Sports and Politics: The Homeless in Olympic Cities

This piece was originally published on Righteous Anger in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics.


You hear many on the Left ridicule the interest in sports as a frivolous pursuit.  As a sports-addicted Leftist, it’s probably the one topic where I most diverge from my comrades.  One of the few on the Left who devote their lives to sports-based commentary is Dave Zirin.  (Edge of Sports is one of the best sites on the Internet.)  I think the world of sports is a vital, important arena for sociopolitical commentary and for people to come together.  It’s also just fun, and fun is a necessity for the human animal.

Right now, there are a wealth of sports stories that are crying out for Leftist analysis.  The Olympics are always a hotbed for the intersection of sports and politics.  The child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State presents a number of interesting questions to ponder from a Leftist perspective.  The old “billionaire white owners vs. millionaire black athletes” argument is rife with political potential.

With the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics less than a week away, though, that’s what I want to focus on right now.  It has been the policy of every Olympic host city in recent memory to ship out and harass the so-called “undesirables,” with the homeless and street prostitutes being prime targets.  The Daily Activist posted on their blog that so-called “vice” and homeless sweeps are in full swing in London:

Anti-poverty charity Toynbee Hall notes that the number of sex workers arrested in Tower Hamlets, one of five Olympic boroughs, has already exceeded the numbers from 2011. Approximately 80 brothels from all five Olympic boroughs have been shutdown as well.

In Atlanta, people were hit twice–for the 1988 Democratic Party National Convention and for the 1996 Summer Olympics:

The “Olympic effect” is notoriously destructive. In any city preparing to host a major event, old neighborhoods are obliterated and people are displaced. Less than 10 years after the Democratic Convention, the poor of Atlanta were hit again as the city geared up for the 1996 games. About 30,000 residents were displaced by construction work. In an Olympics-ready city, what isn’t torn down increases in value, as landlords evict longtime tenants to make room for wealthy visitors. And, of course, the people who were already homeless before all this started have to be dealt with.

In Atlanta, for instance, Mary Beadnell reported that in the eight months leading up to the Games, 9,000 people were arrested for begging and loitering, and others were moved more than a hundred miles away from the city. Likewise in Sydney, Australia, preparing for the 2000 Olympics, the police were able to clear the streets by charging people with causing a “social nuisance.” If not in the mood to make arrests, police can, at the very least, order people to “move on.”

In Atlanta, this “clean-up” included stricter loitering laws and one-way bus tickets given to the homeless:

Local officials want to help rid the city of crime and homeless people before the Olympics with stricter loitering laws and one-way bus tickets out of town.

Fulton County is paying the bill for one-way bus tickets for the homeless as long as the recipient promises never to return and can prove he has a family or job waiting at his destination, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday.

In the lead-up to the Vancouver Winter Games, a law was drafted that would have given the police the right to put the homeless in jail if they refused to go to shelters in “severe weather”.  The British Columbia authorities said it was in the interest of humanitarianism, but others did not agree:

Critics charge that the move is intended to help clear the streets of undesirable people in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood houses hundreds of homeless people and has become an embarrassment to city and provincial officials.

The hatred of the homeless isn’t new.  It is made worse by the Olympics and other large scale events, however.  For an event that claims to be about celebrating the best in humanity, it’s amazing how often it brings out the worst.

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