Can we afford the Pan Am Games?

By MURPHY BROWNE

The last time Toronto attempted to host a mega sports event (2008 Olympics) his honour put his foot firmly in his mouth. In 2001, in the midst of Toronto making a bid to host the 2008 summer Olympic Games, then-Mayor Mel Lastman expressed that he was afraid to travel to Mombasa because he had an image of himself being placed in a pot of boiling water with “natives” dancing around him.

Lastman should have been afraid to travel to the U.S. where the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was murdering and eating African-Americans and other racialized men.

The community mobilized, marched on City Hall and demanded Lastman’s resignation. Whatever impact that rally at City Hall on July 24, 2001 had, Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics was unsuccessful.

There was opposition to Toronto’s bid to host the Olympics even before Lastman made his White supremacist remark. The group Bread Not Circuses (BNC) spearheaded the movement to oppose Toronto’s bid, citing the need in Toronto for housing, good jobs, child care and a safe and clean city.

Helen Lenskyj, a retired professor from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), was a member of BNC and assisted in critiquing Toronto’s bid.

Lenskyj has written several articles and published three books exploring the impact of mega sports events on the communities that host them. In her second book, Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics and Activism, published in 2001, Lenskyj wrote that the BNC felt “that scarce resources should not be wasted on ‘mega-projects’ and that all people of Toronto should have direct involvement in the decision making process”.

Lenskyj also noted that BNC published an anti-bid book which included “a critical analysis of high-performance sport as a business and the Olympics as a television spectacle with no necessary relationship to community sport and recreation programs or facilities for Toronto residents”. There is also ample evidence that the debt that is incurred from hosting these mega sporting events is usually a financial burden borne by residents of the host city for many years.

Having lost two bids to host the Olympic Games, Toronto has now turned its attention to making a bid to host the 2015 Pan American Games which are held every four years in the year before the Olympic Games.

At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, representatives of the Latin American delegations proposed regional Games for all the Americas. This proposal led to the first meeting of the Pan American Sports Congress in Argentina in August 1940. The first Pan American Games took place in 1951 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Toronto’s competitors in the bid to host the 2015 Games are Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru. The organization now governing the Games is the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO). The members of PASO are 42 countries from the Caribbean, Central, North and South America with the official languages being English and Spanish. The PASO headquarters is in Mexico City and Mexican businessman Mario Vasquez Raña is president of PASO and also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

A five-member evaluation commission from PASO plans to meet with the 2015 Toronto Bid Committee on August 30 and 31 after they visit Bogota and Lima. The commission will then make their report to PASO and a vote to decide the location of the 2015 games is expected in early November.

While the evaluation commission from PASO is visiting, a grassroots opposition group plans to raise their objections to Toronto hosting the 2015 Pan American Games, citing similar concerns to those of BNC during Toronto’s failed bid to host the Olympic Games. Not much has changed since Toronto made its bid to host the 1996 and the 2008 Olympic Games.

Mike Harris was elected in 1995 on his “Common Sense Revolution” platform and immediately slashed social services support (by 22 per cent) for the most vulnerable in our society. The Harris government was also successful in creating a crisis in the public education system.

Nelson Mandela is credited with the quote: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” The Harris Conservatives laid the groundwork and set out their master plan that revealed their souls when they deliberately and with “malice aforethought” (from my father, a retired police officer) made decisions that negatively impact us today.

The Ontario Liberals have continued the Harris legacy. We are saddled with an unwieldy Toronto District School Board, a single person depending on social services receives $572.00 per month and the University of Toronto (U of T) plans to charge students a flat fee, so that students taking three and a half courses will be compelled to pay for five courses.

The Toronto Bid Committee is led by David Peterson, chancellor of the U of T, an institution which “cried poor” and plans to gouge the most vulnerable (its students) to make up their budget shortfall. U of T is planning to build an Olympic-size swimming pool as part of their bid to host the Pan Am Games at a cost of $220 million. The three levels of government have pledged to fund the Games to the tune of $2.4 billion.

How is Lastman’s successor funding his share when he could not agree to a fair contract with city workers who were forced to go on strike for 35 days?

We cannot afford to host the Pan Am Games.

tiakoma@aol.com

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