Business News Strategies and Opportunities in Olympics Sport Regions

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regarding the 2010 Olympics
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IOCC Watchdog Watchdog

Through a very difficult process I was able to attend a working meeting of the IOCC at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue on January 27, 2006. The IOCC is 2010's community watchdog.

The IOCC, not IOC as in International Olympic Committee, but the IOCC as in Impact On Community Coalition has been around since 2002. At the time of the writing of this article they are about four years old. In some respects they should be the antithesis of the IOC, but it usually takes a number of years for organizations like the IOCC to rise to the occasion. In almost all cases they start out as benevolent watchdogs, and as the Games approach they become either snarling activists protecting the community ... or anemic lobbyists chasing their tails. At this juncture the IOCC could go either way, but there are indications that they are leaning slightly towards the latter. It might have something to do with laid-back west coast style -- not wanting to offend and trusting that all players will do the right thing. Noble indeed, but it is not effective against an adversary as wily as Olympic organizations.

All small and midsize business owners should attend IOCC public forums in order to stay abreast of the issues in your community and to learn what the IOCC is deciding about your life and business. How the IOCC manages relationships with Olympic organizations like VANOC will have a direct impact on commerce in the region. The IOCC probably doesn't realize it yet, but there is a correlation between how marginalized people are treated in the ramp up and during the Games, and how small and midsize businesses will do during the same period. Marginalized people provide a workforce for many businesses. When neighborhoods become gentrified, marginalized people lose their homes, and homeless people find it almost impossible to maintain steady employment. When they can't find even casual work they go on welfare, which costs all of us money. Not only will it be impossible for small and midsize businesses to maintain a casual workforce, they will also have to pay more taxes to cover the cost of welfare. The spiral is devastating for the entire community. If you think you can just ignore the impact on marginalized people you are mistaken. You will pay for it.

Have you noticed lately that errant slum landlords and fringe hotels are being harassed and shut down? You're watching gentrification in action. The city is cleaning up the place for 2010. Unfortunately, once these places are shut down they are either leveled and replaced by condos and commercial space, or they are given a superficial facelift and put back into service as backpacker hostels. Transients attracted to the region to work the Olympics have to live somewhere, and landlords soon catch on that over the short term they can generate three times the income from backpackers as they can from marginalized society. Out with the old and in with the new. It happens in every Olympic region and is a well-worn formula. So far no one has been filling the public in on how this system works. You don't see it reported by mainstream media and you don't see it explained on watchdog-style websites. The most they share with us on their websites are recommendations. They tell us what they'd like to see happen, but they do not advise us when someone in the community is manipulating the system unfairly, or out and out breaking the rules. You don't hear a peep from them. Nothing. Nada. No bark, no bite.

The IOCC, as described on their website, "is an independent organization dedicated to ensuring that environmental, social, transportation, housing, economic and civil rights issues associated with the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympic Games are addressed from a community perspective."

Admirable goals. Unfortunately, the IOCC seems to be about two years behind in their mandate, and I'm also almost certain that the collective membership does not yet realize it, although a few at the top might be starting to feel queasy. It's possible it will take a considerable amount of time for the group to fully appreciate how much catching up they have to do for. My feeling is that they are too smart for their own good. A PhD can be a liability in hand-to-hand combat. When you're expecting a fair game of fisticuffs, and your opponent instead kicks you in the balls, it tends to set one back a step or two.

IOCC leaders revel in the fact that the group is comprised primarily of academics. At the beginning of an afternoon session at the Wosk Centre the moderator made a joke to the assembly that there were hundreds of years of post-secondary experience in the room, and that they better not screw up the "brain dump" session they were about to engage in.

From my perspective as an observer, and with all due respect, the "brain dump" session in 2006 should have occurred sometime in late 2003. My first introduction to the IOCC was at a public forum in March of 2004. The night was exciting and charged with a series of speakers from the community and from union groups, plus a surprising protest by local First Nations people. They literally marched in and took over the podium demanding to be heard, which they were. It should have been a strong indication to the IOCC that what they are up against is militant and intimidating, and that you cannot expect to deal with Olympic issues on your terms. Here we are, two years later and not much has changed. Instead of having the ear of the community the IOCC is still in "planning stages". Meanwhile Olympic organizations are charging ahead full bore bulldozing their way through the region.

In comparison, invested over two years of 'full time' research and a six-figure budget. We've distributed over 40 major articles regarding the impact the Olympics have had, are having and will have on the Vancouver/Whistler region and the rest of Canada. We have also made substantial inroads and made it clear to local mainstream media that we are watching and reporting to the business community how media interact and feed information to the public regarding 2010. We regularly report our findings to almost 10,000 small and midsize business owners and media in B.C., Alberta, Washington State and central Canada. Plus, we market manuscripts and are about to publish a book. We've also done it all with private funding.

