Sunday, September 06, 2009

Vancouver is not the only Canadian city that has caught the "games fever". The Pan-Am Games, participated in by countries from the western hemisphere, are held every four years in the year preceding the Olympics. Toronto, along with the cities of Lima and Bogota are in competition to hold the 2015 games. Naturally there is opposition, and the best place to gather information on this is the No Games Toronto website. Here's an article, originally published in the Now Toronto magazine, reprinted on their website that explains some of the opposition to Toronto's games bid.
Let the Pan Am games begin
Mayor pumps Pan Am projects for priority ’hoods, critics jeer:
By Paul Terefenko
Twenty Pan Am delegates, here to soak up our city’s pitch for the 2015 Games, may have given the GTA a foretaste of things to come.

Commuters were stranded Monday (August 31) when the delegates were given a private, VIP, plebe-free rush-hour GO Train tour.

If the Pan Am Games come to Toronto, will the promised community-building infrastructure stimulus and transit boost leave a select few happy and wealthy and the rest of us abandoned on an empty platform?

Well, let the games begin – and we don’t mean sports events. Foes of spectacularized sport kicked off their campaign as well on Monday at a small rally across from U of T’s Varsity Stadium.

“[The Games] are not a bargain-basement special,” says Helen Lenskyj, professor emerita and author of several books challenging the Olympics.

“Just because the Pan Am Games are about half the size [of the Olympics] doesn’t mean they’re half the price.” Toronto could expect 5,500 athletes, but she warns it only took 7,000 to result in 30 years of debt after Montreal’s Big Owe(lympics).

The projected $2.4 billion price tag, much of it funded by three levels of government, is bound to balloon, she says. It’s a golden rule for major sport fests. Just look at Vancouver, with its now notorious cost overruns and budget shortfalls.

OCAP’s John Clarke offers up the quintessential anti-mega-event rap. “The record of these extravaganzas is a horrible one, a hideous one. We’ re-talking about allocating billions for fluff. [The Games] will facilitate gentrification that will facilitate the exclusion of homeless people.”

Okay, we get the point. It’s going to be pricey. There will be debt. The city will be prettied up at the expense of the marginalized.

Right. But Toronto has learned some stuff since the days of Mel Lastman and his Olympics pandering. In fact, much of the current bid is in the province’s hands.

“They really have held the pen on this,” says Mayor David Miller’s spokesperson Stuart Green.

The city’s $49.5 mil contribution to the Games is a sliver of the overall price tag and is being positioned as a benefit for low-income Torontonians, like the $170 mil aquatics facility at U of T’s Scarborough campus, which is being pumped as a service for a nearby priority neighbourhood.

“The Aquatic Centre would be of broader use,” says Green. “There would be city programming in it.”

There’s also the possible benefit from developing the brownfields of the West Don Lands, slated for an 8,500-person athletic village (and, of course, added tax revenue).

Now add the fast-tracking of the Scarborough-Malvern LRT line from the 2014 starting date, so the disadvantaged burbs can stop freezing their ass waiting at bus stops.

But all this doesn’t budge Lenskyj on the “who benefits?” front; she’s sure goodies from this project will never be equally distributed.

“Sure, some jobs are created when a city hosts a mega-event. Some of those are really short-term. Some are McJobs – nasty and cheap,” she says.

But wouldn’t we have great athletic facilities left over after? Lenskyj, a sportswoman herself, doesn’t think so. “They’re not the kind of facilities you take the kids to on a Sunday afternoon. State-of-the-art or not, they turn into white elephants.”

She notes that such events inevitably reinforce class divisions – even on the global level. “We all know the government’s position on Mexicans and visas, but these requirements will be suspended [for participants.]”

I must say, I did feel a little like a second-class citizen myself later on Monday, when Julio C├ęsar Maglione, who led the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) delegation, said T.O. would have “excellent” Pan Am Games and that we could be good enough to host the Olympics.

Which basically translates into “You’re not actually good enough, but we’ll flatter you so you sink a ton of cash on a sub-Olympic event.”

And if you’re waiting to absorb more info, the PASO pick comes in November – as in two months from now. Talk about fast-tracking.

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