Anti-Olympics protests off and racing


By Bea Brear

SYDNEY — With International Olympics Committee (IOC) chief Juan Antonio Samaranch in town on February 16, the Sydney offices of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) became the focus of an angry rally. One hundred people — matched by almost as many police and security officials — chanted, yelled and played volleyball to highlight the adverse effects of the Olympic Games on Sydney (including on Bondi Beach, which is being closed off to the public in preparation for the beach volleyball competition) and NSW.

The rally, organised by the Olympic Impact Coalition, raised numerous issues: the lack of emergency accommodation, rent increases, increased police powers, the possibility of a "clean out" of homeless people before the Olympics and environmental concerns with the Homebush Bay Olympic site. Other issues included the accusations of corruption in the IOC, the cuts being made to the NSW health and education systems by the state Labor government while millions of dollars are poured into the Olympics, and the building of a volleyball stadium on Bondi Beach.

The "S19" group organised street theatre highlighting the corporate nature of the Olympics. This group is loosely linked to the J18 committee formed last year to organise an anti-corporate day of action. The J18 committee included activists from Reclaim the Streets, Critical Mass and the National Union of Students.

Future actions

The range of groups involved in the protest action, and the range of issues it raised, indicates the growing public anger about the Olympics and the potential for future protests. The police and mainstream media seem to realise this: there has been a large police presence at all anti-Olympics demonstrations so far and the media area busily pouring cold water on protests which could ruin "our" Olympics.

Discussion is beginning about what form the Sydney Olympics protests should take and what focus they should have.

NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen, addressing the rally, said he is campaigning for a "green and socially equitable Olympics" for all Australians to enjoy. However, a member of S19 said, "The Olympics typifies the corporate takeover of the world. We are not only campaigning against the Olympics but against capitalism and the profit motive generally."

Public figures such as Cathy Freeman have spoken out against the Aboriginal community disrupting the games, but some Aboriginal leaders support protests. Lyle Munro, from the Metropolitan Land Council, told Resistance magazine that he is expecting large, national mobilisations targeting the racist policies of the federal Coalition government.

Resistance believes that the high level of anger about the Olympics among ordinary people in Sydney lays the basis for large protest actions and has pledged to mobilise high school and university students before and during the Olympics. Resistance organiser Will Williams said, "Sydney's bid for the Olympics included criticising China for human rights abuses but that was blatant hypocrisy.

"Look at Australia's treatment of Aboriginal people, or the fact that Australia now has some of the harshest legislation in the world for restricting the rights of refugees. Large amounts of public money are being pumped into the Olympics, while public hospitals are closing, public transport is being cut and government workers are being sacked.

"We will be working with other groups and coalitions to get the largest number of people possible out onto the streets. We are prepared to defy police powers and council restrictions in order to have a dissenting voice heard during the Olympics."

Resistance will be campaigning around the following demands:

  • repeal the racist laws against refugees;

  • land rights for Aboriginal people now;

  • money for health, education and welfare, not the Olympics

  • increase funding for housing support services

  • no restrictions on public protest before and during the Olympics.

For more information, phone Sydney Resistance on (02) 9690 1977 or western Sydney Resistance on (02) 9635 8449.