2010 Olympics Business News for the Vancouver and Whistler
regions of British Columbia. Plus, Alberta, the rest of Canada, Washington
State, Oregon, Idaho, Montana & California
VANOC Needed Obama, But Ended Up With Bush
In 2003, when I first began researching and writing about the 2010 Olympics I was excited to attend Olympic presentations.
After VANOC appointed John Furlong as their CEO I saw him speak at a number of events, and in the beginning thought he did a pretty fair job.
I wrote in this blog in 2004 that I'd stay in Furlong's corner as long as he maintained respect for the overall health of our community, but over time it became clear he had a much different agenda.
At first my concerns were relatively small. For example, on August 30, 2004 I watched CBC reporter Rosa Marchitelli pin Furlong against the ropes and calmly, but repeatedly ask him if Vancouver would suffer the same economic fate Athens had just experienced. She was so professionally adamant, and he was so nervously evasive it was painful to watch.
Furlong was caught completely off guard and barely managed to very clumsily refuse to answer. I was surprised how inept he appeared.
It was my first indication Furlong lacked media relations sophistication,
but by this time I was already watching carefully because a few months earlier, on the same day media announced Furlong's appointment as VANOC's CEO, lawyer Richard Pound, president of WADA and senior IOC executive, accused Furlong of winning the title based on patronage, not ability.
The cutting remark scuffed the luster off the celebration for Vancouver and VANOC. Mouths fell agape.
My next, and more serious concern regarding Furlong’s skills and integrity occurred October 14, 2004 when he told a packed Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon the 2004 Olympics in Athens was a great success.
A businessperson sitting at my table reacted with a loud “bullshit,” which surprised everyone within earshot, me included. Those who were surprised at the time would probably be even more surprised today to learn this person now works for an Olympic organization. The terse comment surprised me because it was the first time during one of these afternoon soirees I heard anyone speak negatively of the guy who was charged with ushering BC from a "have-not" province to one of wealth.
Everyone was still euphoric over Vancouver and Whistler winning the bid. The economic reality had not yet gelled, especially considering property values were skyrocketing as a result of media, newspapers especially, pumping prices through the roof on behalf of their biggest advertisers, the real estate industry. Everyone was happy including developers and citizens. It was an Olympic feeding frenzy.
However, upon hearing the biting "bullshit" comment, from that point my perception of Furlong started to slip at a considerably faster rate, culminating last week, four years later, with another large Vancouver Board of Trade business group laughing out loud at Furlong when he asked them to shut down their businesses for the entire 2010 event.
It was not a kind laugh, but inflected with derision.
He primed the request stating our government should mandate all businesses in our region to shut down, and it would also help if business owners forced employees to take vacations during the Games.
Furlong then incredulously suggested employers pay Olympic volunteers.
It was then the laughter erupted and Furlong looked embarrassed.
In one breath Furlong illustrated he lacks creativity, is inflexible, and is out of touch with the economic reality facing Canada - a dangerous combination for someone bestowed a community's leadership chalice.
The audience sat listening quietly until Furlong suggested they pay their employees to volunteer, at which point they spontaneously and loudly laughed at what they obviously perceived to be ridiculous suggestions.
Not only was his fumble broadcast on national television, key people who work for him witnessed the slap firsthand. Looking foolish in public is not helpful for a leader trying to manage an organization with such a cult-like ideology. No one laughs at Jim Jones. Just drink the Kool Aid.
At that point even Furlong’s devout followers knew 2010 was having a serious negative impact on our community, but like all trusting disciples they wanted to stay loyal and give Furlong the benefit of the doubt hoping the accusations were inflated and he would work miracles.
However, when the room erupted in laughter it confirmed for everyone what many suspected, but didn’t want to say for fear of looking unpatriotic. It drove a stake into the heart of blind faith.
Peer pressure is a powerful motivator,
especially in navel-gazing Vancouver.
Our 2010 Olympic Host community needed someone like Barrack Obama, but unfortunately we ended up with another George Bush.
