By RON FANFAIR
The state-of-the art Air Canada Centre and its close proximity to five-star hotels and attractive downtown Toronto provides a big boost for Canada Basketball’s bid to host a major tournament for the first time in 16 years.
But unless the three levels of governments which, along with Tourism Toronto, Ontario Basketball and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, are Canada Basketball’s partners in the bid, step forward with financial assistance, next year’s International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Americas championship will take place in either Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or Mara del Plata in Argentina which are also seeking to secure the tournament.
The regional 10-team tournament, which doubles as a 2012 Olympics qualifier, will be held from August 23 to September 4, 2011.
With the aid of a translator, Spanish-speaking FIBA Americas secretary general Alberto Garcia made it clear that Canada would be unable to land the competition without considerable government financial support.
He along with FIBA Americas president Horacio Muratore and event manager Javier Otero were in Toronto recently to inspect the facilities and meet with the local bid partners. All three members of the visiting delegation are from Argentina which hosted the biennial championships in Neuquén in 1995 and 2001. San Juan, Puerto Rico was the host city for the inaugural tournament in 1980. Brazil staged the FIBA Americas women’s championship in 2009 and is the 2016 Olympics host.
Canada Basketball president Wayne Parrish assured the delegation that his organization has financial commitments from federal, provincial and municipal governments needed to meet the approximately $6 million budget to host the tournament.
“All of those partners have contributed very significantly, some in financial ways, some in expertise and so on,” Parrish said at a press conference last week at the CN Tower.
Canada is seeking to become the second North American country to stage the competition. American cities Portland and Las Vegas were the host venues in 1992 and 2007.
“We have been trying to find the right vehicles to raise the profile of international basketball in Canada and the profile of Canada Basketball and our national teams over the past several years,” said Parrish. “When I came on board about two years ago, in my first FIBA Americas board meeting, Alberto mentioned to me that all countries within FIBA had a responsibility to take on the task of hosting a big event and he let me know that Canada has not hosted a major championship in many years.
“So we began working at that time to put together a strategy that would allow us to one day host a tournament again.”
Canada has participated in every FIBA Americas championship, finishing second twice in 1980 and 1999 in San Juan.
Leo Rautins, who coached the teams that took part in the last three championships, said hosting the tournament can be impactful for the host city.
“The impression that this tournament can make on the development of the game in this country is huge,” he said. “I don’t know if we can put into words what that impact will be. This is a tremendous opportunity across the board for our country and all the fans and players that will come here. If we do get it, it will be done well.”
Former national team member Rowan Barrett said playing at home is a big bonus for the local players.
“For me, I go back to the 1991 junior world championships and I think about all the basketball careers that were kick-started,” said the West Hill Collegiate Institute and St. John’s University graduate. “Many of the participants in that series are coaches in our university system and they are administrators. It has been phenomenal.
“In the 1994 world championships, Steve Nash (two-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player) was introduced on the world stage and look where he’s at right now. There is nothing you like more as a player than to represent your country at home.”
Canada, Argentina and Brazil will make their final 35-minute presentations to the FIBA Americas board in San Juan on May 22. The winner will be announced at the FIBA Americas executive committee meeting in San Antonio, Texas at the end of June.