Olympics bid? Not so fast

By Admin Wednesday August 19 2015 in Editorial
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Expectations for successful presentation of the Pan Am Games in Toronto were so low, including expectations about attendance at events by Torontonians and other Canadians, that the final result appears to have surprised and pleased just about everyone.

Toronto’s Pan Am Games have been deemed such a success that Mayor John Tory has been musing publicly about the possibility of yet another similar big event. Now that the Pan American and Parapan American Games have concluded, a bid is being touted for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

The last time Toronto made a real effort at winning the bid for the Olympic Games was during the mayoralty of Mel Lastman. That ended with a crash when Lastman made what to him was an offhanded joke, but which to many Torontonians was an offensive and unacceptable racist comment showing Lastman’s lack of awareness of the culture of Kenya, where the Toronto Olympic bid team was headed to make their presentation in the summer of 2001 for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Lastman had joked to a reporter about his fear of being eaten by cannibals in Kenya.

Those Games were eventually awarded to Beijing. China, by the way, has emerged as one of the leading investors in mining and other industries in Africa.

It would be tremendous to have Toronto host the 2024 Summer Games. However, there are serious considerations that cannot be swept aside in the afterglow of the Pan Am Games, expenditure being of the greatest concern.

Interested parties may want to boast that after Toronto’s Pan Am Games we have been left with sports venue infrastructure that would easily accommodate the Olympics without having to further build. But is that really the case?

The 2024 Olympics is 10 years hence. That means the venues used for the Pan Am Games would require a commitment from the city, the province or the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to be updated or maintained to the level of Olympic standards in order to be assets for consideration within the bid. Then there is the fact that the criteria for Olympic infrastructure actually exceeds that set out for Pan Am Games. More money would therefore have to be spent in just that regard.

In fact, a feasibility study had been done near the end of 2013 in consideration of an Olympic bid, but accounting firm Ernst & Young, which did the study, was clear that it was a limited assessment. Therefore, it would be reckless to base the decision for a bid of this magnitude on a study that admits that it was not a fully comprehensive assessment.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) would expect to hear from Toronto as to this city’s intent to propose a bid by September 15. That does not leave much time for review by any municipal committee on this particular project, including the necessary in-depth consultations. Moreover, city council will not reconvene until after the September 15 deadline.

Of course, the COC, city council and other interested parties would also have to make the case in the face of protests that would arise from groups such as the Ontario Coalition against Poverty and Bread Not Circuses which will certainly mount loud grassroots opposition.

City council would have to answer why it would be willing to push for the Olympic Games – a multi-billion dollar adventure – while it faces a repair bill in its public housing portfolio of $1.7 billion, for example.

Mayor Tory would also have to make his case to such groups as the Board of Trade, which had expressed a preference for bidding for the 2025 World Expo.

It is no secret that Canada is at this time experiencing a mild recession and any attempt by government whether municipal, provincial or federal to recharge the economy is welcome, provided it will not boomerang somewhere down the road and leave taxpayers especially with an unconscionable debt. Every Olympic Games carries with it the history of a debt hangover. Given that we haven’t even begun to hear what debt taxpayers will be faced with from the Pan Am Games, talk of an Olympic bid at this time is considerably premature. There will always be time for another bid. We do not believe this is the time.

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