Here is an excerpt from my
soon to be released book;

"... It is not effective for SMBs to protest, so I don't advocate it. Unfortunately though, it is common for people in Olympic regions take a back seat to Olympic organizations, and the more research we do, the more I appreciate why. People in Olympic regions are convinced that if they just play along they will come out ahead, or at the very least they will be all right. In the era before the internet it was easy to be deceived, but today there is no reason for such naiveté. Olympic organizations constantly battle community groups around the world. If it isn't housing injustices, it's work safety or environmental issues or artificially inflated property values and taxes.

The public falls for it every time when politicians tell us that we should accept the Olympics unconditionally and that it will be nothing-but-good for the community. If it was so good for the community why do so many people protest it? Can so many be so wrong time after time?

Protests do little good because Olympic organizations have decades of practice dealing with it. As you have seen throughout this book Olympic organizations know how to manage media and influence the public, so it's foolish to allow them to force you to fight the battle on their terms and in their territory . . .

. . . Olympic organizations put incredible pressure on media to make local protesters look unpatriotic, anti-Olympic, anti-sport, and in general appear to be whiners. Often, nothing could be further from the truth, but Olympic organizations know the public will lose track of who the good and the bad guys are if they group people with legitimate concerns in with "professional protesters" who are guilty of some or all of the above. Unfortunately, nothing will change in this regard unless a region cultivates a grassroots movement to counter the strategy before it germinates. However, doing so is highly improbable because everyone initially trusts Olympic organizations and they never push back until they are backed into a corner. By that time it is too late.

You might find it surprising, but for the most part Olympic organizations could care less what you do as long as you don't impact them economically. Defending against protesters is simply a cost of doing business. They pay the fine and continue to speed. Local protesters, not the pros from half way around the world, are like a gnat on an elephant. Local protesters are usually so inconsequential that Olympic organizations barely even generate enough energy to swat them away. If you want to hold their attention and leverage their momentum the most effective method is to divert part of their revenue to you by doing what they won't, or can't do. What they won't do is put the community first. That's your job. What they can't do is stay on time and on budget, and I'm not only referring to construction. If your local Olympic organizing committee is wobbly during the beginning of the construction phase, it is a good indication of what will happen all the way through to closing ceremonies. When the machine starts to move nothing slows it down, and the closer it gets to the Games the faster it moves and the more frantic it becomes. The first domino has fallen in Vancouver and already it does not look good. Therefore, go where Olympic organizations are vulnerable and sell them a solution, or capitalize on it independently. You have to entice spectators and tourists, or people who are interested in working the Games, to direct some of their expenditures your way. In order to do so you need to know how the Olympic market operates." -- end of excerpt

The IOCC has an important mandate, but like the rest of us they will only be successful if they deliver results. Ideology, talking and collaborating with Olympic organizations will not cut it. The IOCC's mandate is to act as a watchdog and protect the community. They will find it increasingly harder to do so by fraternizing with the enemy. Every other Olympic region that has taken this route has failed. The IOCC regards their organization as different, and maybe they are, but after attending two of their meetings I can't see how they can accomplish this very difficult task using a cause and effect strategy. They stated during their meeting on January 27 that they will "intervene when things go wrong", and that they want to "create a model that impresses the world", but unfortunately, "intervening when things go wrong" is way too late. Instead you have to predict the future and implement decisions based on where you want to be. The greatest predictor is history. Ignoring what happened in past Olympic regions is foolish, and it is even more foolish to believe that the reason for failure in other regions was because their watchdog was stupid. The reason Olympic watchdogs fail is because they are being duped by a competitor that has been duping since 1896. Olympic organizations have been through this before and they know exactly what they are doing and how to manage watchdog committees. The first thing they do is become directly involved with the committee. Maybe offer them funds or organizational services, and if they're lucky they even get to position themselves within the membership as partners or alliances. What better way to keep on eye on the group that is supposed to be keeping an eye on you?

