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Fans do the wave after Canada's women's beach volleyball team defeated the Cayman Islands in a preliminary match, at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Monday, July 13, 2015. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
Fans do the wave after Canada's women's beach volleyball team defeated the Cayman Islands in a preliminary match, at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Monday, July 13, 2015. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Have Your Say: How can global sporting events have positive social impacts? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

The exhilarating soccer at this summer’s women’s World Cup – played in six Canadian cities from Vancouver to Moncton – was a welcome relief from the stench of the FIFA bribery scandal and outrageous abuse of migrant workers, who are building future World Cup venues in Qatar.

So as Toronto hosts elite athletes from across the western hemisphere at the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, we have renewed hope that sport still has the potential to unify people around the planet.

In addition to celebrating epic physical feats, all the global attention and colossal infusion of cash that comes with international sporting events can be used to tackle environmental and social challenges, while our athletes tackle each other.

FIFA’s program for this year’s women’s World Cup included athletic mentorship programs for aboriginal communities, and a focus on sourcing goods and services from businesses owned by minority groups, women and aboriginal people. Toronto’s Pan Am team has organized internships for 150 local youth so they will gain job skills related to running the Games, from transportation logistics to supply chain troubleshooting.

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics set a high bar for eco and social legacy planning. The toilets at the speedskating oval ran on rainwater, and the curling rink (once a parking lot) is now a packed community centre with a pool, gyms and a public library. Even the Olympic athletes’ village has found its groove five years post-Games as an environmentally friendly mixed-use neighbourhood with 20 per cent social housing.

There’s still room for improvement, of course. The 2014 Sochi Olympics were marred by Russia’s criminalization of homosexuality, and less-noticed but still outrageous labour abuses leading up to the Games.

If we hold host cities to the same standard of excellence as we hold athletes, global sporting events can lift our human potential even higher.

This week’s question: What’s your creative idea to bolster the eco and social impact of international sporting events?

Ann Duffy, global sporting event sustainability and legacy consultant, Vancouver

“Intentionally spread the direct economic benefits to people of diverse socio-economic, ethnic and gender backgrounds. Toronto’s Pan Am Games organizers offered workshops for small businesses on proposal writing to bid on contracts, and connected small local caterers with larger ones for new opportunities.”

Matt Dolf, manager, Centre for Sport and Sustainability, University of British Columbia

“Hold sporting events in developing regions that would benefit most from the investment in housing, transportation and other infrastructure. The Olympics might be too much, but smaller high-profile world championships could serve a dual purpose of boosting a country’s development goals, and economy, if co-ordinated with local partners and leading NGOs.”

Peter Donnelly, director, Centre for Sport Policy Studies, University of Toronto

“Use the event to create a more active, healthy community. Prioritize legacy projects, like public transit, trails, parks and bike lanes. Communities with safe and accessible opportunities for active living nurture citizens who become active lobbyists for clean air and water, good housing and preventive health care.”

Have your say in the comment section.

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Follow on Twitter: @craigkielburger

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