JUST IMAGINE: “AND THE WINTER OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES OF 2030 HAVE BEEN AWARDED TO BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA”
About a month ago aboard the Canada Line train to the airport I noticed a fellow a few rows behind me wearing a blue 2010 Games volunteer jacket. I had not seen one for a while so as I was getting ready to disembark, I approached him and asked him at what cost would he be willing to sell it to me. He looked up, smiled and quipped, “You don’t have enough money”. That passes as a very high moment for me. He was one of us. Still is. The jacket is his badge of honour. Evidence of his contribution to the Games, his city, province and country.
In the ten years since the 2010 Games I have been stopped endless times by strangers in all the host communities and across the country to be told stories of how the Games had changed their lives – and not once has anyone said it was a bad idea, we should not have done it. More often it’s “I hope we do it again” or “let’s do it again”.
WHAT THE WORLD THINKS
After the Games, Future Brand, an independent, non-partisan agency that annually scores and ranks country brands, announced that Canada had ascended to the world’s leading country brand. It emphasized the influence of the Olympic Games on our new ranking – pointing to the power of Canada’s Olympic year on global perception. Canada repeated its frontrunner rank the following year, a strong indication of our brand’s resilience. This was not a surprise. It was the plan.
A VISION REALIZED: A PROUD AND CONFIDENT CANADA
The Games, often referred to as Canada’s Games — while staged in BC — gave us the opportunity to have a conversation with the world on our own terms. The goal was to touch the soul of the country by coming alive in every Canadian home. To matter to every Canadian. Something we had in common with one another. A vision realized.
The Games were the challenge of a lifetime. Delivered against global economic turmoil, paralyzing weather conditions, a heartbreaking start, hard fought recovery, athletic magic and a miracle finish. For many, it was the perfect story but for organizers there was agonizing and almost indiscriminate adversity for which the only weapon was the weighty burden of being unwilling to fail. Promises were made that simply had to be kept.
The pre-Games debate about cost and guarantees eventually subsided against the evidence of spectacular infrastructure, world class venues and massive public engagement that stretched all the way to Newfoundland. International Olympic Committee President Jacque Rogge remarked “the Olympic Games can never go back from this”, a resounding endorsement for how citizens everywhere had emphatically embraced the Games. Prime Minister Harper summed it up with “mark my words, when historians write about Canada’s growing strength in the 21st century they will say it all began here at the staging of these magnificent Olympic Games”.
It’s hard to argue the point that the Games lifted us up and left us confident and proud. It was as if we were all athletes with a stick on that final puck. We don’t often take this kind of journey in Canada. An adventure that involves us all. It felt good. The few became the many. It was our own Everest albeit some worried it could be our Titanic. Today we are pointed to as a Games that got it right. An example. Standing beneath the Olympic cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza there is that feeling that something special happened here. The city still smiles.
IS THERE A NEW HORIZON?
Asked time and again why did we succeed, I can only find one answer. We had a vision from which we were unwilling to be separated. This burning belief was the foundation for everything and our magic wand when adversity came out of nowhere. I am regularly asked could we do it again? I think we could. Should we do it again? Same answer, I think we should.
Looking back, could we have done more? Did we reach the ultimate summit? It’s certain we went further than we ever thought we could. We kept every promise and gifted a modest financial surplus to sport. The Athlete’s Village in False Creek, despite being caught in the tail wind of the global economic meltdown, turned out to be a huge success. Yes, it tested us but in the rear-view mirror it’s now hard to imagine Vancouver without it. But let’s face it: there is much still to do if we can find the will and the courage.
If we were to try again, what might a new horizon look like? Is there a new summit worthy of another climb? Can we become that “Shining Oasis on a Hill”? Even in Vancouver, a city at the end of a rainbow we have huge challenges – homelessness, unaffordable housing, a lack of adequate public transportation, and the weighty demands to be champions of climate change by being more green and clean.
