Opinion: The people Olympic host cities don't want you to see

David Goldblatt writes on how Paris is continuing a long and ignoble Olympic tradition of host cities cleansing urban space of ‘undesirables' ahead of the games.

Opinion: The people Olympic host cities don't want you to see

Editor's note: David Goldblatt is a British journalist, broadcaster, and academic. Goldblatt is the author of many books, including 'The Games: a Global History of the Olympics. The views expressed are his. Click here to read more CNN Opinion.

In the breathless mission statement of the Paris 2024 Olympics, we are told that 'Sport can change everything. It improves education, health and social inclusion. Sport's power does not seem to extend to housing or homelessness problems.

The police and city authorities have been busy this September closing down homeless camps across Paris and removing unhoused individuals from the French capital. Meanwhile, the first luxury apartments at the Olympic Village are already on the market.

The housing department of the government says the relocation plan is designed to reduce the burden on this urban area, and ensure that the homeless receive more support in the provinces. The government housing department and the organizers of Paris 2024 both say that the scheme has no connection to the Games.

It may be true, but from an historical perspective, Paris seems to follow a ignoble Olympic Tradition of cleansing the city of undesirables before the Games and the arrival the media.

The Olympic Games, for all their talk about social responsibility, are a television spectacle used by host cities to market themselves and legitimize urban regeneration programmes.

The first requires a cityscape without obvious signs of social inequity and dysfunction. The latter, which is subcontracted out to private developers for profit and driven by their own agendas, can only contribute to the real housing needs.

Dark history of the 'cleansing cities'

Before Berlin hosted its 1936 Olympics, the city's Roma were arrested, interned, and relocated to a prison in the far-off suburb of Berlin Marzahn.

The police moved rough sleepers from the parks in the run-up to Tokyo 1964. They also asked the yakuza to send the most visible members of their gangs on a long holiday.

The 1980 Moscow Games organizers promised to 'cleanse Moscow from chronic alcoholics' and drug addicts. They then dumped them at locations far beyond the city ring road.

In Los Angeles, the LAPD used 1984 as a pretext for restocking its arsenal and then conducted aggressive and relentless sweeps around Olympic venues of Black and Latino Youth and the Homeless. LA 2028 looks like it will repeat this process. LAPD sweeps are already targeting homeless encampments throughout the city.

Atlanta's shame

Atlanta 1996 was the first to wage a systematic war against the homeless. The homeless were put on buses with one-way tickets to their origins.

Local ordinances have been changed to criminalize reclining in public and being in a parking lot without owning a vehicle there.

Pre-printed arrest warrants that read: "African American Male, Homeless" were used to conduct sweeps. The charge and the date were blank on the citations. The chase of them and their hostels from downtown Atlanta was a prelude for the destruction of the little social housing that remained in the area, opening the door for a real-estate bonanza.

Relocating residents can be done twice

According to estimates by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, these massive urban redevelopment programs in Seoul 1988 and Beijing (2008) were on a completely different scale, and required the displacement of over 720,000 and 1.25 million individuals, respectively, from the most impoverished and oldest areas of the cities.

Since then, nothing has come close. Rio de Janeiro hosted the Pan American Games in 2009, the World Cup in 2014, and then the Olympics of 2016. According to the City Council of Rio de Janeiro data, more than 75,000 people were displaced between 2009 and 2016 with poor compensation rates and offers of inferior and far-flung social housing.

Tokyo 2020 has movedhundredsof households forward. But in an act of extraordinary cruelty, it was necessary to relocate a number of elderly people who had been evicted for the 1964 Games. This second relocation took place more than 50 years later.

Paris's preparations for 2024 Olympics have seen very few new constructions, so the relocations are minimal. Even then, the new media center required the destruction of an urban forest and the new aquatics facility saw the paving over of old community gardens.

There are cities that have done it better

Olympic Villages have added to housing stocks in the host country, and many of them have been a success. Helsinki, the city that built the first permanent Olympic Village, created a neighbourhood of social housing with a distinctive architectural style.

After the 1956 Games, Melbourne gave most of its housing to low-income families.

The gentrification games

The poor and the unhoused, however, have reaped very little benefit from this development. Mexico City's residential buildings were allocated to civil servants of the middle class in 1968.

Barcelona's Olympic Village of 1992 became the epicenter of a process of beachsidegentrification, and skyrocketing house prices. That was the plan for Rio. But the entire Olympic park is virtually empty today.

London's 2012 Olympic Village left behind a modest legacy of affordable housing. However, in the post-Olympic development around it, there are very few accessible properties. The Olympic Park organizers promised that half the new homes would be affordable. However, according to BBC reports, only a handful of units were offered at this rent.

Marginalized voices

Athens decided to distribute around 90% of their flats via lottery to families in severe poverty or who had major health and disabilities issues. In 2015, the repurposed Olympic Village was experiencing a 60% unemployment rate. It had almost no public transportation, a virtually closed shopping centre, and residents' children were being educated in Portakabins in the few schools and nurseries that existed.

Paris promises to do better. It has located the village in the rundown, but accessible St-Denis. A new metro station is being built, and half of it will be allocated socially. But then, London did the same.

Why is the Olympic Games' record so bad on these matters? The official history of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)is silent on this matter.

The power and voice of marginalized, unhoused people and their allies, in the anti-Olympic movement that has sprung up during the past few decades, cannot compete with a coalition of powerful forces -- the International Olympic Committee, national and local governments, media corporations and real estate capital that puts on the show.

We can expect future Olympic Games will look the same until this changes.