By Mark Hebscher/Blog
From the moment it was announced that Toronto would be hosting the 2015 Pan Am games, I knew we were in trouble. My fears were justified when the organizing committee’s Chief executive was dispatched because of a promise of bonus payments to senior executives in excess of 7 million dollars. Since then, the attitude here changed from bemusement to indifference. And now that the games are about to begin, most can hardly wait until they end.
First things first. These are not the Olympics. Not even close. The Pan Am games include 41 nations from the Western Hemisphere, many of which are not known for their athletics. I don’t know who the greatest athlete is from Belize or Aruba or Dominica or Suriname. But, we’re all about inclusion, aren’t we? These nations aren’t sending any athletes to the Olympics, so let’s at least allow them to compete in the Pan Am games. Secondly, the most popular sports in Canada are winter sports that involve skating: Hockey, figure skating, speedskating, and short track speedskating. Whether it’s men’s or women’s, we’re usually pretty engaged. Basketball is also a popular winter sport, but it’s a major event at the Pan Am games, and Canada has some pretty good basketball players. Too bad none of them will be playing in the Pan Am games. Seems they have more important things to worry about, like their NBA summer leagues or qualifying for the World Championships. Our best baseball players happen to be playing professional baseball in the summer, so who cares about these games. If the Olympics were being held here, I guarantee it would be all hands on deck. But it’s the Pan Am games. Meh!
There are plenty of good seats available for events other than the Opening Ceremony, which promises to be spectacular, thanks to the folks at Cirque de Soleil. Of the 1.4 million tickets available, only 800 thousand have been sold. Already, ticket prices are being discounted in the hopes that some people will actually pay to see events such as Roller Figure Skating, Roller Speed Skating, Archery, Golf, handball, squash and racquetball. There’s also a host of other sports that Canadians are pretty good at, yet none of our top performers will be present. I can only name 4 or 5 Olympic calibre or world-class athletes that are wearing the Canadian colours. As far as marquee names from other countries, I haven’t seen any. Usain Bolt will not be running the 100 and 200 metres. Lionel Messi will not be playing on Argentina’s Pan Am soccer team. Not one member of Canada’s Women’s World Cup soccer team will be making an appearance at these games. Ditto for the gold medal winning Americans.
It’s hard to get excited about an event that has failed to capture the imagination of the residents here. As Toronto mayor John Tory has suggested, if groaning and moaning were two of the sports, Toronto would win gold for sure. The traffic problems alone have been a nightmare, what with the advent of the HOV lanes that have made gridlock on the highways even worse than normal. A lot of people don’t even know where the venues are, or what they look like. Trying to find pictures of the Pan Am stadium isn’t easy, because I’m not sure if it’s the real thing, or an artist’s conception that was drawn up in 2012.
At last word, there were plenty of hotel rooms available in Toronto. It doesn’t look as if tourists are flocking to the Big Smoke to see these games. Did anybody really think there would be a rush on all available accommodations? Lots of people who thought they could rent their homes on websites such as AirBnB to Pan Am visitors are underwhelmed by the response. I can find a lovely loft apartment right downtown for 90 bucks a night, or 600 bucks for the week. If this were the Olympics, I guarantee you a family of four from Germany would’ve snapped that up back in March. The other problem is the location of some of the venues. The Aquatic Centre is in Scarborough. The main Track and Field Stadium is in North York. Exhibition Stadium is down by the lake, but baseball and softball are being played in Ajax while cycling is in Milton and soccer is being played in Hamilton. Are people willing to do all that travelling to see unknown athletes compete in a second-rate event? We’ll have to wait and see, but so far, the response has been luke warm. A few gold medals might change a few minds, but in this reporter’s humble opinion, the 2015 Pan Am games will be celebrated by most Southern Ontarians when they’re over.