Saturday, January 8, 2011

On spirit, freedom and legacy

You can bet your lucky loonie that the Olympic cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza will be reignited on Feb. 12, 2011 when the first anniversary of the 2010 Winter Olympics is marked. The B.C. government plans to spend $60 million from taxpayers until 2013 -- the next election year -- on a Sports and Arts Legacy program. But the details are hidden; the government refused a Freedom of Information request for documents.

Remember 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq? The French said "non, non" and did not join the "coalition of the willing". Americans retaliated by pouring French wine down sewers and renaming French fries as "Freedom fries".

The silliness even came north. I had a plate of Freedom fries on a trip to Calgary. I remarked to the waitress that the price wasn't very free. She didn't laugh.

In British Columbia, the official hackneyed word is Spirit. There is a Spirit Trail in North and West Vancouver. Vancouver's westside has Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Several ferries are part of the Spirit class, like the Spirit of British Columbia. There are Spirit of B.C. committees in 95 communities, meant to boost the Olympic torch relay and the Olympics, which came and went last February.

There is no money left over from the Olympics (VANOC needed $187.8 million from taxpayers to avoid registering a deficit), but the provincial government is spending $60 million through 2013 on a 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy fund. Community Spirit Festivals will peak every February to commemorate the anniversary of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The next provincial election just so happens to be May 14, 2013.

That may be the real reason why the government refused to give me any documents about the budgeting and planning of the costly project. Click here for the Jan. 4, 2011 response to my Freedom of Information request. Through other sources, I was able to get some communications drafts, but not what I wanted. Perhaps the government is embarrassed after I found out its Olympic ad campaign was intended to prop-up the sagging popularity of Premier Gordon Campbell. The domestic target audience of its $36.7 million marketing was "voting age" British Columbians.

NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert says that the Liberal government's 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy is creating the illusion of an Olympic legacy while returning money cut before the Olympics to community arts and amateur sports organizations. The Liberals' goal is to win the next election. First, the Liberals will replace Campbell on Feb. 26 -- two days shy of the first anniversary of the closing ceremony.

Think of it. Yet another pool of dough that can be drawn upon for grip and grin spending announcements in communities large and small for the next three years. By 2013, the media will be analyzing where the money went and don't be surprised if more went to Liberal ridings than those held by NDPers. Every government since the 1980s Social Credit has used community grant programs in this fashion.

It's really just vote-buying.

But this time, it has five-rings and red mittens attached.

Let the Olympic TV sweepstakes begin

Do not adjust the vertical hold or horizontal hold. But you might have to adjust the channel that provides Olympic broadcasts if you're in the United States. NBC has competition and the next deal the IOC makes could be for as many as four Games.

The International Olympic Committee's executive board meets Jan. 12 and 13 at the five-ring headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, so it's no surprise that talk about future TV contracts has heated up.

The most important source of TV revenue is the United States market. NBC bought a $2.2 billion package for Vancouver 2010 and London 2012. Negotiations for renewal were delayed for a year because of the Great Recession. ESPN and Fox are kicking tires. CBS and Turner may also join the mix. The broadcasters are interested, however, in buying "bulk" four-Games packages. That would include the 2018 Winter Games, which will happen in South Korea or Europe, and the 2010 Summer Games, even though bidding has yet to begin.

A key sticking point is whether National Hockey League players will be released from their clubs for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Broadcasters are preparing two sets of bids, one with a pro hockey tournament, the other without. One source told me that NBC Olympics boss Dick Ebersol is already bearish on Sochi -- regardless of the hockey tournament's composition and despite the fact there are peacocks there. Asked in a meeting what he thought Sochi was worth to NBC, Ebersol picked up a pen and scribbled on a pad of paper. He then held it up to reveal a big "0".

NBC lost $233 million on the Vancouver Games because of the recessionary advertising slump. The outcome of CTV-Rogers' sales in Canada remains a closely guarded secret. Spokeswoman Andrea Goldstein said it wouldn't be known until after London 2012. (Andrea's department is one of the most prolific press release producers anywhere in Canada and I know that if the numbers were favorable, she would have issued a news release far and wide by now.)

