They still have to get past Toronto city council; a group that can’t even stand still to get its picture taken. But we’re going to trust Mayor David Miller’s newfound control of his playmates and figure that a Toronto/southern Ontario/Golden Horseshoe/Dalton McGuinty/Stephen Harper bid for the 2015 Pan American Games is going to go ahead.
If we make that grand assumption, the next big questions are whether it’s worth the $1.7 billion cost of a bid and whether Toronto can actually manage to someday win an international sporting vote.
Dave Perkins in Sunday’s Star weighs in on the viability of the project in general and finds it generally favourable, and he’s the first to sniff out a deal where developers or owners of Toronto-based hockey/basketball/soccer teams (to pick a group at random) are trying to make a quick buck.
The last Olympic bid was something like $45 million, about half of which came from in-kind donations. They won’t say, but it’s likely that a Pan Am bid would cost a heckuva lot less. We’ll list it at $5 million for now; certainly not exorbitant and certainly not something Pan Am cheerleader and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is going to lose too much sleep over. So let’s move onto the winnability issue.
Frankly, even with 20 years of off-and-on experience covering Olympic issues, this is hard to know.
A year away from the 1996 Olympic vote, Toronto seemed to be in the lead. Paul Henderson, the loveable (for most) plumber and International Olympic Committee member, had sussed out that Athens was no slam-dunk to win the 100th anniversary Olympics. But he hadn’t counted on being taken out at the knees by a waffling group of city council members and the Bread Not Circuses activists.
With a few months to go before the vote, the rumours that Atlanta was going to beat Toronto became stronger and stronger. I remember having lunch with a friendly journalist from Atlanta along with then Toronto Sun reporter and now Star writer Linda Barnard and hearing that then Atlanta mayor Andrew Young felt victory was his.
“They’re going to get the African vote,” our Georgia friend said. He didn’t know how they were going to do it, but that’s what he said. Sure enough, on voting day, it was a big win for the good old boys and a huge disappointment for Toronto.
Fast forward to the 2008 campaign, which was never going to be a Toronto win unless another kid stepped in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Toronto did its best, but there was no cataclysmic event in China that would topple the Beijing bid and the Ontario capital was once again sitting on the sidelines when the vote was announced.
All went to plan for China for 2008, but don’t forget Sydney was a surprise to beat Beijing for the right to the 2000 Games, and not a lot of folks thought London was going to win the 2012 Games a few days before the vote. And don’t forget how Pyeongchang almost defeated Vancouver in a campaign that some felt got rather dirty at the end.
So now Toronto finds itself once again begging for votes and relying on outside forces to help shape its future. And who knows what the Pan American Sports Organization is going to do?
Toronto bid types believe there are some 50 voting members of PASO. It’s hard to know for sure because it’s not a very media friendly bunch of folks. They don’t have a working web site that I’ve been able to find, and the head of the group, IOC member Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico, doesn’t often stop to chat with the media at IOC functions.
Those who observe these things more than I do suggest that Rana exerts more control over PASO than former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch did over his former charges. And Samaranch’s influence was enormous.
It’s impossible to know exactly what Rana and PASO want for 2015, but Toronto/southern Ontario, (etc…., etc…..) backers think they’ve got a hint.
The 1999 Games were in Winnipeg. The next bunch was in 2003 in the Dominican Republic, which got pretty negative reviews from the press and some athletes. Things were better in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, but still nowhere near Olympic standards. The 2011 Pan Ams are in Guadalajara, Mexico.
So the thinking up at Queen’s Park seems to be that PASO might want to move things up a notch in terms of prestige by going to a big, cosmopolitan city like Toronto, a metropolis that bid adviser Bob Richardson, the COO for Toronto 2008, calls a “tier one” city.
Certainly, as Mr. Perkins likes to point out, it never hurts to take your Games to a city where the elevators all run up and down. So that’s definitely in Toronto’s favour.
PASO is made up of representatives of all the national Olympic committees in South America, North America, central America and the Caribbean. It doesn’t take a guy who runs the table on the geography section of Jeopardy to figure out that there are a lot more countries in South America than North America, which doesn’t bode well for Toronto.
But Richardson points out that there are three South American cities in the race at this point; Lima, Peru, Bogota, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela. It’s quite possible they’ll split theSouth American vote, which would open the way for some central American and Caribbean voters to make a real difference. And Toronto obviously has connections with the Caribbean, so that’s a help.
And because Chicago is busy bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics, there’s no American competition for the Pan Am Games.
ASIDE HERE: Should the bid go ahead, Toronto actually would be wise to push for Chicago as American athletes would want to come to southern Ontario Pan Am Games as a 2015 tuneup/Olympic qualifier. You could argue Toronto should hold out for the Olympics, but that’s unlikely to happen for a long time given we already had Montreal in 1976, Calgary in 1988 and Vancouver coming up in 2010; all in a country with about the same population as New Hampshire.
Anyway, as I was saying before being rudely interrupted, there’s no American competition to deal with this time and no elephant in the room like China.
An IOC member I’ve met from Peru insists things are moving along nicely, but the outside image is still a little on the rustic side and Peru doesn’t seem like the most stable place on earth.
COC chief executive Chris Rudge points out that Venezuela has barrels of cash made from barrels of oil and that leader Hugo Chavez likely wouldn’t be shy about spending it in pursuit of a Pan Am bid. He’s probably right, but Chavez is likely not everyone’s cup of English Breakfast. A lot of PASO voters are conservative sporting types who might not want to support a chap like Chavez.
Colombia is said to have a leading light on the IOC in Andres Botero, but it’s also not a country with the greatest reputation in the world. Again, one has to caution that many voters don’t come from Rosedale and probably don’t worry much about a few guerrillas hanging out in the mountains here and there.
So, when all is said and done, it’s still hard to know exactly where a Canadian bid would stand. But this one certainly looks like less of an uphill climb than 1996, and obviously it’s a puny rise in the road compared to the 2008 Olympic bid.
They would never say it, but backers have to feel that if Toronto can’t pull off a win for the 2015 Pan Ams, we may as well pack our bid bags forever.
ONE HUMP OR TWO
The Canadian Olympic Committee is giving out fun, little cards with pictures to show folks in China who don’t speak English. Most are obvious things like a picture of money or a doctor and such. But one section shows an international red slash symbol to show, apparently, to people in a restaurant. There are pictures of things like peanuts and shellfish, but the weird item, as noted by fellow journo Josh Brown of the KW Record, was a picture of a camel. I don’t even want to know what restaurants in town would need to know about camel allergies.
The China Daily, the official English language paper of the Chinese government, didn’t exactly play up the murder of an American tourist in their Sunday edition. The paper had only a short item on the front page that told readers to look for the story on page five. There were only eight or nine paragraphs on page five, without any picture from the scene.
It’s one thing for the Chinese to ban reporters here from checking out Falun Gong web sites. But it’s still impossible for us to view the Star’s blogs, even the Olympic ones, without going through a virtual private network and bypassing the government censorship. Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the Hu Jintao jokes.