2030 GAMES: A UNIFYING CHALLENGE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
Our younger citizens are troubled by their inability to buy a home; many have left. Most would prefer to get around without a car, they want to live in a place that cares deeply about and acts aggressively against climate change. They want to work for companies who are doing good in the community. Their city of the future is greener, safer and more accessible, where walking distance applies to everyday living, work and play. A place where a home is not the luck of the draw and where the future is more hopeful and not threatened by what we take, but sustained by what we give. A happier city. The community all others are measured against.
These are the challenges of our times. Governments, even with the best of intentions are struggling to solve them. Challenges so big that sometimes it feels like we are hopelessly in retreat. So much to do. Finger pointing is unbecoming of us. It is no one’s fault but it is everyone’s responsibility.
This is a challenge that will require unity, innovation, collaboration, selflessness. New leaders. Everybody in.
An Olympic & Paralympic Games again could do as it did already and bring us all together, unite our governments, inspire corporate good will and ignite citizen engagement…a non-partisan all hands on deck focus to go beyond a ‘Shining Oasis on a Hill’ and become ‘The Most Livable Place on Earth’. This is a vision with which I think we could win the Games. A vision we could achieve. A vision powerful enough to inspire us every day and be our coat of armor when things get tough, as they surely will.
BUILDING ON OUR PAST SUCCESS
We have all of the Games venues; some are the best in the world. Eventually they will decline but by 2030 they will still have the kind of glow you expect in an Olympic stadium. We have a stellar reputation, an enviable track record, the trust of our friends, an army of trained volunteers, seasoned mentors and a deep talent pool. But mostly, we have a real and chronic need. I believe the Canadian Olympic Committee and IOC would welcome us to bid again. We would be a force. With their Agenda 2020 the IOC bid rules today are infinitely more flexible and delivery is much easier. Second time around we might even expand to include other communities beyond Vancouver, Whistler, Richmond and West Vancouver, spreading the energy and benefit much further afield.
Deficits in confidence, capacity, competence, experience, and reputation can begin as bogeys for cities hoping to secure the Olympic Games. We, on the other hand, have no deficit in these areas. We have a full toolbox; all we need is a decision. Canadians also enjoy the affection and respect of the world – an enviable opening position.
Put Canada, BC, Vancouver, First Nations, regional communities, Business, Entrepreneurs, Community Leaders and the Olympic Games around the same table with a common desire, and one indestructible belief, and I like our chances. The 2010 Games involved two BC Premiers, three Prime Ministers, Four First Nations Chiefs, multiple Olympic and Sport Ministers, countless Mayors and others – all non-partisan, all champions for the same thing. Why not now?
NEW CHALLENGE, NEW IDEA, NEW LEADERS
We should make no mistake: this will take new thinking and a new generation of leaders from all walks of life. Serious talk by serious people. Men and women smitten with the belief of what could be possible and driven with a steely resolve to get us there. We know that the test of character is formidable, therefore these new champions and entrepreneurs, the best of our best, would need to be willing to put community and country first and grab the baton. The next lap will be theirs to run.
I have huge confidence that the coming generation will — as we did — rise to the occasion and that solutions to these big issues can be found just as they were in 2010. The Olympic and Paralympic Games can be the rocket fuel to inspire behavior, to ignite passion, to spark big dreams. Is it not a test for each generation to prepare the way for the next one? It surely cannot be ok to kick these issues down the road for someone else. However big the challenge, history reminds us that there is no force on earth equal to the might of the human spirit. Who was it that said, “give me a place to stand and a lever and I will move the world”?
The highly successful ‘Own the Podium’ program, which has helped to catapult Canada into becoming a global sport power, shows how a spark can become a flame. It’s a metaphor for what can happen when one small idea really takes flight. The 2010 Games began with big dreams and modest goals – the 2030 Games can finish the job. We know that citizens here and across the province, indeed across the country, are telling us in huge numbers that 2010 was the best of times and well worth the effort. Under the blanket of that evidence the majority also favour doing it again.
Let these days of celebration and great memories for the 10th Anniversary of our Games, now inspire the first days of great accomplishments yet to come.
John A.F. Furlong
Former PRESIDENT and CEO VANOC