Considering that the IOCC is comprised largely of academics I am surprised that they have not done more homework. The questions they posed during their "brain dump" session suggest that they do not at this late date fully understand what they are up against. Plus, the answers to the questions from the participants around the tables were also indicative that the people in the brain dump groups were not adequately briefed regarding the operational function of Olympic organizations. Most people, unless they have specific insight through case studies have no idea how brutal organizations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC - one C) or VANOC can be. They also do not seem to fully understand that Olympic organizations, including VANOC are not transparent and that VANOC is already, in 2005, heavily criticized by media for hiding too many issues. It's not to say that "some" people in the IOCC organization don't understand it, but the chair of the IOCC, Linda Mix told me that the IOCC does not, and will not use intimidation as a tool. It is a noble gesture, and one I too at first adopted, but unfortunately I quickly learned it is not realistic when dealing with an organization like the IOC that is guilty of bullying, fraud and corruption. Keep in mind that VANOC has, through their actions and also in statements to media, maintained that they are a mouthpiece for the IOC, and that they have already been accused repeatedly of bullying local businesses. They have also indicated that they represent the IOC first, and the community falls somewhere down the line after sponsors.

Linda Mix, chair of the IOCC told me she finds too intimidating. I agree that it is intimidating, but if she takes a closer look she will discover that presents a well-balanced perspective. In fact the blog has been criticized by media for defending both sides of the argument. We pride ourselves on knowing what's on the far side of the moon, and also that we illuminate information mainstream media misses or ignores. Our slogan, "We don't break the news, we fix it" says it all. Once we show viewers the far side it is up to them to write their roadmap. has had tremendous impact over the last two years in its effort to intimidate local media into reporting more thoroughly and fairly. We've done it by reverse engineering articles published by local media in an effort to demonstrate to small and midsize business owners how they are being influenced. We clarify the media process and spotlight the facts so it is easier for the public to understand how a story plays out, and whom it benefits. reveals the inner workings of Olympic organizations and media machinations. We address the facts from both sides of the table and leave it up to viewers to figure it out. It is an operational style the IOCC would be well-advised to consider.

Another comment at the workshop that concerned me was how the IOCC believes they can work with media. OlyBLOG tried a passive approach as early as 2003, and we quickly discovered that a perspective that represents the community is not the perspective that serves the economic perspective of some local media. This point was driven home during the IOCC morning session when an environmentalist from the floor spoke of inflated real estate prices and the stress it has exerted on the region. For more than a year OlyBLOG has published articles and single-handedly hammered (read intimidated) local media regarding their glorification of skyrocketing house prices. Ironically, most people sat at home drunk on Olympic frenzy celebrating that the price of their house shot up astronomically overnight. If organizations like the IOCC had also been disseminated this information to the community at large as we have been doing in the businesses community, the public would had known at least a year ago that this happens in all Olympic regions and that property assessments and rising taxes always follow. The rising house prices we just experienced had more to do with Olympic frenzy than it did with anything our local politicians claimed they have been doing to improve our economy. Although now that taxes are rising to match new assessments I wonder how many politicians are going to step forward and tell us what a good job they did last year? Vancouver might be the best city in the world to live, if you can afford to live here.

There are two very separate factions working in collusion, Olympic organizations and media, and they do not share a goal to better the community. The sooner the IOCC comes to fully appreciate this the better. Granted, it is relatively difficult to find information documenting the negative impact the Olympics have on a region, but it is part of the IOCC's mandate to do this type of research. Traveling to Turin, Italy, as they did in May of 2005, for the most part is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars in comparison to what you can learn by researching material available through a number of sources. Reading books, sourcing independent and government reports and spending time online pays off handsomely compared to spending huge sums to travel to Italy where the best any outsider can do is witness a superficial and manufactured picture of the system. Italian Olympic organizations in a million years will not reveal what is going wrong as much as they will boast of all the good things they are doing. To begin with, they won't reveal the downside because everyone even remotely involved with the Games signed confidentiality agreements preventing them from doing so. Confidentiality agreements are one of the tools Olympic organizations and their partners use to bury information, and it is a reason watchdog committees should be very wary when they accept funding from Olympic partners. If the money comes with even a sideways glance, it limits the organization's impact. also sent a correspondent to Italy in the summer of 2005 to poke around and see how things were progressing. We discovered a city that was literally and almost completely under construction. Cranky retailers were protective, and even though they wanted to tell us what they really thought, they couldn't for fear of making the tourist situation even worse than they projected. Some literally clammed up when we spoke to them, which is odd when you consider that they had an opportunity to boost tourism, but they didn't take it. Isn't that one of the main reasons for hosting the Games? In one case a chocolatier was excited to talk to us until they checked in with their local Olympic organizing committee who ordered them not to talk to any international media. They had no idea who we were except that we were from Vancouver. Instead of being transparent they chose to hide that they were seriously floundering. Now here we are six months later and national media are reporting and showing us pictures of Turin streets still under heavy construction and less than two weeks away from opening ceremonies. We know that somehow they are going to pull their asses out of the fire and make the Games happen on time, but what most people don't realize is that it can only be done if the government uses taxpayer money to dump multimillions and maybe billions into a last minute effort to make it work. Does this remind you of Athens in 2004? It should because the circumstances are very similar. The IOC tried to convince the world it was an anomaly and implied that Greeks were lazy. Greece is now $12 billion in debt. A similar tragedy is waiting in the wings for Turin, although I would hope to a somewhat lesser degree. How could it happen two Games in a row? The International Olympic Committee in Lausanne Switzerland always blames the region for mismanagement. It's amazing that regions fall into this trap time after time.