Just as there were no weapons of mass destruction, when you remove the real estate and news media industries from the equation, relatively speaking, there has been little if any substantial economic benefits for most small and midsize businesses in our 2010 region, and based on history from past Olympics, there is also nothing substantial on the horizon. Salt Lake City suffered a $1.2 billion deficit, Athens $12 billion, Turin threatened bankruptcy two months before their event in 2006, and Beijing 2008 was an economic and political farce.
Bush’s intimidating “You are with us, or against” threat is a well-worn manipulative tool also used by the IOC, but it isn’t working as well here.
2010 Olympic frenzy drove Vancouver property values up so rapidly and to such an obscene level it drove families and business out of the region. When people left, schools closed, and so did many independent retailers. Taxes skyrocketed in combination with a shrinking tax base and artificially inflated property value assessments.
Vancouverites are now house poor as a result of paying 80% of their income just to cover mortgages or rent. Transportation in our region has ground to a halt as we build Olympics infrastructure and facilities. It is a nightmare at every turn for average people.
And to add insult to injury, Olympic-frenzied artificially inflated property values in Vancouver were impacted more severely during the recent economic shakeup than in any other Canadian city.
Not only are business people now laughing at Furlong, but average citizens also indicate in a hostile manner they want the Olympics to go away and ruin some other community. Usually, this would happen only three months before the Games, but we still have fifteen months to go, which means Vancouver is way ahead of the curve.
Also, in past Olympic regions the IOC would simply ignore local attacks, but today, Vancouver taxpayers think locally and talk globally.
Again we are ahead of the curve.
Mosi Alvand, co-owner of Vancouver's now infamous Olympia restaurant on Denman is an example of a man and a small business being negatively impacted by VANOC and 2010, and also a perfect example of a community defending one of their own against the powerful Olympic machine.
In 2005 VANOC began a very aggressive legal campaign to force the small pizza and souvlaki shop to remove all the signage on their building and menus. For seventeen years they had a neon sign above the front door, plus every large window was engraved, as was a large art glass divider inside the front door, not to mention icons on all the menus and food boxes. VANOC demanded, out of the blue, and without a discussion of any kind, that the small restaurant immediately remove all references to anything Olympic related. The owners were shocked and embarrassed.
When Vancouverites saw how Furlong and his battery of VANOC lawyers treated the small shop, the community immediately rallied around the restaurant. It also didn't take long for thousands of people throughout BC, across Canada and around the world to sign a petition defending the owners. Six hundred people in Seoul Korea alone, a city previously subjected to harsh treatment by the Olympics, also signed the petition.
Within two months thousands of people from around the world leapt to the restaurant's defense and the feeling hasn't waned for five years. In fact after Beijing, the intensity grew rapidly when locals realized issues like this occur everywhere, and not just in Vancouver.
It was a wake up call for VANOC and the IOC to witness Vancouver residents reaching out online around the world to send a strong message that the Olympics is not what it professes to be.
Residents in other Olympics regions have also complained and protested, but not until Vancouver have local voices been heard so loud and clear, and so far in advance of the big event. In the past protesting was futile, but today, the internet provides a new tool the IOC is not capable of managing. For the first time, citizens are being heard in a timely manner.
Usually, citizens only complain after the Olympics leave town and well after the damage is done. This time residents are forcing change.
Olympic sponsors are paying close attention.
Negativity leveled at the 2010 Games and rapidly spreading globally has a detrimental impact on the value of Olympic sponsors' 5 Ring branding relationships, plus it also devalues gold medal athlete endorsements.
Olympic athletes will soon also be drawn into the 2010 controversy.
Sponsors and athletes barely dodged a bullet in Beijing last summer, but looking the other way again will prove too troubling. Good athletes have websites, which means dissatisfied consumers have direct access to them. Canadians won't put pressure on their own as much as they will on athletes from competitive countries, and vice verse, but eventually it will build to a crescendo athletes and sponsors won't be able to ignore.
