Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Pan-Ams: What T.O. thinks of the bid

Before we can seriously talk about Toronto’s Ontario’s Pan-Am bid we first have to cut the crap.

In spite of Dalton McGuinty’s claim that the Games would “generate $2 billion in economic activity, create 17,000 jobs and lure 250,000 tourists,” the reason for trying to bring the Games to Toronto Ontario has nothing to do with pie in the sky economic projections. We always hear those predictions when cities launch bids for multi-sport games. They are usually bunk.

Not that the opponents of the bids, usually from the left of the spectrum, are any more rational in their criticisms. For them, it’s all doom and glum—with an ample sprinkling of liberal white guilt. Without Bob Rae and his bread not circuses crew, the Buffalo Bills are likely playing their home games at T.O.’s beautiful lakefronted 1996 Olympic Stadium (and Donovan Bailey would have set off a celebration in the city’s east end that would still be talked about). But, alas…

The other type of opposition comes from the Oscar of Corner Gas types… “My taxes pay for your salary.” Although they are correct that public money is part of any bid, you will generally find that this type doesn’t want “tax dollars” spent on, well, anything. We have to spend public money on something. The question is what that something should be. Sport should be part of that conversation.

So, once you get past the political BS and the sky-is-falling opposition you can have a reasoned conversation about the pros and cons of a bid. Is the cost of hosting the Pan/Ams—and there will be a cost. The Games will most certainly not make money—greater than the benefit they will provide.

That tangible benefit is improved sports infrastructure in the GTA — something that is desperately needed. And, before non-Ontario readers get their backs up, try to remember that the Canadian government has supported lots of multi-sport events in other regions since 1930. In the interest of fairness, it might just be Ontario’s turn.

What is a fair question, is why don’t governments support sports improvements without major events attached to them? It’s a good question--one that maybe should be asked of our politicians from time to time. Maybe the next time you see them down by the local Centennial Pool in your hometown.

I think it’s pretty clear that it’s better to have kids playing tennis on a public court than on a Wii. But, you have to get the courts built first for that to happen.

A successful Pan/Ams bid might be one way for that to occur.

EDIT: For a neutral discussion of the 2015 Pan-Am bidding process, go here.


Greg said...

Hey Duane,

Once again, great post.

I worked as a volunteer for the 1996 and 2008 Toronto Summer Games bids, and I can tell you exactly what's wrong with Toronto/Ontario's approach to sports.

The biggest issue, I think, is that Toronto is still very much stuck in a very Protestant-Calvinist mindset when it comes to the city's priorities - Toronto's unofficial motto could be "work, work and work some more" and it would be the same in 2008 as it was in 1908. There's a good reason Montreal folks hate Toronto - they're right, Toronto is a no-fun place with no joie de vive.

Everything must have a practical, utilitarian purpose in Toronto civic life. That's the unwritten rule. If it doesn't serve the public interest beyond an irrational entity like sport, it's not happening. Ever. Case in point: Skydome. That place only ever got built because it was a "multi-purpose" facility.

From a political perspective, it makes a lot of sense why politicians never, ever talk seriously about sports facilities beyond mega-events like the Olympics or Pan Am. It's a political non-starter on every side of the spectrum here in Toronto. The Left goes bat-shit over the prospect of public funds going into sports facilities that serves corporate interests instead of, say, the TTC, and the Right cannot and will not endorse a position that involves any tax revenues going to something that requires millions of dollars of investments unless there are assurances of private investment also (which effectively makes the public ownership issue null and void). And a lot of corporations won't invest money into something that has no governmental guarantees to cover cost overruns. It's passing the buck in the worst way.

I would be very, very surprised if Toronto gets the Pan Am Games, to be honest. The only way it will work is if the McGunity Liberals can work it into the Conservatives' infrastructure plans to "rebuild" Canada's decaying public facilities, roads, et al (assuming the Conservatives win the next election).

It also must placate the downtown social activist crowds who will resist it every step of the way unless the facilities are earmarked for public use after the Games. Period. Even then, it's hardly a sure thing.

At the end of the day, Toronto may have a problem with too much democracy - everyone wants a say, nothing ever gets done because too much dithering and debate happens, and every single political concern must be addressed beforehand. It creates a culture of political inertia that limits what can be done in Toronto. And it's not just sports that are affected by this: the Toronto Waterfront re-development project suffers from the same problem. Everyone in Toronto wants a say, nobody wants to take responsibility for getting on with it.

In that vein, also makes sense why non-democratic Beijing was given the Olympics.

Anonymous said...

Governments don't support sports improvements without major events for the same reason they don't support other infrastructure projects like roads. Politicians would rather pander and cut taxes and hope that road never deteriorates. It finally catches up to us and we have a situation today where the infrastructure deficit in Ontario and across much of Canada is out of this world.