It's D-Day for Toronto's Pan Am Games Bid. But if We Win It, and Build It, Will They Come?


UPDATE: Toronto has won the bid to host the Pan Am Games

By the time most of the city is leaving work today, we'll know whether Toronto has won its controversial bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Phoning from the Toronto bid team's headquarters in Guadalajara, Mexico, mayor David Miller is succinct about why he thinks the Toronto games would be a good thing.

"I have to look at that from the city's perspective. Sports has an important part to play, and the way these games have evolved, Toronto will get the benefit of hosting them. We'll have our name known around the Americas, we'll build very strong bonds between Latin America and Toronto, which is very significant with immigration from South America."

Miller is also quick to list other ways the city will benefit - it's a guarantee that U of T will build new world class sports facilities at its downtown and Scarborough campus, which will push the construction of the Scarborough-Malvern LRT line from second to first priority in the Transit City plan. And he insists that the Toronto taxpayers won't have to pay the bill if - some insist that it's more like a "when" - costs go overboard.

"I look at that fairly narrowly," Miller says. "The city isn't on the hook if things go wrong - it's the province. The city gets the benefit if we succeed - that's a pretty good deal for Toronto. We have an ironclad agreement with them that's already been signed."

The only flaw with that logic is that Toronto remains part of Ontario, and the bid's opponents don't hesitate to point that out. In fact, one of the marvels of the Pan Am bid is how it's united two disparate groups against it - the libertarian Freedom Party on the right with its No Tax For Pan Am campaign, and the social activists of the No Games Toronto group, supported by the agitators at John Clarke's Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

Joeita Gupta from No Games points to Vancouver's upcoming Winter Olympics as an example of how badly things can go. "I believe (Toronto bid leader) David Peterson's exact remark was 'We're going to have a party without a hangover.' That's unrealistic. If you look at Vancouver, they said when they got their bid that they'd convert their athletes village into affordable housing."

"After a few years they had to bail the corporation that was running the athlete's village out on account of the recession, so they had to take over the mortgage." Based on precedents, Gupta doesn't see how Toronto won't see the same thing happening with the athlete's village it's promised to build on the city-owned West Donlands.

But the most persuasive argument Gupta and No Games offer is that the games are strictly third-tier, with little chance of offering the profile the city obviously craves after several successive losses in bids for Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Expos. Veteran sportswriter Gare Joyce explains that, from the sports media's perspective, the Pan Am Games are "a devalued sports brand or franchise."

"Sportswriters would consider it the booby prize of assignments. The Pan Ams used to be something staffed by major media like Sports Illustrated but now it's thoroughly in the margins. A solid, representative track and field meet used to be the highlight and centrepiece but now the best go to Europe for the elite summer circuit."

Still, it's hard to imagine the media landscape of 2015 resembling today's, and Miller suggests that if current trends continue, Toronto could end up hosting a Pan Am Games channel broadcast online, and that the promise of U.S. viewers for a nearby games could attract more U.S. athletes. "Toronto is an amazing city," Miller says, "but we're not always as successful as we should be, and I think the reason is that we don't tell our stories often enough or well enough across the world."


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