2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

On July 2, 2003, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge announced that Vancouver would host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. This article provides an overview of Vancouver's Olympic bid. In doing so, this article provides discussions on the process and politics by which Vancouver was selected as a host city, opposition to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic bid, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of hosting an Olympics.

Process of Selecting an Olympic Host City

A breakdown of the formal evaluation process

Politics of Choosing the 2010 Olympic Host City

Politics played a role in Salzburg’s early elimination and Pyeongchang’s strong finish

Opposition to the 2010 Vancouver Bid

Politicians and social activists joined forces to oppose the Vancouver bid

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks of Hosting the Olympic Games

The Olympic legacy can range from increased employment to a massive debt

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*This article was originally written by Rhonda Lauret Parkinson (Sept. 2003), and was subsequently updated by Jay Makarenko (Jan. 2006).

Process of Selecting an Olympic Host City

A breakdown of the formal evaluation process

There are five stages in the process to select an Olympic Games host city:

  1. Selection of the city as the country’s official candidate city.
  2. Preparation of a formal bid detailing the city’s plans for hosting the Olympics and presentation of the bid to the IOC.
  3. An initial selection phase in which an IOC committee examines each candidate city's bid. The committee publishes a report giving each city an overall mark based on its performance in several areas. The report establishes which cities make the short list for final selection.
  4. A visit by the IOC to the candidate cities on the shortlist, followed by publication of a final report.
  5. A final presentation by candidate cities, followed by IOC members voting to choose the host city.

The Olympic Bid Committee (a group of private investors) organized Vancouver’s Olympic proposal. In 1998, the group gained support from Vancouver City Council for an Olympic bid. In December 1998, the Canadian Olympic Committee selected Vancouver (and Whistler) as the candidate city for the 2010 Olympics. Vancouver beat out both Calgary and Quebec City in the competition. In June 1999, the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation was created to see the bid process through to completion. In March 2002, Vancouver City Council formally endorsed the bid.

In July 2002, the IOC Candidature Acceptance Working Group published its report on bids submitted by eight candidate cities. The IOC assigned each city technical marks in a number of areas, including general infrastructure, transportation, accommodation, government support, and public opinion. The report gave Vancouver and Salzburg high marks, and stated that both Pyeongchang and Berne, Switzerland met the minimum benchmark for hosting the Winter Games. (Berne withdrew from the competition following a referendum in which voters rejected taking out loans to co-finance the Games). On November 14, 2002, the City of Vancouver, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Government of Canada, the Province of B.C., the Canadian Olympic Committee, and the Canadian Paralympic Committee entered into an agreement setting out the rights and responsibilities of each group if the Vancouver-Whistler bid was successful.

In March 2003, the IOC Evaluation Commission visited Vancouver and Whistler. In May 2003 the IOC released its final report. The IOC’s comments on the Vancouver bid were mainly positive, but officials expressed concern over the winding two-hour drive between Vancouver and Whistler. Their evaluation of Pyeongchang questioned whether the plans for building an alpine ski run were feasible. In Salzburg’s case, IOC felt the number of world-class ski facilities had led organizers to spread out the venues to the point where it would increase costs and be difficult to manage.

Politics of Choosing the 2010 Olympic Host City

Politics played a role in Salzburg’s early elimination and Pyeongchang’s strong finish.

The International Olympic Committee announced the host city for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on July 2, 2003. The announcement was made on the first day of the Committee’s 115th session, held in Prague, Czech Republic. It took two rounds of voting, conducted by secret ballot, to select a winner. The results are as follows:

First Round

Total number of votes cast: 107
Abstentions: 3
Number of votes needed to win: 54


Pyeongchang, South Korea: 51 votes
Vancouver, Canada: 40 votes
Salzburg, Austria: 16 votes

Austria was dropped from the list for the second round because it had received the fewest votes.

Second Round:

Total number of votes cast: 109
Abstentions: 3
Number of votes needed to win: 55

Vancouver, Canada: 56 votes
Pyeongchang, South Korea: 54 votes

The final result was not surprising, since the IOC’s working report gave Vancouver high technical marks. However, Pyeongchang’s second place finish was unexpected. Vancouver bid organizers considered Salzburg to be their main competition. The Austrian bid included plans to locate one Olympic village in the world class ski resort of Kitzbuel and another in Salzburg itself, a renowned cultural center and Mozart’s birthplace. By contrast, Pyeongchang did not even have a downhill ski run. In total, the tiny South Korean mountain town would need to build eight of the thirteen venues required for the Winter Games. Nonetheless, Pyeongchang came within three votes of winning on the first ballot. Meanwhile, despite the support of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, Austria received only sixteen votes and was knocked out of contention.