The January 27 meeting of the IOCC in Vancouver floated a few other indicators to the surface that concerned me. For example, they opened the afternoon session by stating that they were still not sure what to do and that the brain dump exercise was to provide them with information that would help define their strategy. As I mentioned earlier, it's awfully late to be polling the membership for ideas. They also mentioned that they thought it would be "impressive to be a model for the world." It is a lofty goal to be sure, and narcissistic to say the least, but the IOCC's only mandate is to protect the community. Realistically, they have absolutely no money or responsibility to make a better Games or create an impressive model for the world. Based on documented history from past Olympic regions, groups like the IOCC always come out of the gate with altruistic goals, and they are always soundly trounced by Olympic organizations. They should stick to protecting the community and not worry about anything else.

It is critically important to remember that the IOCC is funded by the federal government, which is an Olympic partner. The IOCC also accepts support from VANOC. According to Linda Mix, VANOC supplied resources to make the Wosk Centre workshop possible. This represents serious conflict of interest, and if it occurred in the traditional business world it would never fly. Can you imagine what would happen if VANOC provided funds or organizational support for Unfortunately, like other watchdog committees in past Olympic regions the IOCC does not see it as a problem. So far they have been awarded about $104,000 in taxpayer money by the federal government to manage their programs. The federal government has a clear-cut incentive to make sure the Games are managed in a way that benefits them. The Feds do not posses the same sensitivity to protecting the local community as the provincial or municipal governments. If over the last two years the IOCC had taken a portion of the funds from the federal government stipend and used it to raise independent backing they would afford themselves the perception of greater autonomy, not to mention credibility. Maybe they have raised independent funding, but if so I have not seen any indication. Private backing from the community is a good way to give the IOCC teeth. It is not viable to function effectively as a watchdog as long as Olympic partners control the purse strings, and influence, even through association, their affairs.

Regarding working collaboratively with Olympic partners, bravo to the IOCC for the initiative. Sun Tzu, the infamous Chinese warlord maintained that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. If in fact this is what the IOCC is doing I commend them for recognizing Olympic organizations as adversaries, but if not, they should be very aware that the only reason the federal government and VANOC are on the scene is because they clearly realize how important it is to keep your enemy close. It is a well-documented strategy used in Sydney against the Australian counterpart to the IOCC.

The IOCC is comprised of academics, which is both good and bad. While I was standing at the back of the room between sessions an IOCC member approached me and we started chatting about the morning session. She asked what I thought so far. I told her there was a lot of ideology tossed around, but that I preferred a more pragmatic approach and that I had a reputation for getting things done. I'm results oriented. Without missing a beat she turned to me smiling and said in a humorous tone, "Oh, your not an academic are you?"

The IOCC is truly proud of their academic membership and I applaud them for bringing great minds and thinkers to the table. It was no small feat on Linda Mix's part to pull this together and I have a lot of respect for her efforts. However, I also know that thinking about it and doing it are two very different issues. The challenge, and it is something that I, and many Olympic operations specialists promote aggressively, is that the Olympics waits for no one. I hesitate to put it in the following terms because it at first sounds like a stupid thing to say, but "in the Olympic arena there is no time to think". Academics and thinkers might initially ridicule the statement, but my point is that when you are in the heat of competition you do not have time to think. A great athlete does not think, nor does a great leader. Their skills are managed by the subconscious. If you have to think about it you will lose. It has to come as second nature. The time for thinking regarding 2010 has long past. In 2006 we are not preparing for the game, we are fully immersed in the game, as I am and so are Olympic organizations and their army of sponsors. It is time for action, and every day not devoted to action is detrimental to the welfare of marginalized people in the region. If the IOCC wants to be effective, it is not possible, as it was put forward during their morning session, to react after there is a problem. There is literally no time to fix it after the fact. Olympic organizations move so fast and they have such deep pockets, and are so powerful that if you do not outflank them and predict where they will be they will surround you every single time. They only let you think you are winning.

One of the morning speakers at the IOCC event was Jim Frankish. I loved listening to this guy. He is well qualified and paints a brilliant 40,000-foot perspective. He also seems to be a very pleasant and spiritual man. To quote his biography, "Dr. James Frankish, Institute of Health Promotion Research, UBC, is Senior Scholar of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. His work includes studies in measuring community capacity and healthy communities, and development of criteria for health promotion in primary care."

