Experts: Olympics limit freedoms, boost debt

June 12, 2015
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The fattening of the security state, public debt and displacement were several harmful effects of mega-events like the Olympics that were discussed during a NoBoston2024 event on June 2.

About 75 people attended the event in Jamaica Plain that featured speakers Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, and Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Project at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Zirin, who is the author of “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy” and has been a critic of the Boston 2024 bid, said he has covered every World Cup and Olympics since Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—or at least has tried. He said he was asked to leave the country when he attempted to enter Beijing to cover the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Zirin said people who host mega sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup can expect three things: debt, displacement and the militarization of public space.

He talked about people living in dilapidated Olympics structures in Athens, which hosted the Olympics in 2004, and the astounding 1,200 migrant workers who have died in Qatar readying the country for the 2022 World Cup.

Zirin said that the situation in Brazil, which hosted the 2014 World Cup and will host the Olympics in 2016, actually drove people to protest their national pastime of soccer because they objected to the spending priorities.

“It would be like New Yorkers protesting pizza,” said Zirin.

He said that FIFA, which is the organization responsible for the World Cup, has become in Brazil what FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is like in New Orleans. FEMA was botched the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Zirin said he rode over to the event with NoBoston2024 member Robin Jacks, who talked about Boston having a certain characteristic vibe. He said a “chill went up my spine.” Zirin said a person from Atlanta had used the same expression in describing character that city lost after the 1996 Summer Olympics came to town. Tens of thousands of residents, mostly low-income or homeless, were displaced by the Atlanta Games.

Zirin ended with the story of Japanese man who was kicked out of his home to make way for the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics. The man, years later, was again displaced to make way for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Crockford spoke on the increased security state that happens as a result of mega-events like the Olympics. Crockford talked about security costs, rifling off numbers of $1.6 billion for the London 2012 Summer Olympics, $3 billion for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and $1.9 million for the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Crockford said the Boston 2024 security costs are projected to be close to $2 billion.

Crockford said that new security powers are granted for these types of mega-events and that they don’t go away once the event leaves.

Crockford talked about how new surveillance cameras were installed for the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston and that set the foundation for a system that remains in place and has gotten bigger. Crockford said other legacies of the DNC are those random searches that happen at T stations and the “cops getting new toys,” such as riot gear.

Crockford said that if the Olympics come to Boston in 2024, residents can expect increase police patrols; stop-and-frisk stops, especially of black and brown youths; and unconstitutional restrictions on speech.

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