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Today's Big Story

Millions Displaced by Olympics: Study

Minorities, homeless especially at risk.

By Richard Warnica 5 Jun 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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More than two million people have lost their homes or been forcibly displaced by the Olympic Games over the past 20 years according to a major new report on urban mega events released today by a European think tank.

The three year study, conducted by a research team at the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), studied seven Olympic cities: Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.

“Our research shows that little has changed since 1988 when 720,000 were forcibly displaced in Seoul, Korea, in preparation for the Summer Olympic Games,” said the group’s Executive Director Jean Du Plessis in a release. “It is shocking and entirely unacceptable that 1.25 million people have already been displaced in Beijing, in preparation for the 2008 Games, in flagrant violation of their right to adequate housing.”

While the study found that the most serious violations were limited to Seoul and Beijing, they did record a number of adverse affects in all host cities including:

According to their website, COHRE is a not for profit non-governmental agency focused on the right to housing and forced evictions. The group receives money from a number of UN agencies as well as the governments of Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

The study released Tuesday did not look at the upcoming B.C. games. However, in an accompanying fact sheet, the researchers noted that “despite impressive promises to promote affordable housing in the world’s first ‘socially sustainable games’, there are grave concerns about the eviction of low income tenants already taking place in Vancouver.”

The researchers were also critical of City Hall’s so-called ‘civil city’ initiatives, noting that that kind of legislation “has been used elsewhere, such as in Atlanta, to target the homeless.”

Organizers for the Vancouver games defended their social record on Monday when they issued the first in a series of ‘sustainability reports.’

At an event in Vancouver, Linda Coady, VANOC’s vice-president of sustainability, "reiterated a promise” made during the original bid process “that no 'person-at-risk' will be displaced or subjected to unreasonable rent increases because of the Winter Olympics,” according to the Globe and Mail’s Rod Mickleburgh.

Housing issues, however, are on a collision course with the Vancouver Games according to an investigation by The Tyee's Monte Paulsen.

In a major three-month study, Paulsen found that “unless Mayor Sullivan and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell radically reshape their response to North America’s fastest-growing homelessness crisis, the number of Greater Vancouver homeless will easily exceed the 5,000 athletes and officials expected to participate in the 2010.”  [Tyee]

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