The eyes of the world are fixed on London and the Olympic Games, yet the afterglow of the last Winter Games is still being felt in this country. Vancouver’s Winter Olympics were a magical moment for that city, for British Columbia and for Canada, in part for the Canadian team’s gold medal haul, in part for the logistical success of the Games, but also for the spirit and pride they engendered. The next time Canada will host the world – or at least part of it – is the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, and that competition should be embraced by the country, by sponsors and by sports fans.
The Pan Am Games are not the Olympics, but they are still a massive sporting competition, with athletes from 41 countries – indeed, more athletes and coaches than were in Vancouver. Many of those countries are sports powerhouses, not the least of them the United States, Brazil and Jamaica. And as it happens, the Toronto Pan Am Games will take place one year before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, so they will be an opportunity for Canadians to see many of the hemisphere’s top athletes compete in what for many sports will be an Olympic qualifying event.
What’s more, Ontario has been starved for this sort of thing. While the Olympics have been held in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and Victoria and the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Ontario has not had anything of the sort since the British Empire Games were held in Hamilton in 1930.
The Pan Am Games are a welcome boost to the struggling economy of Southern Ontario. They are the pretext for some major infrastructure investments, including the rail link from Toronto Pearson International Airport to a redeveloped Union Station. Toronto, which only has two Olympic-sized pools, will get five new ones. And there will be new facilities from Markham to Welland.
It is also a chance for Canada to show off to the hundreds of millions of people across the Americas who will be watching the opening ceremony and the events – a wonderful opportunity to build Canada’s tourism brand (see above). It’s easy to be cynical about these sorts of competitions. It’s also easy to dismiss anything that is not the Olympics. But that would be akin to dismissing the Toronto International Film Festival because it’s not Cannes. Indeed that’s the case, but it’s more accessible, it’s friendlier, it’s less pretentious and, in many respects, it can be as good. Just as we did for Vancouver, the country should get behind Toronto’s Pan Am Games in 2015.