Analysts believe three factors played a role in South Korea’s favor:

  • The international political climate
  • Financial considerations
  • Future Olympic aspirations of IOC members.

The International Political Climate

Pyeongchang’s final presentation emphasized that the Winter Games could help ease tensions between South Korea and Communist North Korea. Given the ongoing dispute between North Korea and the United States over its nuclear weapons program, it’s not surprising that this had an impact on IOC members.

Financial Considerations

Pyeongchang promised free flights for Olympic teams and cheap accommodation. This type of aid is particularly attractive for poorer IOC member countries, as it increases their ability to participate in the Olympics. Even without the guarantees, accommodation in Pyeonchang is inexpensive compared to Vancouver and Salzburg.

Future Olympic Aspirations of IOC Members

With fifty-eight members, Europe controls a large block of IOC votes. This should have worked in Salzburg’s favour. Instead, it’s believed several European countries chose Vancouver over Salzburg, both to increase their own chances in 2012 and to weaken those of a competitor. The IOC prefers not to hold consecutive games on the same continent. Several European cities, including Madrid and Paris, are bidding for the 2012 Summer Games. A Vancouver win increased the possibility that the 2012 Summer Games would be held in Europe, while virtually eliminating New York City from the competition. It’s also believed that New York City’s hopes for 2012 kept the United States from supporting Vancouver.

Opposition to the 2010 Vancouver Bid

Politicians and social activists joined forces to oppose the Vancouver bid

Despite widespread business community support, the Vancouver bid was quite controversial. Critics argue the B.C. government shouldn’t be spending millions on the Winter Games while it is making significant social spending cutbacks. Furthermore, politicians representing Vancouver’s East Side are determined to prevent a repeat of Expo ’86. Area residents were overlooked for jobs on the World’s Fair site and tenants were evicted from low-rent hotels to make room for tourists paying much higher rates.

Organized Opposition to the Olympic Games

The No Games 2010 Coalition spearheaded opposition to the Vancouver bid. The Coalition’s mandate included creating “an active mobilization against the Olympic bid,” and promoting “the collective vision of a just, democratic society that uses public funds for public priorities.” Their strategy to kill the Vancouver bid included:

  • Encouraging opponents to write to the IOC voicing their concerns;
  • Lobbying governments to hold a referendum to allow the public to decide whether Vancouver should host the Winter Games;
  • Attempting to draw media attention to the opposition; and
  • Staging demonstrations during the inspection tour by the IOC evaluation team.

The No side had mixed success gaining media attention. (In a CBC interview, a spokesperson complained that the media was showing more interest in the Coalition now that Vancouver had won, than they had during the period leading up to the final IOC vote). Some argue that mainstream media coverage was biased toward the Yes side – CanWest Global, which owns the National Post and both the Vancouver Sun and Province, donated $1 million worth of free advertising for the Games. In contrast, the No side had a very limited budget.

The Coalition’s greatest success came from launching a lawsuit to try and force the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) to return a $1.76 million donation to the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation. The Coalition argued that ICBC acted outside the bounds of the Insurance Act, and was attempting to recoup the donated funds by raising car insurance rates. News of the lawsuit reached IOC members, who were surprised to learn that there was opposition to the bid.

The planned demonstrations during the IOC inspection tour didn’t take place. Instead, organizers allowed groups opposed to the Vancouver-Whistler bid, including First Nations band members and a Green Party MLA, to meet with the IOC evaluation team. While the meeting was brief, the No side felt that IOC members listened to their concerns.

Political Opposition to the Olympic Games

City of Vancouver Olympic Plebiscite

In 2002, newly elected Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell promised that, if the B.C. government refused to hold a province-wide referendum, Vancouver would hold its own referendum on the Winter Games. The Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation opposed any referendum because they were concerned that a “No” vote would negatively impact Vancouver’s chances.

When it became clear that a province-wide referendum wouldn’t take place, and that a citywide referendum was too expensive, Vancouver held a plebiscite. A record 46 percent of voters turned out for the plebiscite, held on February 22, 2003. Sixty-four percent supported Vancouver’s participation in the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Using the Olympics to Help Vancouver’s Dispossessed

Impact of Olympics on Community Coalition

In 2001, several community organizations formed the Impact of Olympics on Community Coalition (IOCC) to serve as a watchdog over the bid process. In August 2002, the IOCC presented the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation with twenty-two recommendations. In response, the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation put together a “2010 Inclusive Inner City Commitment Statement,” stating that the purpose of the Commitment Statement is to “maximize the opportunities and mitigate potential impacts in Vancouver’s inner-city neighbourhoods from hosting the 2010 Winter Games.” It guarantees that renters won’t be evicted to make way for tourists, and commits to converting a section of the athletes' village into social housing and to providing inner-city residents with affordable tickets. The statement was included in the Vancouver bid book.

