Monday, February 24, 2014

The Principles of the Olympic Games…What Principles?

    Credit: Joe Scarnici, Getty Images

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- The human rights issue making headlines for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games centered on Russia's highly controversial and publicized anti-gay laws.  However, a lesser-known human rights issue affecting Sochi and many other Olympic Games host cities are forced evictions.  The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international housing rights organization, found that over the past 20 years the hosting of the Olympic Games has displaced over 2 million people.  In Sochi, thousands of families were forcibly evicted from their homes in order to make way for Olympic infrastructure. This left many dogs without homes as these families were moved into apartments which allowed no pets. 

                                                                                     Credit: Chandra Ward

All too often preparation for the Games involves the practice of displacing poor residents (and their pets). Ironically, this violates the United Nations right to adequate housing, which includes the freedom from forced eviction, arbitrary destruction and demolition of one’s home.  Regardless of the guidelines set by the UN, violation of human rights is not uncommon in Olympic or other mega event planning. According to COHRE, city officials in Seoul forcibly evicted 725,000 people from their homes in preparation for the 1988 Games.  Beijing, not surprisingly the worst offender in this area so far, displaced an estimated 1.25 million people as a result of Olympic preparations.  In 2011 the international human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), documented reports of forced evictions, labor abuses and censorship occurring in Sochi. Atlanta ran homeless people out of town and tore down public housing to make way for the 1996 summer games. This troubling pattern of human rights violations is consistent and creates incongruences between Olympic reality and the Olympic rhetoric.  What does this repeated disregard for human rights say about the Olympic brand and its principles of peace, spirit, unity, and fairness?   If host cities routinely engage in the human rights violations what role does the IOC have or should have in regards to these practices?  

                                                                                     Credit: Chandra Ward
Host cities around the world go to great lengths preparing for the Olympics.  The primary reasons cities seek to host the Olympic Games – international focus, attracting investors, and restructuring the city making it more attractive to business – also drive them to violate the human rights of their most marginalized citizens.  A perfect mix of capitalism and politics, mega-events such as the Olympics, supply both an influx of capital for the city and local businesses, and an opportunity to advance urban political agendas.  The mega-spectacle provides the business and political elites an opportunity to exercise, display, and consolidate their power, ultimately reinforcing and even increasing unequal social relations.  

                                                                                                                                       Credit: unknown.

The Olympic Games are managed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).   The IOC’s duties, based on the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, are to promote positive legacies in host cities, “to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace,” and “to encourage and support the promotion of ethics…”    Surprisingly, the IOC has largely been silent in directly engaging issues of social inequality and has instead chosen to fulfill its obligations to “social responsibility” through sustainable development.  While environmental sustainability and infrastructural projects can be a form of social responsibility, they are eclipsed by simultaneous, acts of egregious social irresponsibility. 

                                                                                          Credit: Deirdre Oakley

What kind of “legacy” will be left behind by the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro?  So far, it does not appear to be one that 'places sport at the service of humanity' which, according the Fundamental Principles of Olympism and the Olympic Charter is the IOC's purpose.   Many of the favelas (Brazilian “shanty” towns often in urban areas) in and around Rio are scheduled for demolition in preparation of the 2016 Summer Games.  Among the favelas, some of which have been recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, are historical sites detailing the histories of the country's indigenous and Afro-Brazilian citizens.  The fact that these are also some of Brazil's most marginalized citizens is without coincidence.   True to form, Rio's Olympic host city development comes at the personal expense of those with very little as it is.   The price is great; much greater than what can be quantified and reduced to bottom line dollars and cents.  This massive disconnect from the Olympic core principles cannot be lost on the IOC.  Is it possible that the deployment of Olympic rhetoric is not confined just to the powerful interests of host cities, but also by the interests of this powerful international organization?  Have the principles of capitalism and state power co-opted the Olympic principles and brand?

                                                                                          Credit: Deirdre Oakley

Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Managing Editor.  Her photo essay about the history of the Atlanta Olympic Games was published in Contexts Magazine and can be viewed here: You can contact Chandra at

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Legacy of Community Destruction in the Name of the Olympic Symbol

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- The iconic Olympic symbol is unmistakable, consisting of five distinctly colored, interlaced rings, expressing the activity of the Olympic Movement to bring the best athletics together from all over the world regardless their country’s political differences.  It’s important to think about this now as the Sochi Olympic Games are played out in a less than perfect venue where residents where displaced and the stray dogs left behind ruthlessly poisoned, only to have that controversy preempted by the anti-gay stance of the Russian government. Luckily the remaining stray dogs are now being sheltered and adopted and that hasn’t been a small feat to achieve. But this isn’t the first time such actions have come into play in the name of achieving the Olympic ideal. Let’s take the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Perhaps stray dogs weren’t poison but homeless people were forced out of the city with a one-way ticket to ‘elsewhere’. To this day you can still see the color-faded interlaced rings tower above Capital Avenue, with the skyline of downtown draped just behind, like a gateway to the city too busy to hate and the city that’s famously known as the birthplace of the Civil Right Movement. And yet what these rings really represent is the displacement and disenfranchisement of once vibrant African American neighborhoods. 

