This summer Glasgow will hold the largest sporting event ever to take place in Scotland. In the run up to the Games, with masses of funding pouring in to prepare the city, new infrastructures being build and existing sports sites re-vamped and exciting jobs offered to students this summer, Glasgow is an exciting place to be. But preparations raise an important issue: while large sporting events undeniably benefit and bring together communities, the building of new sport ‘cities’ and projects of ‘urban regeneration’ routinely damage the lives of the city’s poor and vulnerable.
A look at the glamour of past sporting competitions can unearth evidence of destruction to a significant percentage of the population which is largely ignored. Displacement of people and businesses has occurred to a massive extent in past years, often weakly and untruthfully justified, and unfortunately it looks like Glasgow will follow suit. But when faced with massive events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, so supported by the media, the council and politicians, what hope do those with very little access to power have to voice their concerns?
In 2007, the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions reported that the Olympic Games have evicted over 2 million people in the last 20 years, and name it as one of the top causes of displacement and house price inflation in the world, and evidence shows that the Games largely negatively affect the homeless, poor and ethnic minorities. In 2008, the Olympics were responsible for evicting 1.25 million residents in Beijing, and the process was repeated in London in 2012.
Every Olympic city chooses a poor location, and we can see why in the case of Clays Estate in the East End of London, where 450 residents were displaced before the housing estate was demolished in 2007 to make way for the Games’ Athlete’s Village. In this case the London Development Agency claimed the estate would be demolished even if the Olympics didn’t happen in London, but on further investigation residents discovered that there actually were no alternative plans for the site.
As well as forced displacement of people often without the means to defend themselves, the 2012 Olympics directly targeted the homeless and sex workers in their endeavour to clean up the city: in the lead up to the Games there was an increase in the arrest of sex workers and brothels were shut down in the Olympic area, conveniently blamed on community concerns. And similarly in Vancouver before the 2010 Winter Olympics, begging and sleeping on the streets were made illegal, and new benches were made, designed so that no one could lie down on them.
Right now we are witnessing another case of the vulnerable being exploited by rich and unstoppable powers in the name of sport. Asian migrant workers are being forced into slave labour in Qatar where $100 billion are estimated to be spent on infrastructure for the 2022 Olympic Games. Workers from the poorest countries in the world such as Nepal have entered into false contracts and found themselves held in labour camps in terrible conditions, with their passports confiscated and wages suspended to prevent them from leaving. Workers have died over the summer at a rate of one a day, mainly from heart attacks and from accidents occurring on-site. While considerations are being made as to the suitability of the desert heat for a few hundred footballers, workers are dying due to the harsh conditions they are being made to face, often whilst being denied access to drinking water.
In Glasgow it seems that once again a city is undergoing a process to hide homelessness and poverty. Its attempts do not solve any problems, but rather result in dangers for the vulnerable people that are displaced and those who try to provide aid for them. Over a thousand people in low-income housing have been evicted and re-housed in the east end of Glasgow since demolition began in 2000 for the new Commonwealth Games velodrome, arena and Athletes Village. The site promises to provide 1500 new homes for sale and rent after the Games, yet only 20% of these will be available for affordable socially rented housing.
And the rest of city is feeling the effects of the pre-Games ‘social cleansing’. For over 8 years the thriving soup kitchen supported by Glasgow University Service to the Homeless and numerous other charities has operated in the city centre, but in recent months the soup kitchen has come under threat from the council, and many service users are to be issued with exclusion orders from the city centre.
In a meeting this month, the soup kitchen was represented by The Salvation Army, Quakers, Catholic Workers, Destiny’s Church, ROKPA, Routes Out and Humanists to protest against the move of the kitchen location to an unsafe and inconvenient one on the south side, which would risk the personal safety of service users and volunteers and potentially result in territorial disputes amongst the homeless of the area. A representative from Community Safety Glasgow informed the attendants of the reasons behind the proposed move: a planned redevelopment of the financial district combined with complaints from the residents of the buildings outside which the soup kitchen operates.
As in the case of Clays Estate in London, these reasons seem like a thinly veiled attempt to push evidence of poverty out of Glasgow city centre in preparation for the Games. In addition, proposals by Glasgow City Council to introduce begging bans such as those seen in Vancouver are currently being considered.
Glasgow is well on its way to following a long tradition of exploitation and lack of consideration of the poor, homeless and vulnerable members of its community while others celebrate the upcoming sporting event. The displacement of residents and eviction of the homeless remains largely out of the media’s attention, which is incredibly damaging and allows the tradition to continue. By raising awareness of this issue, the Glasgow University Service to the Homeless hopes to help reduce the number of people set to lose out in the upcoming competition.