City Councilor Jim Green

Vancouver City Councilor Jim Green used the Olympic bid and his influence on Vancouver City Council to gain concessions for the city’s homeless. Elected in 2002, Green is a long-time advocate for residents in the Downtown Eastside, a section of Vancouver known for its high percentage of homeless people and drug addicts.

In 2001, the provincial NDP government purchased an abandoned Woodward’s department store building and announced plans to build 245 units of affordable co-operative housing. In 2002, the recently elected Liberal government froze the project. In protest, homeless people picketed outside the store for three months.

Green threatened that, unless the province stuck to the original plan, he would use his council position to ensure the City of Vancouver did not support the Olympic bid. Eventually, the two sides reached an agreement whereby the City of Vancouver purchased the building and the provincial Housing Department funded 100 units of social housing.

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks of Hosting the Olympic Games

The Olympic legacy can range from increased employment to massive debt

Potential Benefits of Hosting the Olympic Games

  • Job Creation: A winning bid means the creation of thousands of short-term jobs, primarily in the construction or service industry. Transportation systems are upgraded, and sport venues, housing, and other facilities are constructed. Numerous jobs are created in the service industry, including ticket sales. Frequently, the number of jobs exceeds the number of available workers and a massive volunteer effort is required. While few jobs are permanent, the length of preparation time for the Olympics means several years of increased employment for the host city.
  • Money for Large Scale Transportation Projects: Hosting the Olympic Games allows a city to undertake major transportation projects. Several major transportation projects were undertaken in association with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, including expansion of the city's light rail transit system (the SkyTrain) and improvement of the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler Village.
  • Major New Sports Facilities: Once the Games are secured, work begins on high calibre sports venues that remain in use after the Olympics.
  • Increased Tourism: Hosting an Olympic Games benefits both the host city and the region. Tourists travelling long distances to the Games often take time to visit the surrounding area. However, Olympic organizers sometimes overestimate the benefit to local tourism. For example, in 1988 Seoul had significantly fewer tourists than originally anticipated. On the other hand, Australia experienced a major tourism surge from the 2000 Summer Games held in Sydney.
  • Enhanced International Profile: A successful Olympic Games can propel a city to world-class status, leading to increased tourism and business opportunities.

Potential Drawbacks of Hosting an Olympic Games

  • Cost of Living Increases: Staging an Olympic Games leads to rising demand for basic goods such as food, with resulting price increases. The Olympic impact on the pocketbooks of city residents may begin years before the Games, as youth and adults move to the city seeking employment. During the sixteen-day event, prices for everything from restaurant meals to entertainment can skyrocket. In most cases, but not always, the cost of living returns to normal after the Games.
  • Legacy of Olympic Debt: Every host city wants to have a debt-free Olympics, particularly since the IOC assumes no financial responsibility for any debt incurred from staging the Games. However, it’s easy for construction projects to come in significantly over budget. Labour disputes, overtime pay for workers, mismanagement, inflation, and financial graft can all increase costs. Furthermore, after the Games, sports facilities may be more expensive to maintain than originally anticipated. It takes accurate budget forecasting and careful management to ensure the Games come in under budget.
  • Money Spent on the Bid could be Spent Elsewhere: A successful Olympic bid requires a massive injection of funds by several government levels. Vancouver Olympic bid critics pointed out that the provincial government committed millions of dollars to Olympic projects at the same time that it was making severe cutbacks to health, education, and other social programs.
  • Policies Affecting Renters and the Poor and Homeless: Renters as well as the poor and homeless can be negatively affected, both before and during the Games. Poor and homeless people tend to frequent the city’s downtown core, near low-rent hotels and homeless shelters. Consequently, they are highly visible to the media and tourists, and are considered "embarrassing" for a city’s image. Prior to an Olympic event, police often make “street sweeps”: they harass and even arrest homeless people to force them off the streets and out of public view. In addition, landlords of low-rent hotels may evict tenants to make room for Olympic tourists paying exorbitant rates. Apartment owners hoping to increase profits may also try to force out current tenants. Methods used can include eviction, raising rents to the point where the tenant chooses to move, or converting permanent rental accommodation into temporary hotel accommodation.

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