I want Jim on my side, and so should everyone who lives in an Olympic region. But I'm going to put something on the table that he might not yet fully appreciate.

Dr. Frankish works for and therefore has an allegiance to the UBC. It is well documented that Olympic organizations use universities to further their cause, and historically, universities often do it to the detriment of the community. Universities in Olympic regions are often bought by Olympic organizations. When they are bought (I'll explain how in a moment) it means that universities first have an obligation to the Olympic organization, and after that to students, who are pretty far along the food chain, and then, if there is anything left, to the community. When a university aligns itself with the Olympics, confidentiality clauses in the agreement impact its independence regarding critical debate.

Also, in all Olympic regions, Sydney and Salt Lake City for example, Olympic organizations used university professors to lend credibility to stories published by local media. As you know if you read, some local media pay to become official Olympic sponsors and therefore also have a legal obligation as described in their agreement, to protect the Olympic organization, even if it is to the detriment of the community. Again, conflict of interest is prevalent. Noam Chomsky coined "necessary illusion" as media criticizing itself in an effort to fool the public into thinking they are non-partisan and independent, which makes it easier for them justify checkbook journalism when media is bought.

One way Olympic organizations imbue themselves into university infrastructure is by encouraging them to develop Olympic-related courses, for example, they offer social impact and special event programs. It works on two levels. First it gives the students buying the courses a sense of ownership in the Games, which is important, and second, it deflates antagonistic reactions by switching from a hostile to a maternal model. In other words, when students start to experience the downside of having their university align with Olympic organizations, they become frustrated, and eventually angry. University students are the best and most fearsome mass communicators in the world. They brought the music industry to its knees through their development and support of P2P. University management knows, as a result of coaching by Olympic organizations, that it is in their best interest to invite the thumb-happy, shoot-from-the-hip text-messaging student body onboard. What better way than to involve and effectively muzzle them than through a suckling strategy? Would you speak poorly of your mother? Not likely.

I promised to tell you how Olympic organizations buy universities. It's not mysterious at all and I alluded to a couple of ways above. Primarily though, regarding the "bought" issue, when an Olympic organization gives a university $1 million+ to rent their facilities, staff and student body, there is an implied understanding that they are partners, and that partners do not undermine each other. Olympic organizations muzzle universities simply by buying their way in.

When universities rent space to Olympic organizations students find it almost impossible to afford rental housing as the Games approach. Out of town students especially are at a disadvantage and susceptible to extreme gouging. Students who live in res are put out on the street in the immediate ramp up to and during the Games because res dorms are needed for Olympic workers. The extra six stories overlooking Wreck Beach are more valuable than you can imagine. In Sydney, students were literally told to make other living arraignments for eight weeks surrounding the Games. They had no choice and many felt that if they did not comply that their acceptance in the university would be jeopardized. It cost them dearly in artificially inflated rents, moving expenses and reconnection fees, while local universities collected million-dollar+ rental fees from Olympic organizations.

UBC law professor and legal theorist, Joel Bakin in his book, "The Corporation" makes it very clear that a public corporation has a legal responsibility to generate profit for its shareholders, even at the detriment of the community. You might not have connected the dots yet, but shareholders control Olympic sponsors like RBC and HBC. If shareholders control the companies that provide funds for the Olympics, it follows that they control how the Games operate. Debate or deny it all you want, but it is impossible to disengage the chain of influence. To make matters worse, shareholders are anonymous and think first of profit and rarely of the impact their decisions will have on the community. When universities become ensnarled in this web they too are expected to act in favor of the Games, and they consequently subvert the responsibility they have to their students and the community. Dr. Frankish will soon have an ethical dilemma on his hands that will be incredibly challenging to manage. You have to be very careful with whom you get in bed with.

I hope the IOCC fully appreciates that they are herding an elephant, and more importantly that the elephant is not working for the community. The only way to establish pecking order with an elephant, or a chicken or a dog is through intimidation. It's the alpha thing. You have to let them know who is boss. Talk to the elephant all you want, but be aware that it is not a big thinker. It operates through brute force. Intimidation is its modus operandi because it quickly produces results, and in the Olympic forum, time is of the essence. Elephants don't have to talk. They just do it and deal with the consequences later. That is if they are still around when the curtain comes down with a big tax thump in 2011.

* We invested two years and a six-figure budget researching Olympic organization relationships with sponsors, contractors, suppliers, partners, etc. The results surprised us too -- mouseover below

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