In February 2005, the Canadian consortium offered the IOC $90 million for Vancouver 2010 and $63 million for London 2012. Runner-up CBC paid $73 million for Turin 2006 and Beijing 2008 combined. CTV Olympics president Keith Pelley, now the boss of Rogers Media, said before the Vancouver Games that the goal was to break-even.

Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and perhaps the most powerful IOC member on the winter sports side, met in Buffalo on Jan. 4 at the World Junior Hockey Championship with Donald Fehr, the former Major League Baseball Players Union boss who now runs the NHL Players Association.

Pros have participated since Nagano 1998 and Fasel wants to keep it that way. Fasel told media in Buffalo that he is against an under-20 tournament at the Olympics. Olympic soccer tournaments are an under-23 format with a quota of over-age players to add star power.

* * * * *
The 2010 Winter Olympics were one of the most-covered topics on U.S. nightly newscasts in 2010, mainly because of NBC.

The Tyndall Report Year in Review 2010 said the Vancouver Winter Olympics got 119 minutes on nightly newscasts for the big three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. That made it the 13th biggest story of the year.

It got more minutes than Christmas holiday season (114), tax cuts from Bush era extended (108), Times Square car bomb (104) and illegal immigration crackdown (100). NYSE-NASDAQ market action got just one more minute of play, while the 2010 House races (127) and Chile copper mine rescue (142) were next up the list.

The big reason was NBC's 84 minutes devoted to Vancouver, making it the Peacock network's fifth most covered story. It got three minutes more than Healthcare reform legislation and 25 minutes more than unemployment stuck near 10%.

"For the first time since 2001, the Islamic World was not the focus of foreign coverage. Instead, attention turned to the Americas--the Port-au-Prince earthquake, the Chile mine rescue, NBC’s usual shameless shilling for the Olympics in Vancouver," said the Tyndall Report. "The narco-violence in Mexico should have made hemisphere coverage even heavier but ABC (8 min v NBC 33, CBS 21) fell down on the job."

Interesting how NBC reporter Dawna Friesen is now back in Canada anchoring Global News. Brian Williams is the NBC anchor, not to be confused with Brian Williams the CTV Olympics anchor. But of course, many will remember ex-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw's video essay on Canada.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where were you when the dome went down?

Where were you on Jan. 5, 2007?

It was a cold day with occasional drizzle, even wet snow. I was watching the World Junior Hockey Championship final broadcast when a friend frantically called and told me to turn on CKNW, because the B.C. Place Stadium roof collapsed. (This is how it all went down.)

I did, then hastily called a source who might know what really happened. What an embarrassment for the 2010 Olympic stadium! I was told the roof had numerous patches and that management cut back on use of the snow melting system. For the next week, B.C. Place management denied snow was a factor, despite the evidence I was supplied.

Reporters allowed into the east airlock of the dome were speechless at the downed roof, damaged equipment, puddles of water and piles of snow. Here is my report from Jan. 5, 2007.

A year later, a Geiger Engineers report (dated Oct. 12, 2007) was issued that confirmed it was preventable. Snow had accumulated and five snow alarms ignored. Finally the air pressure was frantically increased, the snow avalanched and ripped the roof. PavCo called it a controlled deflation but my sources told me that chaos reigned while the big top came down. There is even more in this report by the B.C. Place joint health and safety committee.

On Jan. 19, 2007, the patched roof was reinflated. A major renovation, including the new roof, was announced by Premier Gordon Campbell on May 18, 2008. A heavy-duty roof heating system by Genivar was installed before the 2010 Winter Olympics. If you went to B.C. Lions' games in 2009, you may have spotted those big, white bent finger pipes in each of the corners. The roof barely made it through the Olympics. The weight of lights and speakers caused it to flatten. Crews were stationed atop the roof around the clock to prevent big puddles that could have ripped the roof. That almost happened on Jan. 14, 2010.

The roof was finally deflated for good on May 4, 2010. 24 Hours' videographer Mark Yuen shot the definitive time-lapse video of the historic morning. Some of the material was shipped to Celista, a community near Kamloops, where it is now a liner for an outdoor hockey rink. The rest went to Minnesota for repurposing. Some of the material was kept for a B.C. Sports Hall of Fame fundraiser.

