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Mexico passes Pan Am torch to Toronto

Boxing gold medalist Mary Spencer, of Windsor, Ontario

Source: The Globe and Mail

Written By: Tamara Baluja

After much speculation over whether he would go or not, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did in fact fly to Guadalajara, Mexico, and accepted the Pan American Games flag at the closing ceremonies on Sunday. With the traditional handover between host cities now complete, the countdown to Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games officially begins.

The Toronto organizing committee, TO2015, had about two dozen officials in Guadalajara for the Games, to study best practices, and learn from its mistakes. The team also had an eight-minute window at last night’s closing ceremonies to make a pitch to the world that Toronto’s Pan Am Games will be spectacular. The tougher challenge might be creating that enthusiasm back in Ontario.

The capital budget for the Games is $700-million, and TO2015 estimates the Games will generate 15,000 new jobs and draw 10,000 elite athletes and officials to the city for the July event.

37 per cent of Torontonians can name the Pan Am Games as a major sporting event coming to the city, according to an Angus Reid survey done for TO2015. It’s a figure that indicates a lot more work needs to be done to create interest in the Games, said Ian Troop, CEO of TO2015, in a phone interview from Guadalajara.

His team, he said, will be concentrating on four key areas over the next few next years to boost the event’s profile.

The Venues

The organizing committee says it is on track to complete facilities by 2014, so there is time for rigorous testing to ensure the facilities are at international sporting standards. However most new facilities don’t even have builders yet. The hunt for a home for a new cycling velodrome hit a snag in October when Hamilton city council voted to cap the city’s commitment at $5-million. (It had been asked to commit four times as much.) Currently, TO2015 is looking at proposals from other municipalities, and although Mr. Troop wouldn’t reveal any site possibilities, he said he is optimistic a venue would be selected by the end of the year. He estimated that construction would take a year after shovels hit the ground. Meanwhile, a bidder has been selected for the Pan Am Athletes Village in the West Don Lands.

Local engagement

According to surveys by Angus Reid, only 8 per cent of Canadians named the Pan Am Games as a major sporting event without prompting. The Toronto figures were slightly better with 37 per cent of Torontonians identifying the Pan Am Games. That’s an improvement from last year when only 10 per cent identified the Pan Am Games, Mr. Troop said, but it’s still a long way from his 85 per cent goal. He said he was awed by the enthusiasm of Mexican crowds. “When Mexico was playing, it was absolute bedlam,” he said. “But the crowds were excited and supportive even when the other countries were playing.” He feels the city’s diversity will prompt fans to support not only the Canadian teams, but also other competing national teams. The group also plans to bring Canadian athletes to elementary schools to boost the profile of the Games amongst youth.

Corporate sponsorship

TO2015 has a target of $150-million in corporate sponsors, and last week, the committee announced CIBC as its first lead partner. Although he won’t say how much CIBC is committing to the event, he said he takes comfort in the fact that Toronto has the same proportion of its target achieved as the Vancouver Olympic committee had four years before the 2010 Games. The announcement of CIBC, and the partnership with another high profile sponsor which the TO2015 group will reveal in the coming weeks, will raise the profile of the Games and bring in more sponsors, said Mr. Troop.

Olympic Qualifiers

Mr. Troop said his team has been extensively wooing international sporting federations in a bid to get as many sport disciplines at the Games to be the Olympic qualifier events for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. While the Guadalajara games functioned as Olympic qualifier for a dozen sports, TO2015 would like to almost double that number. If successful in securing their ambitious goal of 20 Olympic qualifiers, TO2015 would set a new standard for the Pan Am Games, Mr. Troop said. Elite athletes are more likely to come to the Toronto Games if their event is an Olympic qualifier, and Mr. Troop said the Pan Am Games would also act as dress rehearsal, should the city make another attempt at an Olympic bid.

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