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Organisers trying for 'responsible' Games

Published:Friday | February 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP):

A carbon-neutral torch relay. A multimillion-dollar partnership with Canada's aboriginals. Bouquets for medal winners made by former prostitutes and drug addicts.

Even before the first event - and the first big protest rally - organisers of the Winter Games claim to have set new Olympic standards for environmental and social responsibility.

A progress report released Wednesday detailed the scope of the efforts by the Vancouver Organising Committee - extending far beyond now-expected efforts to minimise environmental damage and maximise conservation.

"We have forged a new level of sustainability performance for the Olympics," said VANOC's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) John Furlong.

Ambitious initiatives

One of the most ambitious initiatives was to reduce and offset emissions throughout the seven-year preparation period, so that the end results would be a carbon-neutral Olympics.

With the 16 busiest days of the endeavour still ahead, organisers believe they can reach that goal. The transportation fleet includes scores of hybrid vehicles, and VANOC says these are the first Olympics with an "official supplier of carbon offsets".

On the social-issues front, VANOC started early on with outreach to Canada's aboriginal communities. They encompass more than one million of Canada's 33 million people, and have had long-standing grievances about factors contributing to their relatively high rates of poverty, substance abuse and other social ills.

Some modest protests flared when legs of the trans-Canada torch relay passed through aboriginal reserves, but most native leaders have supported the games since VANOC signed a sweeping partnership with the four First Nation communities whose traditional lands in British Columbia overlap the Olympic region.

The leaders of these four communities - one of them, the Tsleil-Waututh, with only about 425 members - will be accorded status equivalent to head of state at the games. VANOC says native businesses have received more than $56 million in Olympic spending since 2003, and 96 aboriginal artists from across Canada were contracted to produce artworks for the venues.

"I'd give VANOC an A," said Tewanee Joseph, CEO of the Four Host First Nations. "When it came to finding answers for the questions they had, they came to us. That's not something you see every day in this country, where often First Nations are an afterthought."

The games abound with aboriginal motifs, from the Inukshuk, a traditional Inuit symbol that adorns the official Vancouver 2010 logo, to the thunderbird and eagle represented on the Canadian hockey teams' jerseys. There will be Olympic telecasts in several aboriginal languages, including Cree, Mohawk, Ojibway and Inuktitut.


Some aboriginal activists remain discontented, and even non-native protesters have adopted the slogan 'No Olympics on Stolen Land'. That's an allusion to the fact that in much of British Columbia, unlike other provinces, treaties were never signed to address the takeover of land by white settlers.

VANOC says it has spent more than $3 million on services and products from inner-city businesses, and has trained about 200 at-risk young people and newly arrived immigrants in a carpentry programme whose products included the medal-ceremony podiums.

The 1,800 bouquets to be handed out at those medal ceremonies were made by what VANOC calls "marginalised" women - recove-ring drug addicts, victims of domestic violence, and women trying to leave the sex trade or newly released from prison.