeless people find shelter during extreme weather warnings. However, it was used to protect Vancouver’s image during the Winter Olympic Games to avoid broadcast of the growing number of homeless people in British Columbia.

Many were relocated to a shelter across the city. If there was no room for people in shelters, the individuals were relocated to prisons. The relocation legislation is a gross example of what Canada was willing to do to keep up their reputation as international nice guys. Homelessness is a huge issue across Canada, but especially in Vancouver’s East end. The Vancouver Winter Olympics in total spent $2.6 billion on costs. Vancouver’s growing homelessness population continues to remain unsolved 12 years after the 2010 Olympics aired.


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