Games info secret

Bid team clams up and won't tell us what the IOC's been promised

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In the great International Olympic Committee kiss-up, Hogtown’s bid machine has so far scored high in the all-important public relations contest. NIt’s a far cry from last time, when local bid organizers were blasted for barging ahead without seeking public input. This time they’re determined not to give their opponents any leverage.

So local bid poobahs “consulted” our metropolis of over 2 million people by means of 28 poorly attended public forums, 23 focus groups, 4,500 mail surveys (to which they received only 225 responses) and a professional telephone poll.

They’ve even managed to corral progressive city councillors, who opposed the bid last time, by holding out the promise that the Olympics will provide desperately needed affordable housing.

But despite all the blather about openness, inclusion and the great legacy the Games would leave behind, critics say the bidders still haven’t opened up the process, let alone faced the potential negative impacts of playing host.

Giddy boosterism

It may say something about the local media’s giddy boosterism that none of the dailies ran with Olympic opponents Bread Not Circuses’ recent City Hall press conference on the T.O. bid committee’s scarcely circulated socio-economic impact study.

Although the 103-page study was completed for the bid late last March by the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, apparently Bread Not Circuses only recently got its hands on a copy.

Based on the public consultations and a review of the experiences of the Olympics in other cities, the study outlines a number of potential positive and negative effects the Games would have on Toronto.

On the issue of housing alone, the report identifies a range of potential pitfalls including direct displacement of residents for venue developments, loss of rental and boarding accommodation, evictions and real estate speculation.

It also points out that despite the bid’s claim that the Games would create scores of new jobs, there are also concerns that they would be temporary and low-paid (if not voluntary) and that there would actually be a higher unemployment rate, due to the influx of people remaining in the city, after the Games.

Further strain

This, in turn, could lead to a further strain on the city’s already stretched social services network.

“(The study) does point out many of the things we’ve been saying all along,” says Bread Not Circuses’ Richard Milgrom. “And they haven’t said yet how they’re going to address any of these things.”

Not surprisingly, the bid folks haven’t gone out of their way to circulate the study. It doesn’t even appear on their Web site.

Last February, an 85-page preliminary copy of the report was made available to city councillors only days before they voted to support the bid. However, it was overlooked in all the coverage around the vote.

Bid spokesperson Jeff Evenson and U of T’s dean of the faculty of physical education and health, Bruce Kidd, who chairs the bid’s legacy and community enhancement committee, say the final study has always been available to anyone who wanted a copy.

But while they insist that they weren’t purposely trying to keep it out of the public spotlight, Kidd admits they could have done more to let people know that the study is out there and available.

“In retrospect, we could have done a better job,” Kidd says.

One thing the bid committee has so far refused to make public, however, is the answers to the IOC questionnaire put to candidate cities last February. It requires competing cities to provide information on, among other things, political and public support and financing.

All cities competing for a spot on the IOC’s shortlist for the 2008 Games were required to hand in their answers last June.

Evenson maintains that Toronto is still in a competitive process with four other cities and will only release the answers if the others agree to do the same.

But Milgrom says you can’t claim to be open and transparent while carrying on a secret bid.

“Things should be open,” he says. “(But) it’s like getting the Games is more important than the democratic process.”

The next step for the Toronto bid will be to put together a final proposal for the IOC by this January. (The IOC will announce the 2008 host city in Moscow next July.)

Credible plan

The Toronto bid has the monumental task of coming up with a credible plan to prevent the potential problems cited in their own social impact study by the time they make their final pitch to the IOC in four months.

“It’s a huge and complicated challenge,” Kidd admits.

He is perhaps overly optimistic that they can pull it together. Kidd says they won’t even be wrapping their heads around it until after the Sydney Games next month. That doesn’t leave a lot of time.

I wonder if the bid might become too preoccupied with rejigging the venue map and all the other IOC demands, leaving little time to address affordable housing and the myriad problems this circus could bring to town.

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