Bring on the Pan Am Games

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Toronto has finally landed a major international sporting event.

With the announcement last week that this city has won the right to host the 2015 Pan Am Games, those of us who longed to see this kind of recognition for our city were ecstatic while those who have opposed such a “waste of money” went into mourning.

Many of the ardent supporters of Toronto playing host to a major sporting event have consistently said that we “need” something like this to help focus world attention on our city. They contend, too, that the sports infrastructure in the city is not up to international standards and so our premier athletes must train in other cities or in the United States, which is not only an inconvenience to them but also a loss to us. They also say that the lack of these facilities presents a barrier of sorts to our young, up-and-coming athletes who could one day be competitors in the Olympics if they had the proper facilities. Among other things.

Those who oppose games of this nature, say the billions of dollars spent could go a long way in helping to improve the lot of our poor; provide affordable housing, for example.

We remember the strong opposition that was mounted against this city’s two previous Olympics bids. Many will remember the “Bread Not Circuses” coalition.

While their opposition alone may not have been responsible for derailing the city’s bids, it sure must have played on the minds of those members of the Olympics organization responsible for choosing the winner. At the very least, it could have provided for some an excuse – or partial excuse – for not supporting Toronto.

Looking back now, while we didn’t win either of the games for which we bid, the billions of dollars that would have been spent did not materialize in affordable housing or any other tangible benefit for the poor, as far as we could determine.

The reason is simple. Governments at all levels will come together willingly – as we have just seen with the Pan Am win – to find the money to stage such international events. Sadly, they won’t do this just to help the poor. Governments address the needs of the poor only when it is convenient to their own needs and/or agenda.

When governments decide to support a bid for an international event, especially one such as these games, they know that in order to get both the support of their own citizenry and that of the individual voters on the sports bodies who look favourably at such things, they have to show long term benefits. There is where things like affordable housing play a role, together with new or improved sports facilities for youth.

It shouldn’t be this way. But, in most cases, that is how it is. Can anyone really see our current federal government coming up with half-billion dollars to help build affordable housing in Toronto? We can’t. But they have committed that much for these games whose athletes’ village will be turned into housing, part of which will be affordable housing for the poor once the games are over.

We could do much worse.

Another concern of those who oppose games such as these is the way the homeless, drug addicts and the so-called street people are treated. In Vancouver right now there is much concern over how these people are being handled as the city attempts to “clean up” the area where the 2010 Olympic Games will be held. Hopefully, Toronto will be a little more civilized in how it treats its poor.

We support these games for all the reasons others do. The amazing new infrastructure that is expected, including vastly improved public transit; the new sports facilities which, we hope, will help steer many of our youth into sports and off the streets; the thousands of badly needed new jobs; the accelerated development of our waterfront.

We are also excited at the chance to see our Caribbean athletes – many of whom are at the top of their game and at the top of the world’s standings – compete in our city, live and in full colour.

What a treat that will be.

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