sports

Video: Resist 2010: 8 Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics

Back in February, a MediaMouse.org contributor wrote about the 2010 Olympics that are being held in Vancouver and the inspiring organizing being done to oppose the Olympics by a broad coalition of social justice groups.

As a follow-up to that piece, we are publishing a fifteen minute documentary produced by anti-Olympic activists about the 2010 Olympics and the impact that the games will have on the city of Vancouver. The organizing in Vancouver is particularly relevant because a nearby midwestern city–Chicago–is currently working to host the 2016 Olympics. Like the Vancouver Olympics, there is already organizing against the Chicago games via the group No Games Chicago.

Resist 2010: Eight Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics. (LOW RES) from BurningFist Media on Vimeo.

Olympic Resistance Network Exposes Negative Consequences of the Olympics

Organizing against the 2010 Olympics

Since the 2010 Olympic bid in Vancouver began in 1998, organizing against the games has been strong. Activists are resisting for a variety of reasons, such as the long history of colonialism/racism associated with the Olympics, or the fact that the 2010 Games are set to take place on stolen land (unceded Indigenous territories). The Games will virtually destroy this land by cutting down tens of thousands of trees and blasting mountaintops in order to build Olympic facilities and infrastructure. As a result, Vancouver has already lost over 850 units of low-income housing and homelessness has increased exponentially, from 1,000 to 2,500 since 2003, and is estimated to rise to 6,000 by 2010.

With the Olympics come a Host of Negative–and Often Overlooked–Consequences

It is common for host cities to criminalize the poor – in Vancouver, as part of Project Civil City, new laws have passed to make begging for money and sleeping outdoors criminal acts, new garbage cans make it difficult to dig through, and new outside benches make it impossible to lie down. In 2010, Vancouver will become a virtual police state, with about 12,500 police, military and security personnel to be deployed.

The Games will also increase public debt in the area – although officials claim the cost of the 2010 Olympic Games will be $2 million, this figure does not include the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion, the Canada Line Skytrain to the airport, the Vancouver Convention Center, or the lower mainland Gateway Project, which were all necessary to win the Olympic bid. In reality, the 2010 Olympics will cost Vancouver about $6 million, paid for through public debt (money that could have been used on social services, housing, health care and other programs to build community.)

The Olympics also have a negative impact on women in Vancouver – the event will draw thousands of spectators and cause large increases in prostitution and trafficking of women. There are already 68 women in the area who are murdered or missing – most of them were reportedly involved in the sex trade. This violence against women will only increase in 2010.

The Olympic Games are also used as a means of increasing corporate investment. The government in BC has offered incentives such as tax cuts to increase industries such as mining, oil and gas drilling, and ski resorts. This will not only cause further destruction to the local environment, but also result in greater corporate power and influence over the area.

Varied Resistance to the 2010 Olympics

Resistance to the 2010 Olympics has taken on a variety of tactics. In April 2006, environmentalists began a blockade of construction work for the Sea-to-Sky Highway – 24 protestors were arrested after blocking construction for one month. In fall 2006, the Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) occupied a number of vacant buildings and hotels to highlight the issue of homelessness in the area. Over 25 Committee members were arrested. On February 12, 2007, Anti-Olympic protestors disrupted the 2010 Countdown Event. When a large countdown clock was unveiled, a masked Native stormed stage and seized the microphone, yelling “Fuck 2010! Fuck your corporate circus!” A member of the APC also got on stage, yelling “Homes Not Games!” Some 80 protesters scuffled with police; altogether seven persons are arrested. The event was on live television. The following month, the Olympic flag at City Hall was stolen. In December 2007, the windows of several Royal Bank of Canada branches in Vancouver were smashed (RBC is one of the main sponsors of the 2010 Olympics).

Ongoing Organizing

The No 2010 Network was established in December 2007 to organize anti-Olympic resistance. A Native Anti-2010 Network was established to coordinate indigenous resistance. These organizers are preparing for a convergence during the games, “calling anti-colonial and anti-capitalist forces in Vancouver, Feb. 10-15, 2010, to confront and disrupt the 2010 Olympic Games.”

