As the Pan / Parapan Am 2015 Games approach, host-city Toronto is buzzing with conversation.
Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, and most of it is about the expectation that getting around the city in Games time will be triple the hellish nightmare it already is. We don’t actually know that getting around the city is going to suck, but it’s our favourite thing to gripe about in our everyday, non-Games life, so it’s only natural that it made the hop.
In addition to getting around the city, people are concerned about crowds, cost, and general inconvenience. It’s not surprising — there will be a lot of people visiting the city, the Games haven’t come cheap, and traffic probably won’t be fantastic. But instead of grumbling and griping, we should be buzzing and bubbling with excitement.
At this point in time, there’s nothing we can do to stop the Games from happening, so we should probably just accept it, right? No Games are perfect (not even close), and there are probably many things that could have been done better (or could have been left alone), but it is what it is. Instead of scowling, let’s smile and look at the plethora of positives associated with being in this position.
We’re hosting (half of) the world in our city, a city whose population is half composed of people from around the world — we were made for this (culturally. I’ll admit that our transportation infrastructure totally wasn’t made for this… not in the slightest). Not only are we welcoming elite athletes in the process of qualifying for the Olympics, we’re also welcoming their family, friends, and fans. That’s really, really cool if you think about it.
“It’s a chance for us Torontonians to lay out the welcome mat, to put on our biggest smile, and show these guests not only what a great place we live in, but show them a great time too. This is going to be a fantastic summer party and celebration of togetherness for everyone,” says Jason Kucherawy, of Toronto Urban Adventures. And I can’t help but agree.
As Jason points out, “The projected number of visitors won’t be any more than what we have every year for Caribana or for Pride Week. We handle those events in the summer alongside marathons, jazz festivals, car races, and a multitude of other summer events. The actual athletic events are spread all over Southern Ontario, as far as Welland and Minden. It’s not all happening in downtown Toronto. This city has the main athletes’ village, custom built for this event with a shuttle bus hub for the participants, a celebration area at City Hall where big parties happen throughout the summer, and a large festival area at Exhibition Place, which is built for events this large. The opening ceremonies will be at our massive domed stadium, which can easily handle the crowds. I’m not saying you won’t notice an increase in activity, but Toronto will not be a place you should avoid for the duration of the Games. In fact, I think Toronto will be buzzing with excitement and you’ll want to be here!”
It’s true. Toronto knows how to host a good party, the most recent being World Pride in 2014, which was an absolute blast. It was one of the best times to be in Toronto — everyone was in a celebratory mood. The city was loud, fiercely proud, and united. I was in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and that’s pretty much exactly what the atmosphere was like there. Despite all the local cynicism leading up to the Games, London was an absolutely brilliant place to be during the Games.
“There’s something to be said for the energy surrounding a major sporting event, whether it’s the Superbowl, the Olympics, or World Cup. Sports are exciting, they’re fun, and they bring people together.” says Jason, and it’s true. I saw it first-hand in London. I was there by myself and not once did I feel lonely, in fact, I felt like I was part of something massive. The world was united in the spirit of athleticism, dedication, determination, and perseverance, and while we were competing against each other, we were all there for the same reason, and that feeling of togetherness is something I’ve never experienced elsewhere.
We also forget that it’s not just about us — it’s about these athletes who have trained endlessly for their whole lives, in many cases, to reach the peak of their fields. “At the core of these games, it is about the competitors striving to be better at their sport and matching their abilities against others who are also at the top of their game. For the participants, the Pan Am Games will be a highlight of their athletic careers,” says Jason, “a lot of people in Toronto have a hard time seeing past their own noses, and don’t seem to realize that the Pan Am Games aren’t all about them.”
But then again, there’s a lot that’s being done for us. The legacies of Games like the Pan Ams are integral to the event right from the initial bid. The Games will leave this city with some much-needed improvements to existing infrastructure and facilities. As Jason points out, we’ll be benefiting (or have already started to benefit from) “a beautiful new aquatic centre in east Toronto, and an entirely new neighbourhood when the games conclude and the athletes village is converted from dormitories into a cluster of mixed-income housing, a new YMCA with state of the art equipment, and a new college campus, complete with new restaurants and retail. The improvements to our central train station and transit hub (Union Station) and to our waterfront will make both places a magnet for visitors and locals to spend more time and will be far more enjoyable than they were prior to the Pan Ams.”
Sure, our transit is still worth complaining about, overall, and the one good thing that the Games were meant to yield — a train link to the airport — is riddled with flaws, but hey, it’s something in a city that’s so used to nothing when it comes to transit. If we’re honest with ourselves, the Games were never going to be the magic catalyst that fixed our transit. It’s so messed up, it’ll actually take a time machine to get it right (I’m completely serious).
And then there’s the Games hangover. When Vancouver hosted the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics, tourists followed. It’s expected that if Toronto looks as good on TV as Vancouver did, we can expect some more attention from the Americas, most notably the USA and Brazil. Granted we don’t have gorgeous mountains like Vancouver does, but we do have a massive, only somewhat-polluted lake!
Jason tells us that he’s been spending plenty of time the last few months with journalists who are scouting stories or building up to coverage of Toronto as a destination in the lead-up to the Pan Am Games. With all this effort being done behind the scenes to make the Americas see how awesome we really are, we should probably do our part and be the welcoming, enthusiastic, and excited hosts we know we can be. Not only is our reputation on the line, but we might actually enjoy it! Fancy that!
So hey, Toronto, grab a ticket, hit up a bar, attend a celebratory event, don your red and white (or whatever colours represent your fave country), and get out there and drink it all in. Chances are, we may not see this kind of glory again, so you don’t really want to regret being a grinch, now do you?!
Full disclaimer: I’m a bit of a Games junkie. I worked at Vancouver 2010, attended London 2012, and have tickets for several events at the Pan Ams and Para Pan Ams. I love this kind of stuff.