Sponsors will simple shy away from future Olympic involvement, and I suspect young budding athletes will eventually do the same unless the IOC does something quickly to restore integrity back to the Olympics.
Reputation is everything for the IOC, and once the cachet is gone, there is nothing to support the marketing infrastructure.
For 99.5% of Olympic athletes, the odds of receiving a gold medal economic payback are worse than winning a lottery.
If it's no longer cool to be associated with the Olympics, why do it?
The world witnessed Beijing implode last summer, and many still naively believe it was a tertiary anomaly of communism, but now that similar challenges are occurring in Vancouver it signals there is a systemic problem buried deep in Olympic organizations.
Recently, four TOPS Olympic sponsors decided not to renew agreements with the IOC. Johnson & Johnson is the latest, along with KODAK, Manulife Financial, and Lenovo. BusinessWeek recently asked KODAK, "Are Olympic Sponsorships Worth It?" Maybe these companies know something you don't.
Johnson & Johnson claims the sponsorship was successful, and that it was time to move on, but who in this time of economic challenges would move away from something that is supposed to be working? J&J were only with the IOC for three short years.
To lose one major Olympic sponsor over a short period is understandable, or maybe two, but four is a sign of problems in Oz, and it will only get worse unless the IOC takes steps to improve their reputation and relationships with Host regions.
Average Vancouver and Whistler citizens were completely fooled by local mainstream news media, who by the way, are paid handsomely by the IOC to tell the Olympic side of the Olympic story. On the surface it appears the relationship is legal, but by any stretch it is far from ethical.
Advertisers should not have so much influence over news media.
Out of patriotism and misplaced loyalty, most citizens still choose to stick with the romantic vision they held of the Olympics when they were kids. They refuse to believe they could be taken advantage of by what they perceive to be an organization of integrity. After Beijing and the first volley from Vancouver however, their thinking is rapidly changing.
Vancouverites now see they were wrong, and they are angry.
More importantly, they want to tell someone about it - the world.
The Pivot Legal Society and The IOCC are the two most important and effective community groups in Vancouver. They have already amassed a substantial following, which will only grow larger as were approach the 2010 event.
Vancouver citizens had access to good information, but mainstream news media obscured it. As more taxpayers realize they are being duped, their change in thinking grows exponentially and into a critical mass.
The volume of misinformation and misdirection spewing from local news media who have a vested interest is overwhelming. There are however a few good websites in our region warning people what will befall our community.
Consider this blog, or my book for instance.
Some media companies gave us space over the years to discuss our perspective regarding how the 2010 Olympics would impact our community - media companies like Business Strategy, BC Business Magazine, The Globe and Mail newspaper, CityTV, and The Epoch Times for example. Wired even published my work respective of “social media and crowd sourcing” way back in 2007.
Unfortunately, the one local news media company with the largest market share in our Olympics host region panned us completely.
It’s as if we do not exist.
They even permanently banned me from posting on their 2010 blog.
They banned me, but won't debate my philosophy - that's censorship.
Interestingly though, in the early days they did interview me a number of times, but not one of the interviews made it to publication or air. They liked what I said until they realized I implicate local news media in the Olympic charade. As soon as they discovered I held them partially accountable the interviews were deep-sixed.
It is not a coincidence the media company, Canwest, is an official 2010 Olympics booster, and is paid vast sums to promote the Games.
Canwest is also guilty of media concentration in our region. They own way too many local news media companies, which limits consumer diversity.
My book was published in early 2006 during the Turin Games. In it I documented and made a series of predictions and forward thinking historical observations, most which came to fruition respective of 2010, and with many more to come.
One prediction I’m disappointed didn't pan out was that Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan would be a stand up guy and protect our community from the historical challenges the Olympics bring to a region. He had a copy of my book and access to this blog and many blogs like it, but still he refused to address issues proactively. Instead he chose to wait until citizens rioted in the streets before he went to the defense of our community.