A German-engineered retractable system is being installed. Fall and winter winds have not been kind to the construction schedule. All 36 cable-support towers were supposed to be installed by the end of 2010, but the last three may not be done until Jan. 9. B.C. Pavilion Corporation is sticking to its "early fall" completion and subsequent opening. Chairman David Podmore said in November he'd have a better idea in March. An Aug. 20 construction committee document, however, says Nov. 1, 2011 is the estimate for "substantial completion." The Vanier Cup (Nov. 25) and Grey Cup (Nov. 27) are the only confirmed events.

The B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps are at the mercy of PavCo, which is ultimately at the mercy of construction-safe weather conditions. The Caps and Leos will both start their seasons at Empire Field but are selling tickets based on moving into B.C. Place in September.

Watch this space for updates. There will be many in the months to come.

Monday, January 3, 2011

WikiLeak shows Chinese pride and sticker shock over 2008 Games

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell outside the Bird's Nest during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. A U.S. government memo says Chinese leader Hu Jintao was the real host of the 2008 Games.

Chinese were proud of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but shocked and embarrassed by the $40 billion cost. Of course, there was little they could do about the cost. Even talking about it was a risky proposition.

The United States' embassy in Beijing was listening and issued this confidential cable on Sept. 2, 2008, just over two weeks after the dazzling closing ceremony at the Bird's Nest. The cable was published by WikiLeaks on Dec. 28, 2010 and explores how the Chinese Communist Party used the Games to increase its profile. The cable concludes: "It was clear to everyone that Hu Jintao was the real host of the Olympics."

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell was in Beijing and watching closely. You could say he tried to be the host of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

DE RUEHBJ #3385/01 2461030
O 021030Z SEP 08


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/02/2033

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson
for reasons 1.4 (B/D).


¶1. (C) China's top leadership and a sizeable majority
of the Chinese public view the recent Beijing-hosted
Olympic Games as a great success, according to Embassy
contacts. Most academics and journalists we spoke
with in the week following the August 24 closing
ceremony told us the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is
enjoying an increase in legitimacy as a result.
However, several of the contacts warned that these
gains are tempered by widespread resentment of the
"excessive" costs of hosting the Games. Some
interlocutors believe Politburo Standing Committee
members Xi Jinping, who was in charge of overall
Olympic preparations, and Zhou Yongkang, responsible
for internal security, have benefited politically from
pulling off an Olympics free of serious disruption.
Others feel President Hu Jintao is the biggest winner
from the Games. End summary.

Boost to Party Legitimacy...

¶2. (C) The central leadership views the recent
Beijing-hosted Olympics as a great success that has
given the regime a boost in legitimacy, according to
numerous contacts we spoke with in the days following
the August 24 closing ceremony. Dong Lisheng
(protect), a political scientist at the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences, told PolOff the Games "far
exceeded" the expectations of top-level Party leaders,
who welcomed the public's nationalistic response as a
boost for Party legitimacy. Freelance journalist Chen
Jieren (protect), who is the nephew of Politburo
Standing Committee member He Guoqiang, said "70
percent" of the public supported the Games. For most
Chinese, Chen said, the Olympics were about "standing
up" and winning the world's respect and were thus
successful. Chen Hao (protect), Executive Editor-in-
Chief of the International Herald Leader, a newspaper
run by the Xinhua News Agency, said the Olympics
represent a clear "political achievement" (zheng ji)
for the Party that will make it easier for the central
leadership to implement its policies in the coming
months. Professor Su Hao (protect), of China Foreign
Affairs University (CFAU), offered a similar
assessment, saying that the success of the Games
resulted in a "large boost in legitimacy" for the
government and a surge of national pride.