On the web site www.no2010.com, one can find regular updates from Vancouver, a calendar of various events taking place in resistance during the next year, as well as links and resources for more information about the 2010 Olympic Games.

A People’s History of Sports in the United States

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

There is an old argument in some left/progressive circles that sports are just another tool to keep us distracted from working for real change and that any time spent either playing or watching sports is a waste of time. Dave Zirin smashes that notion with his newest book, A People’s History of Sports in the United States: From Bull-Baiting to Barry Bonds… 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play.

What Zirin demonstrates in this book in that sports and politics have always been intertwined and that athletes have always been activists. People may be aware of the political stances that Muhammad Ali took during the Vietnam War, but Zirin illuminates a long tradition of sports activism starting in the mid-nineteenth century.

Baseball is the first sport that Zirin puts under his microscope. He talks about the origins of the game but frames it within the larger social context. When baseball became an official sport just after the Civil War, it had a familiar structure of owners and players. However, by the end of the nineteenth century when the country was confronted with a growing radical labor movement, Zirin points out that a guy by the name of Billy Voltz formed the first baseball players union, the national Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players. The union’s slogan was “Fire the boss!” So popular was the players union that they started their own league. The players union league resonated with so many people that players in the owners league jumped ship and joined the more egalitarian league.

When the political and economic elites of the country cracked down on the more radical elements in the labor movement, it impacted sports. Zirin points out that as a way to suppress the more radical elements in baseball, the league’s owners decided to create their own baseball commissioner, a guy by the name of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Judge Landis was chosen because he demonstrated his loyalty to the ownership class by presiding over the legal actions against labor organizer Big Bill Haywood and about one hundred other Wobblies who were violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

In addition to class being a major catalyst in sports activism, race also played a significant role in radicalizing many athletes.

In the first part of the 20th century, African-Americans were denied the opportunity to play in the leagues of most of the professional sports. With the suppressed players league, the baseball owners decided that Blacks should not be allowed to participate in America’s pastime. Blacks were forced to form their own league known as the Negro League. However, some sports allowed Blacks to participate, particularly boxing. In 1908, Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champ, a feat that sent white supremacists through the roof. Concerned that Johnson’s status threatened their notion of white superiority, they coaxed a former white heavyweight champion out of retirement to challenge Johnson. The fight was billed as a contest against the races and all throughout the fight fans yelled “All Coons Look Alike to Me” or “Kill the nigger” and not one single Black person was in attendance. Johnson destroyed his white opponent and it set off a series of white riots throughout the country, sometimes resulting in the lynching of Blacks.

Throughout the book, Zirin offers insight and analysis of how sports was used as a catalyst for change not only in the area of class and race, but gender and sexual orientation. A People’s History of Sports in the United States investigates the courage of athletes like Martina Navratilova, Paul Robeson, Curt Flood, Jim Browm, Billy Jean King, the Rutgers Women’s basketball team, Curt Flood, Craig Hodges and the dozens of athletes who participated in the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) in the late 1960s.

The OPHR was immortalized by track and field stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos who raised their Black Power fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. What most people do not know is that in addition to raising their fists, Carlos and Smith were also barefoot to symbolize poverty and wore beads around their necks to draw attention to the legacy of lynching in the US. However, the OPHR was not just about making symbolic gestures, they had a set of demands that hundreds of athletes signed on to. The demands included the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s boxing title, removing Avery Brundage (the Nazi sympathizer) as head of the US Olympic Committee, not allowing South Africa and Rhodesia to participate in the Olympics, a boycott the New York Athletic Club because of its discriminatory practices, and a call to hire more black coaches.

A People’s History of Sports in the United States is rich with these kinds of stories–stories that show how the courage of people to stand against injustice no matter how it is manifests itself. Dave Zirin has contributed a wonderful book that continues the tradition of historical work that began with Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States. Zirin’s book is a welcomed text for those wanting to discover more of the radical history of this country that those in power would rather we not know.

Dave Zirin, A People’s History of Sports in the United States: From Bull-Baiting to Barry Bonds… 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play, (New Press, 2008).