One of these is Summerhill, located next to Turner Field (now to be demolished since the Braves are moving to suburban Cobb County). Summerhill has long been a casualty of the city's urban renewal and redevelopment initiatives. Once a community with over 16,000 residents, its population shrunk to 2,500 by the middle of the1990s due in large part to the construction of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1960's, the I-75/85 downtown corridor in the 1980’s, and the Olympic Stadium in the 1990's which by 1997 had become Turner Field and leased to the Braves. 

The country's oldest public housing project, Techwood and Clark Howell Homes, were once located nearby.  Some of the city's most prominent businesses, including Coca-Cola, had lobbied for their demolition as far back as the 1980s. Once Atlanta won the Olympic bid, they got their wish: 894 low-income houses were destroyed and Centennial Olympic Place, a mixed income community sits where Techwood/Howell once stood.

A mural of a woman running with an Olympic torch-- graces an abandoned building in Mechanicsville, one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods. Neighborhoods such as this one, a few blocks from the former Olympic stadium, experienced the greatest displacement. And now the story of disinvestment in this neighborhood continues with the Braves now leaving and Mayor Reed vowing to use the land, once Turner Field is demolished for middle class housing. The 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics was almost 20 years ago and still the collateral damage continues. So what about more recent, current and future games? In part two of this series, which will be posted next week, I’ll more closely examine the paradoxes between Olympic idealism and the Olympic realities for the host cities.

Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Managing Editor.  Her photo essay about the history of the Atlanta Olympic Games was published in Contexts Magazine and can be viewed here: 
You can contact Chandra at


Monday, February 10, 2014

Young, Outcast, Getting Together and Being Heard Through Grassroots Action

Posted by Kara Collett, DOUGLASVILLE, GA -- The Seven Venue isn’t too far from Atlanta unless you were driving in our recent ‘Snowjam'. It’s a space for punk, hardcore, and metal shows. It attracts mostly teens and young adults. Many of the people who regularly attend the Seven regard it as a second home. It's a safe space where emerging and young adults can go and just be themselves. Many of the regulars have been out-cast in one way or another because of their beliefs, experiences, looks, or the type of music they like. At Seven people are free to be who they are and the result is a bond thick as blood. In fact, Tony Hart, the owner of the Seven, sees the mission of the venue as providing a positive environment for disenfranchised young people to enjoy themselves and form positive social networks.

I know that these photographs do not look like a Hardcore show, but that's because this was an acoustic event. Anyway, not too long ago, Seven became a target of imminent domain. For the past 20 years, the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) has been planning to widen Fairburn Road and create another Atlanta bypass. Seven is located in the direct path of this State planning initiative. After a few unsuccessful attempts to persuade the DOT, regular attenders and community residents took to grassroots action with a petition to DOT. From this grassroots action, the DOT agreed to reevaluate. 
Well, at least for a little while anyway. But I believe our temporary success of this fairly small grassroots campaign shows that even those the government considers “unimportant” will be heard when they band together. No one would have ever believed that a bunch of teens and 20-somethings could actually influence the local government and then get the attention of the media through collective action.  While I believe this campaign has been important, I also believe that since we got noticed this should encourage other young people to be active in their local government as well.  Please act collectively for positive causes and believe your voices will be heard! 

 Kara Collett is a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Real Community Has Nothing to Do with Income

Posted by Adelaide Kumi, MARIETTA, GA – When people think of Marietta, a northern suburb of Atlanta, they normally think of mostly white middle class residents commuting back and forth from the city in heavy traffic. But Marietta has its share of poor non-commuters as well like the Latino residents of Pine Haven. Pine Haven is a mobile home park with more than 100 households. The homes are affordable. According to one of the residents, the monthly rents range from $450 to $550. The average mobile home has two bedrooms, a small living room, a kitchen and a bathroom, and they are in relatively good condition.

Fortunately for the Pine Haven residents being in the suburbs doesn't mean isolation from needed amenities or employment opportunities. There is a small plaza adjacent to Pine Haven with a variety of stores including a beauty salon, Family Dollar, a farmers market, a pawn shop, a beauty products store, and even a night club. A coin laundry facility and mechanic are close by as well. Almost all these retail outlets are Latino (and a few Asian) owned, which gives members of the community a sense of belonging. The stores also provide jobs to residents of the Pine Heaven community. All the workers in the plaza come from the community and those without work stand in the plaza waiting for day labor opportunities without being harassed by the store owners.

While outsiders might view a mobile home park with a nearby pawn shop, coin laundry facility that sells Lotto tickets, and what looks like a rundown nightclub as signs of neighborhood dereliction, the crime rate is minimal because this is a tight knit community. One resident told me there is hardly any police presence because nothing bad ever happens. So the Pine Haven community may seem to those that don’t know it as just another low income neighborhood with all the problems such neighborhoods are assumed to have, only this one doesn’t because it’s a real community.


Adelaide Kumi is a Sociology Major at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at