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History of the Vancouver Olympic Bid

Formal work to bring the Olympics to Vancouver goes back more than a decade to the founding of the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Bid Society in 1998. The provincial New Democrat government of the day gave the society $50,000 in start-up funds and local businessman Arthur Griffiths, former owner of both the Vancouver Canucks hockey club and the Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team, was invited to chair the group. In December of that year, the society won the endorsement of the Canadian Olympic Committee to be the country’s official bid for the 2010 Winter Games, beating out both Calgary and Quebec City, and thus allowing the group to make a formal presentation to the International Olympic Committee and to begin lobbying potential sponsors.

This wasn’t the first time an attempt was made to bring the Olympics to the region. In 1970, Whistler launched a bid to host the 1976 Winter Games but lost out to Denver, mainly because Montreal had already been awarded host city rights for the 1976 Summer Games. (According to convention, no country could host both events in the same year.) Whistler would be asked to host after Denver dropped out in 1972, as rising costs, environmental concerns, and defeat in a public funding referendum had forced it to pull out, marking the first time a city had turned down hosting duties after winning the selection process. However, by then the provincial Social Credit government that had endorsed the Whistler bid was out and a new NDP administration was in. The offer was declined and the games ended up taking place Innsbruck, Austria instead.

In 2002, the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Bid Society was replaced by the more broadly-based Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation. By February 2003, Vancouver made the shortlist of Olympic host-city hopefuls along with Pyeongchang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria. That same month, a non-binding plebiscite was held in Vancouver asking voters if they would like to host the games. The final result was 63.4 percent in favour to 36.6 percent opposed. An early anti-Olympics group called No Games 2010 pushed for a BC-wide referendum, arguing taxpayers across the province would be funding the games, but was unsuccessful.

The issue of which city would become host of the 2010 Winter Games was put to a formal vote on July 2, 2003 at a session of the International Olympic Committee held in Prague. Vancouver lost in the first ballot to Pyeongchang while Salzburg placed a distant third. A second ballot was held, in which Vancouver narrowly beat Pyeongchang by just three votes. A huge crowd turned out at GM Place to hear the result announced by IOC President Jacques Rogge, who appeared by video link. The entire arena erupted in cheers when Rogge revealed Vancouver had won the bid. Senator Larry Campbell was Mayor of Vancouver at the time. “It feels like it happened yesterday, it was such an incredible experience to hear the name Vancouver and to go up and to be able to actually sign the book. It was truly an event of my lifetime,” Campbell told News1130 in a recent interview. Two months after winning the games, the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation was dissolved to allow the formation of Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC).

Throughout the bid’s history and even after Vancouver was named host city of the games, the event was the frequent target of organized dissent, mainly by anti-poverty and native groups. Much of the critical attention has focused on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, regarded as Canada’s poorest postal code. Campbell disagrees with critics who suggest low-income residents have been forced from the neighbourhood. “Nobody is turning over housing down there for a two week period. It simply isn’t happening. I believe that the games have shown people in Vancouver exactly what is happening on the Downtown Eastside, that this is a neighbourhood in transition and that they need our help.” As for the success of the games themselves, Campbell says it’s best to wait until they are over before judging them. “I always worry about people who decide an event is good or bad before it actually takes place. Certainly, we know that the legacies that are going to be left for us.” Former bid chair Arthur Griffiths agrees. “This isn’t about an 18 day Olympic experience. This Olympics is all about a catalyst for change and a showcase for the world. We’re going to put on a great show.”