...but Resentment over Costs

¶3. (C) While contacts generally agreed the Olympics
will boost public support for the Communist Party,
many of our interlocutors cautioned that any
legitimacy gains are diluted by wide-spread criticism
over the excessive expense of hosting (which was
announced as over USD 40 billion, including
infrastructure investment). Wu Yin (protect), Vice
President of the public opinion polling firm Horizon,
told PolOff August 28 that many Beijingers believe
hosting the Olympics has accelerated the rise in fuel
and food prices. Strict security, Wu continued,
dampened public enthusiasm during the Games and there
is lingering disappointment that the much-anticipated
economic benefits to Beijing's service industry failed
to materialize. In the end, Wu argued, gains in
public support for the Party will be minimal, at best.
Guan Renfeng (protect), a graduate student at Xinjiang
University who visited Beijing during the final
weekend of the Games, told PolOff August 25 that he is
proud of his country's Olympics effort but he gives
the government an "A minus" rather than an A "because
they spent too much money." Guangming Ribao editor
Dong Yuyu (protect) commented that while the majority
of Chinese "reflexively" support the Olympics and feel
proud, the public feels uneasy about excessive
government spending. Dong said many Chinese, had they
been given a choice, would have supported spending
these resources on education and health care rather
than hosting the Olympics. Niu Xinchun (protect), a
scholar at the Ministry of State Security-affiliated
Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International
Relations (CICIR), told PolOff August 25 that a
"significant portion" of the Chinese public resents

BEIJING 00003385 002 OF 002

the enormous costs of hosting the Games. CFAU's Su,
however, felt such concerns over spending are
overblown, noting that the cost of the Olympics was
just a small percentage of China's total GDP.

Central Dissatisfaction with BOCOG

¶4. (C) Ding Kuisong (protect), Vice Chairman of the
CCP Party School-affiliated think tank China Reform
Forum, said Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) Member
and Vice President Xi Jinping was placed in charge of
the overall Olympics effort due, in part, to high-
level dissatisfaction with missteps by the Beijing
Organizing Committee for the Games of the 29th
Olympiad (BOCOG). BOCOG's alleged mistakes included
agreeing "without sufficient coordination" to global
torch relay routes that were "inappropriate." Ding
said Xi, and even CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao,
personally made many Olympics-related decisions,
including logistical arrangements for President Bush's
attendance at the opening ceremony. Dissident scholar
Liu Junning (protect), told PolOff September 2 that
he, too, had heard of tension between BOCOG and the
central leadership over the torch relay fiasco, but
Liu said it was always the plan to have the Central
Government take the lead role in the final weeks.

Olympic Victory for Xi Jinping, Zhou Yongkang

¶5. (C) Chen Jieren told PolOff that both Xi Jinping
and fellow PBSC member Zhou Yongkang, who is in charge
of China's security apparatus, benefited politically
from the Games. Overseeing the Olympics was the first
major assignment for Xi since being promoted to the
PBSC in October 2007. While Chen said that some of
Xi's rivals at the top may have secretly hoped that Xi
would stumble, the success of the Games has, in fact,
burnished Xi's image. Zhou Yongkang, meanwhile, is
now "exceptionally powerful," Chen said. Zhou had
already received a great deal of praise following the
Sichuan earthquake due to the quick response of
security forces, Chen explained, and the lack of a
major security incident at the Olympics further
strengthened Zhou's standing. Dong Lisheng, of CASS,
largely echoed Chen's comments, saying Xi passed his
first major test as a top-level leader.

Hu Jintao and Collective Leadership the Real Winners
--------------------------------------------- -------

¶6. (C) Guangming Ribao editor Dong Yuyu concurred that
Zhou is very powerful and his stock is rising because
of his performance over the last year and during the
Olympics. However, Dong did not agree that Xi
Jinping's political stature had risen as a result of
his Olympics assignment. According to Dong, the
Party's Central Secretariat assumed overall management
of the Games and it was "natural" for Xi, as head of
the Secretariat, to take the leading role. Moreover,
Xi still coordinated all Olympic decisions with the
rest of the Politburo Standing Committee. If
anything, Dong argued, the Olympics was a "collective"
triumph for the entire Party leadership, not just Xi.
Liu Junning agreed, saying Hu Jintao, not Xi Jinping,
is the main beneficiary of the Olympics given Hu's
prominence during the Games. (Note: In addition to
hosting world leaders and presiding over the opening
ceremony, Hu made high-profile appearances at several
events.) "It was clear to everyone that Hu Jintao was
the real host of the Olympics," Liu said.

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