The Hidden side of the Olympics

Brad Rozairo, OMI – A big city can become the centre of the world by hosting a mega-event like the Olympics by showcasing its modern technology, supertall buildings, eco-friendly environment etc. but it does not get to decide how it is viewed by the world. Looking back at the previous Olympics hosted by big cities like Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro, you get to know that whenever there is a big sporting event, there is an attempt to make some folks disappear. Who are these people? They are the “unwanted” of the society often abandoned by their own.

Before the Athens Olympics in 2004, there was the ‘clean-up’ of beggars and drug addicts in that city. The huts of the Roma minority in the suburb of Athens were destroyed so that the land could be used to build Olympic housing facilities. Thus, the poor were forced to live in unsanitary conditions outside the city. To put on a good face for Olympic tourists, some who were doing small businesses on the sidewalks to pay for their rent and food went jobless. In 2008, there was a “social cleansing” operation in Beijing to clear the city of beggars, hawkers and homeless. In Rio de Janeiro, prior to the Olympics, the poor living in favela (slum) and in the famous Copacabana beach area were forced to move out of their huts and shanties. Though some residents resisted eviction, thousands of families were forcibly removed from their homes. 

A few years back when Tokyo was named the host city of the 2020 Olympics, there were talks about the plight of the people living on the ‘margins of society’ especially the homeless. As the construction work in preparation to the Olympic games began, there were news items about authorities clearing parks and stations. Hundreds of homeless people in Tokyo were served eviction notices. The street tents and cardboard houses around train stations were removed. Parks were locked and lit up to discourage the homeless from camping. People sleeping rough in the downtown Tokyo faced a lot of pressure and disrespect as those in authority wanted to keep them out of sight. According to a BBC report, the government had asked homeless people in Tokyo to hide out of sight, and the 

reason for that was urban renewal to host the Olympics. Thus, the poor were forced to look for less visible locations to hide themselves. 

It looks to me that whenever there is the Olympics, the poor become the target and will continue to be. A study in 2007 by the Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) shows that over 2 million people had been driven by their homes over the prior twenty years to make way for various Olympics. The Olympic Charter states that “sport is a human right” and it elevates the principle of human dignity and proclaims that “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” These are very lofty words, but what we often see is the ugly reality.  The cities that have already been chosen to host the Olympics in the future should know that there is the dark side of the Olympics, and the games will be notoriously bad news for the poor.

Homeless in Tokyo

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