As it turns out, Sullivan greatly disappointed everyone, but just like the devout VANOC followers, we all wanted to give Sam the benefit of the doubt and not sabotage his effort in case by some miracle he came through, which brings me to a question many ask.
Am I anti-Olympics?
I am not.
I am pro-Olympics with a twist, and therein lies the challenge.
Most people find it incredulous that a person doesn't have to be rabidly "for" or "against" the Olympics. The IOC pits people against each other using "divide and conquer" tactics. They've done it for so long most people now have a hard time even considering a neutral position.
The last thing the IOC wants you to do is think rationally about their Games. Because if you start thinking about it, the numbers won't add up.
Instead they want you to act on emotion, which is fuel for "With Glowing Hearts" patriotism. Purloining a line from Canada's national anthem to use as an Olympic marketing slogan says a lot about VANOC's integrity.
Yes it's a novel idea, but it's wrong, and they don't get it.
Now, all I can think of every time I hear our national anthem is how the IOC, VANOC, Olympic sponsors and athletes are ripping off Canada.
Pro-Olympics with a twist means I love the sporting aspect of the Games, and I love my country, but I hate political interference and administrative mismanagement. It is my contention, and I’ve proven it beyond a doubt, the Olympics business model is outdated and broken.
It cannot possibly work in its current manifestation and serve the HOST community in the manner of its perceived intent.
The numbers do not add up, and this is where I butt heads with local mainstream news media and VANOC.
My promotion of a middle ground undermines their profits.
A person or company does not have to
be either anti-Olympic, or pro-Olympic.
Based on two decades of international event promotion, including at one point in my career managing an Olympic organization cultural event, my professional expertise tells me there is a common ground that will work for the IOC, and the community.
It is understandable why Olympic organizations find this suggestion alarming, and it explains why some local mainstream news media pan me. They are fearful that if my perspective catches on it will be the beginning of the end for their very lucrative oligopoly and monopolies.
I don’t blame them. I’d be scared too. Just like the music industry was when MP3 came on the scene, or like today respective of how the internet is crippling the newspaper industry. I get it.
No one wants to lose market share, but the reality is that things change, and 2010 will be a turning point for the IOC, because by the time 2010 is over, the world will see the Olympics more clearly for what it is, and not what they thought it was when they were children.
In the immortal words of Canadian poet Randy Bachman,
“Bbbbaby You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
And btw, to all the established artists taking taxpayer money and associating your brands with the Olympics, you should be ashamed of yourself. I can understand up-and-comers doing it, but those ex-big names trying to revitalize stagnant careers, it's pretty lame.
2010 is hurting marginalized people and causing homelessness.
1st printing no longer available at CHAPTERS locations in Vancouver
Own the Podium?
The official creed (guiding principle) of the Olympics is a quote by the
founding father of the modern day Games Baron de Coubertin. He said, "The
most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
The Olympic motto consists of three Latin words Citius, Altius, Fortius,
which means, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." The 1924 motto is meant to encourage
athletes to embrace the Olympic spirit and perform to the best of their
No where does it imply that winning the most gold medals for your country
is part of the agenda. In fact it implies exactly the opposite.
The IOC maintains that it doesn't actively encourage countries to collectively
win the most gold medals, but on the other hand they also don't institute
anything to ensure that the Games are not turned into corporate money
In fact, IOC sponsorship and partnership business models encourage a win-at-all-costs
mentality. It is the reason they have doping, fraud and bribery scandals.
The IOC invites young people to compete in the Olympics using the original
Creed & Motto. But when it comes to delivering on the promise they
fall incredibly short.
The Olympics today isn't as much about sport as it is about money and
Priorities changed over the years and so too should their Creed &
If athletes go for the gold, and the IOC goes for the gold, and corporate
sponsors go for the gold, and governments go for the gold, and considering
that you will have to foot the bill for their gold, why should
you be edged out of the race?
Move to the starting line.
Own the Podium?
Own Your Home?
Real journalism consists of
what someone doesn't want published,
all the rest is public relations." George Orwell