Corporations Cash in on Olympic Gold

Most of the US media coverage from Beijing has centered on the historic achievement of US swimmer Michael Phelps and the attempt by the men’s USA basketball team to reclaim glory. Every time viewers were fixed on Phelps’ quest for 8 gold medals, we were reminded that the swim meets were sponsored by Speedo, the swimsuits/swimgear company.

According to a recent report co-authored by Commercial Alert and Multinational Monitor, Speedo is only one of a record 63 companies that are sponsors or partners in this year’s Olympics. In the 59-page report entitled “The Commercial Games,” the authors not only point out the absurd commercialization of what media pundits like to call “The People’s Games” they also point out that many of the corporate sponsors promote products that are antithetical to health and fitness.

“The Olympic rush to sell sponsorships to the highest bidders has led to partnerships with companies whose products or methods of doing business betray Olympic ideals: junk food hawkers, beer and liquor peddlers, and equipment makers reliant on sweatshop contractors, among others,” says Jennifer Wedekind, co-author of the report and Multinational Monitor associate editor.

Unfortunately, most sportswriters will not address these fundamental issues. However, there has been good analysis done by sportswriter Dave Zirin in his regular “Edge of Sports” columns. In a recent posting, Zirin commented that the real winners in these Olympic Games will be US based multinational corporations which are hoping to tap into the Chinese market. “This is the Olympics the West wanted: games where the grandest prize is not a gold medal but a glittering entree to China’s seemingly endless army of potential consumers.”

Towards the end of “The Commercial Games” report, the authors do make some important recommendations. The report recommends that the “International Olympic Committee (IOC), the National Olympic Committees, and international and national sports governing bodies scale back the overall number of sponsorships.” The report also urges the IOC and other Olympic bodies “to refuse sponsorships from alcohol or junk food companies, or companies tied to gross human rights violations.” It also recommends that they should “insist that official, sponsoring apparel and equipment makers disclose where their products are manufactured, and ensure that their products are manufactured in a fashion that respects core labor standards.” If these recommendations were implemented then the Olympics might truly be a healthy exchange of culture and competition.

What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

It has become commonplace nowadays in major sporting events for B-2 bombers to fly overhead in a display of patriotic militarism. Professional sports have been branded in the popular consciousness as something inherently patriotic, conservative, and patriarchal. This perception is seldom challenged in left/progressive circles, even by those of leftist persuasion who (often secretly) follow a particular sport or team. Dave Zirin attempts to dispel this perception in his book What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States.

The book is a collection of essays, columns and interviews that are arraigned for the most part chronologically. Zirin starts the first chapter with the story of Lester “Red” Rodney, sports writer for the Daily Worker. From there Zirin goes next to Jackie Robinson and the struggle for integration in sports, then to Muhammad Ali and the 1968 Olympics. The rest of the book consists of essays from Zirin’s Edge of Sports column dealing with current sports events. This part of the book is sort of a photo negative of mainstream sports journalism. Rather than highly paid athletes endlessly repeating tired cliches and endorsing sneakers, Zirin offers the reader athletes who speak out against sexism, racial injustice, and the war in Iraq. Rather than stories of excessive player contracts, Zirin discusses the larger rip offs committed by Universities in the name of “amateur” sports and Team owners and corrupt politicians in the name of publicly funded stadiums.

What’s My Name Fool is arresting not only in that it is a topic seldom addressed but also in that Zirin is an effective writer who is able to keep the reader interested. It is that quality which makes the book a valuable tool to the activist. While sports, in and of themselves, are not usually a vehicle for social change, the stories Zirin relates in his book show that sports don’t have to reinforce negative racial, sexual and class stereotypes. Zirin’s writing is not esoteric, it is about athletes that the general public know about and are interested in. This book is very good way to introduce sports fans, particularly young men, to the idea of social justice politics and activism. What’s My Name Fool is a good reminder that the potential for revolutionary dialogue exists within a broad range of human activity, not just the “politically correct” activities many activists limit themselves to. If activists are interested in connecting with people “where they are,” Dave Zirin has provided a good tool for doing so.

Dave Zirin, What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States, (Haymarket books, 2005).