Eugene: Protesters Denounce Olympic Trials’ Impact on Community, Imperialist Ties

Photo credit: James Croxton  @jwcroxton // Double Sided Media

By James Avery and David Martinez

In Eugene, Oregon, on the first day of the US Olympic Trials on June 18, community members led by Eugene Housing and Neighborhood Defense (HAND) gathered to protest the event, citing imperialism as the exploitative foundation for the Olympic Games. The Olympic Trials, in which American athletes compete for spots on the US Olympic team, have been held six times in Eugene since 1976. Protesters stated that they mainly benefit the capitalist ruling class.

The Trials have been lured to Eugene due to its ties to Nike, Inc., the multi-billion-dollar monopoly founded in the city and now headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. Protesters say the past two times the Trials were hosted in Eugene, more than 40% of the $37 million generated went to the hospitality and service industries, yet the workers in those industries still face the same low wages along with more strenuous hours during the Trials.

A member of HAND, a group which seeks to organize working-class tenants, said: “Working-class people are overworked and underpaid every day, but even more so during the Trials. The money from tourists who visit our workplaces will go directly into the pockets of our bosses, not into our hands, even while we are the most at risk of getting COVID-19. We should all be outraged that rich people’s entertainment is valued over the lives and livelihoods of the poor!”

Attendees marched from Washburne City Park carrying a banner reading, “Solidarity with the International Working Class.” As they walked up a main thoroughfare from Franklin Blvd. to the University of Oregon they chanted, “Renters shouldn’t live in fear! We don’t want Olympics here!” Many activists passed out pamphlets to passersby that detailed the impacts of the Olympic Trials on housing and in the workplace.

Photo credit: James Croxton  @jwcroxton // Double Sided Media

Hayward Field, the main site of the Trials, has undergone a $270 million renovation in the past year, which protesters say has pushed out renters and homeless people in nearby areas through rent hikes, evictions, and heavy policing. Wherever Olympic events are hosted, capitalist governments around the world impose this same pattern, using the demands of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to justify projects which have devastating impacts on the working class and poor.

A renter near the University of Oregon campus who attended the protest stated: “I’ve had friends who lived close to campus get evicted in preparation for the Trials, so the landlords can raise the rent and get richer tenants to move in. The Trials require this process so a shiny image of Eugene is presented to the world, but at poor people’s expense! The Olympic Trials are not prestigious, they are violent.”

Protesters identified the founder of Nike, Phil Knight, as an enemy of the people of Eugene and a major exploiter of the international proletariat. Nike, the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and other sports products, is known for using child labor and utilizing sweatshops across the world.

As the games approach, this year’s Olympics are generating protests in the host country of Japan, with solidarity protests taking place in a handful of cities across the world. Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination rates are extremely low, particularly for an imperialist country, and the Japanese people have expressed wide opposition to the Olympics, fearing increased outbreaks of the virus. Japan’s ruling class has rejected these concerns and claimed that they are obligated to hold the games as part of their agreements with the IOC, showing the ruling class’ prioritization of imperialist propaganda, the main function of the Olympics, over the health and well-being of the people.

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