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Enthusiasm For Winter Games Falling In Vancouver

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Enthusiasm For Winter Games Falling In Vancouver

Enthusiasm For Winter Games Falling In Vancouver

Enthusiasm For Winter Games Falling In Vancouver

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123498576/123502649" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A woman walks past an anti-Olympics mural hanging on the outside of a gallery in Vancouver in mid-December. The mural reappeared shortly after the city had removed it earlier in the month. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP hide caption

toggle caption Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP

A woman walks past an anti-Olympics mural hanging on the outside of a gallery in Vancouver in mid-December. The mural reappeared shortly after the city had removed it earlier in the month.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP

In British Columbia, eager crowds have turned out to watch the Olympic torch make its way to Vancouver for the opening ceremony on Friday. Canadians can't turn on the TV without seeing commercials telling them how excited the country is getting. But while fans and athletes are enthusiastic, the overall mood in the host city is a little more ambivalent.

Mark Cooper is one of the critics. He sits outside a Vancouver Starbucks, nursing a coffee and yelling his unsolicited opinion at anyone wearing an official Olympic jacket.

"Veto the Olympics!" Cooper cries. "Burn Olympics! Trash the Olympics!"

He says he thinks the Olympics are a waste of taxpayer money. Cooper's crankiness is extreme, but what's remarkable is how little back-talk he gets.

In fact, recent polling shows enthusiasm is declining: Only about 50 percent of British Columbians now see the games as positive for the province. Margot Young, a University of British Columbia law professor and longtime Olympic critic, says spiraling costs are partly to blame, but it isn't just the money that's souring the public mood.

Young says the "corporate rollout" of the Olympics is also to blame. Vancouver is Canada's San Francisco, and the city's liberal tendencies have run headlong into the Olympic organizers' increasing control over daily life.

"They want everybody to be smiling hosts, and you know, gladly not drive their cars for two weeks and put up with their business suffering for those two weeks, all for the greater good, which is the Olympics," Young says. "And for many people, the greater good isn't good enough."

Residents Complain About Increased Security

And then there's all the security. Nearly a thousand new surveillance cameras have been installed, and thousands of extra law enforcement officers have been shipped in from around the province. Many are staying on a cruise ship docked in the city's harbor.

On Vancouver's seedy east side, many locals welcome the extra cops. But others say the security is turning into harassment.

Harsha Walia is with an activist organization called the Olympic Resistance Network, which has been trying to disrupt the Olympic torch relay. She says she has had visits from plainclothes police who have tried to push their way into her house.

"They've been to my house three times," Walia says. "And each time it's early in the morning, before I go to work. They say they want to talk, you say you don't, you shut the door, they try to force their way in."

The head of security for the Olympics, Bud Mercer, confirms he has teams gathering information on certain people, but he rejects the claims of harassment.

"I think there are people who like to hear themselves speak, and they're using the media for that," Mercer says. "But anybody we speak to, there's a reason for it. It's not harassment. If they don't want to answer us, that's their choice, and we move on."

Mercer says anti-Olympics protests will be tolerated outside the venues. But if things get raucous, Mercer may find it hard to do his job without offending Vancouverites' traditional tolerance of dissent.

'We're Not Going To Let It Spoil Our Fun'

And that tolerance is remarkable. You see it even in the most die-hard fans of the Olympics, of which there are plenty.

People such as the Olympics volunteers who have been waiting for hours in a line that wraps around the block. They're waiting to collect a free Olympics ticket — their reward for their volunteer work. The ticket is just for a rehearsal of the opening ceremony. Nonetheless, Ursula Fischer is thrilled to get it.

"I love the Olympics," Fischer says. "It's once in a lifetime. Why not enjoy it?"

And yet, for all her enthusiasm, Fischer says she doesn't mind the anti-Olympics protesters. It's a sentiment that's echoed farther down the line, by Diane Fox and Lynn Williams.

"We're not going to let it spoil our fun," Fox says. "And they have a right."

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