By RON FANFAIR
By the time St. Kitts & Nevis Olympics Association president Alphonso Bridgewater and the rest of the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) Evaluation Commission team leave here early next week, they will find that the Toronto 2015 bid team means what they have promised and that is to provide superior service, hospitality and convenience for athletes, officials and media coming here should this city be awarded the quadrennial Games.
The PASO 42 members will vote to award the Games at the organization’s general assembly in Guadalajara, Mexico in early November.
Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru are the other candidates for the event that has the support of all three levels of government in Canada, and which will create several new sports facilities and housing projects for the province.
The Games budget is $1.4 billion and Ontario has committed to be the event’s deficit guarantor.
The Evaluation Commission members are expected to visit most of the Games facilities, including the Rogers Centre where the opening and closing ceremonies will take place, the Fairmont Royal York Hotel that will be the host hotel for PASO officials and sponsors, the festival site at Toronto City Hall and Union Station which is the transportation hub.
These facilities are all located within five minutes of the Pan American village in downtown Toronto.
“I think we have a good bid even though it’s not as compact as you would see with other bids because it’s stretched over close to a 100-kilometre radius,” said bid vice-chair, Joe Halstead. “It works better in this way than having it compressed and it’s a great plan because, from a legacy point of view, it’s in communities that will benefit from the new and refurbished facilities.”
Halstead, who has been part of three failed bid attempts to bring internationals games – the 1996 and 2008 Olympics and the 1999 Pan Am Games that went to Winnipeg – is confident that an international multi-sport event will return to southern Ontario for the first time since the inaugural British Empire – now Commonwealth Games – in Hamilton in 1930.
“The people I have spoken to believe we should win,” said Halstead who has extensive contacts in the international sports community. “I have however said to folks around us let’s be optimistic and continue to press but don’t think for a moment it’s in the bag because I have been there before.”
Ontario’s Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best, whose portfolio also includes Sport, agrees with Halstead.
“I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I feel that with the competent team we have in place led by Premier Dalton McGuinty, chair David Peterson, president and chief operating officer Jagoda Pike and the bid’s vice-chairs, we have an excellent chance of getting the Games,” said Best.
“We should also not forget that the three levels of government are behind this effort which is a great demonstration of the things we can do when governments work together.”
Best dismissed suggestions that the Games are an obscure third-rate event and a financial burden to the province.
“The Pan Am Games are first-rate for us and it will be even greater when we have it here,” she said. “You have to crawl before you walk. The Olympics are the pinnacle, but you have to put building blocks in place and this is an opportunity for us to do that now. It doesn’t matter when it’s held, there would always be naysayers who will say now is not the right time. For me, this is the right time.”
The Evaluation Commission team will spend two hectic days – August 30 and 31 – in the city ensuring that the facilities meet PASO requirements.
“We will take the bid book and break it down into segments and components,” said Halstead. We will put them in a room and show them the details of what is being planned. The whole idea is to convince them that the experience of coming to Toronto – from the athletes’ experience to the marketing and financial flexibility standpoint – would be much better than anywhere else.”
The Pan Games will take place in the selected city July 10-26, 2015 and the subsequent Parapan American Games will be held August 7-14 that year.