The real game behind the Olympic scenes

Jacqueline Kennelly

Jacqueline Kennelly, an assistant sociology professor in Carleton’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, has flown to London just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics. She is neither one of the tens of thousands of athletes nor one of the millions of spectators who have swarmed into the U.K. capital to take in the Games.

Instead, Kennelly is talking to about 20 young people in the city who are being displaced as their neighbourhoods are transformed by the biggest sporting event on the planet.

With the gentrification of their “home” bases, low-income homeless or street-involved youth have much to say about the urban effects of the Olympic Games coming to town.

And Kennelly has been taking note. With the support of a three-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant (2010 to 2013), Kennelly is investigating the impacts of Olympics on impoverished youth in Vancouver and London.

Prior to, during and the year following the 2010 Winter Games, Kennelly spoke to about 100 young people attending homeless drop-in centres in Vancouver.

“One of the most striking things in the year leading up to the Olympics was the increased level of interaction with the police. During the Olympics, the number of interactions with police decreased, while the number of police on the street tripled.”

Claims of employment have also been a source of controversy, says Kennelly.

“The Olympic Bid Committee claimed the Vancouver Winter Olympics would provide 344,000 new jobs over a seven-year period. The employment promises were completely ridiculous,” notes Kennelly.

In fact, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported a more realistic 1,500 jobs over that same period.

Kennelly first made contact with disadvantaged young people in England two years ago, completing a full set of interviews last year.

“In London, the youth were not living on the streets as they were in Vancouver,” explains Kennelly. “It’s the same demographic but there is more government support in the U.K. They have youth workers helping them develop employment skills, for example, and there is not as much interaction with the police.”

Kennelly points to the significance of her work as the Olympics “hop” from city to city.

“As we spread the word and do solid research on the effects of the Olympics on marginalized populations, I hope it will lead to a more informed public debate about the Olympics, or any mega event. It undermines democracy and diverts public money away from where it is needed.”

In Vancouver, for example, an initial security budget of $175 million ballooned to some $850 million by the time the Games were held, Kennelly notes. In London, the security budget is estimated at nearly $2 billion.

Kennelly’s research interest in youth culture and urban sociology stems from her commitment to injustice and inequality, she explains. With an eye to raising public awareness and contributing to public debate, she says. Meanwhile, when the Olympics wrap up, Kennelly will turn her attention to another project with a U.K. colleague, involving homeless youth and their engagement with democracy and citizenship.

“All my research is motivated by a desire to know why injustice happens and what I can do to ameliorate that.”

This entry was written by Susan Hickman and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: , . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media: http://carletonnow.carleton.ca/?p=9406

Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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