British Columbia

2010 Olympics good for business, not environment

A new study suggests the 2010 Olympic Games boosted B.C. business — and greenhouse gases.
A new report suggests the 2010 Olympic Games boosted both the economy and greenhouse gases in Vancouver, reports the CBC's Tim Weekes 2:03

The 2010 Winter Olympics were good for business, but not so good for the environment of British Columbia .

That's the conclusion made by a University of British Columbia report commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to measure the overall impact of the Games.

B.C.'s economy grew with new businesses, jobs and an increase in visitor spending in 2010. Much of that is attributed to the Winter Games, according to the report, which also said the Olympics provided at least $50 million in tax revenue to the province.

Of all the provinces and territories in Canada, B.C. had the highest total visitor spending for the first quarter of 2010.

Citing information from the Canada Tourism Commission, the reports states international tourists spent almost $400 million, which was an increase of 11 per cent over the first quarter of the previous year. American visitors spent almost $270 million, which represented an increase of almost 20 per cent.

UBC researchers drew from a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report that said about 800 new businesses and up to 20,780 jobs were created in B.C. either directly or indirectly by the Games.

Emissions skyrocketed

But greenhouse gas emissions increased during the Games to eight times what they are normally. A large portion of that output came from carbon emitted by spectators, media, athletes and Olympic personnel flying to and from Vancouver.

The third volume in a series of four reports is a "Games-time" report and was released by UBC on Tuesday. It analyzes the impact of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., while they were held.

"This is the kind of rubber-hits-the-road," said UBC's Rob VanWynsberghe, who headed the research team at the Centre for Sport and Sustainability.

Two previous studies looked at the impact of preparation for the Games. The fourth and final report is a post-Games analysis, due for release in 2013.

"In the pre-Games report, we're trying to look at what happened from 2001 to 2008 and so a lot of it is getting things ready," said VanWynsberghe. "It's hard to detect whether those changes are related to the Games or something else. This was much more concrete."

Organizing committees are now contractually required by the IOC to provide an Olympic Games Impact study, starting with Vancouver [VANOC] and then LOCOG [London 2012]. Hosts must use 126 different markers, such as bills and bylaws passed by government for the Games, opinion polls, hotel and real estate prices, traffic congestion and the amount of open-air leisure space.

The release of this report was long overdue. It had originally been scheduled for June 2010.

The Canadian Olympic Committee took over responsibility for the report once VANOC ceased operations. Changes in management at the COC after the Games delayed the release of the report because new personnel had to get up to speed on it, VanWynsberghe said.

Turning point

"The Games injected millions into the local economy and great strides have been made in making these events more environmentally sound," said COC president Marcel Aubut. "This study confirms what we all saw during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The sense of pride that swept up our nation was a turning point in our nation's history."

The report doesn't provide insight into what impact the Olympics had on the sensitive issues of homelessness or social housing.

VanWynsberghe says that data wasn't available in time. He's since received numbers on homelessness and promises to include them in the final post-Games report.

"You actually have a situation in Vancouver right now where there's more people on the streets, but there's more shelters," he said. "The difference between the people on the street and the shelters is still the same amount as before, so all that work to build shelters hasn't meant a reduction in homelessness.

"We will be able to complete the story on homelessness and social housing in the next report."

The report also says the social and cultural impact of the Games was felt by Aboriginal groups and minorities who participated in bidding, planning and staging the event.

Also, national polls conducted after the Paralympic Games indicated a change in attitudes towards people with disabilities.

"People feel more confident hiring people with disabilities because they watched athletes with disabilities compete," VanWynsberghe said.