Vancouver readies to welcome the world for Olympics

But vandals deface Israeli, US flags in Canadian city.

Vancouver winter olympics (photo credit: AP)
Vancouver winter olympics
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – A Vancouver business association sought to spread the Olympic spirit of friendship and peace by displaying pictures of flags from around the world alongside a walkway – but someone apparently didn’t get the message.
Soon after the South Granville Business Initiative Association pasted the images of the flags along the district’s main drag, which sits near many of the venues where the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held on February 12–28, the Stars and Stripes was defaced with a swastika.
About a week after that, on December 26, one Israeli flag was smeared with paint and second was vandalized with the words “Free Palestine.”
“The flag walk is a celebration of friendship,” Sharon Townsend, executive director of the business association, told The Jerusalem Post by phone, explaining that a world of flags symbolizes the idea that “a world of friends is a world of peace.”
While the vandalism is “disappointing,” the business association was “pretty determined that we wouldn’t be intimidated, and we won’t,” she said.
The American and Israeli flags have since been replaced, she noted.
Romy Ritter, executive director of The Canadian Jewish Congress’s Pacific region, also used the word disappointing to describe the vandalism.
But she said that the “overwhelming majority” of Vancouver locals were open and tolerate, and welcoming of different people, Jews included.
“Our community is very excited about the Olympics and welcoming the world to our city and showing it off and showing the world the Olympic spirit,” Ritter said. The vandalism “was unfortunate and disappointing, but I do believe they are isolated incidents and we do hope these isolated incidents don’t detract from that Olympic spirit.”
Townsend noted that Israel and the United States weren’t the only countries whose flags were harmed. In all, about 80 of the 350 flags on display have been removed, either after having been damaged or stolen, though she attributed the vast majority of thefts to souvenir-seekers who wanted to take the colorful images home as mementos.
Israel and the United States also weren’t the only countries whoseflags were used to play politics. According to Townsend, China calledfor the Taiwanese flag to be eliminated. In addition, the IndianConsulate asked for its flag to be taken off because it ran contrary toIndian protocol to have an image of the flag on the ground. ThenIranians asked for their flag to be removed because it has the world“Allah” on it, also prohibited from lying on the ground.
And Townsend didn’t only face countries asking for exclusions.Indonesia, among others, complained that its flag wasn’t included.Townsend had to explain that display was only comprised of countriescompeting in the winter games.