After hosting 2015 Pan Am Games, Toronto could ‘endear itself to the country’ if it won an Olympic bid
TORONTO – Hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics would finally help Toronto “endear itself to the country,” according to the former leader of Vancouver’s Olympic committee, who suggested the city’s handling of the Pan American Games this summer would be a boost for any potential bid.
John Furlong said the experience from hosting the multi-sport event, which is open to 41 competing Pan Am nations, is something other bid cities such as Rome, Paris and Boston could not easily match. At around the same time on Wednesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory conceded there has been “great discussion” around a possible Olympic future.
“It’s highly likely there will be a conversation before the week is out,” Furlong said. “On Monday morning, people will wake up in a euphoric state — not just people who believe in sport, generally, and not just people in political life — and be willing to cast a thought for, ‘What would it be like for us to put on the Olympics Games?’”
The Pan Am Games will draw to a close on Sunday night, with Kanye West headlining a group of artists in the closing ceremony. After initial concerns of civic apathy, wrapped around fear of traffic chaos and glacial ticket sales, the event gained momentum through its opening weekend, powered by a run of Canadian medal successes.
Organizers say they have sold one million tickets, out of the 1.2 million that were made available. Some events have unfolded in front of gaping maws of empty seats; many events have been sold out.
“I think the Pan American Games is a pretty good test,” Furlong said. “People were kind of watching and wondering just exactly how this would all go.”
The 64-year-old was in Toronto for his role as chair of Own the Podium, the organization that helps direct funding to Canada’s amateur athletes. He was also waiting for a judge in British Columbia to render her decision in a heavily publicized civil trial with a journalist who alleges Furlong defamed her following a 2012 story in a B.C. newspaper.
In the story, written by journalist Laura Robinson and published in the Georgia Straight, Furlong was accused of physically and verbally abusing First Nations students while on the job as a teacher at a school in northern B.C. four decades ago.
Furlong has strongly denied the allegations, and would not comment on the case during an interview, except to say he did not know when a decision would be delivered.
He was wearing a black Canadian Olympic jacket as he discussed the Olympic process.
“This is a way for Toronto, in some way, to endear itself to the country — to be the biggest city in the country, to be the leader, to be the example for the country, and do something profoundly positive,” he said. “If it chose to do this, this would be a good way to do it.”
There is a precedent for a Pan Am Games host city to move onto the Olympics. Rio de Janeiro is hosting the Olympics next summer after staging the Pan Ams in 2007. Four years ago, officials in Mexico pledged to mount an Olympic bid after hosting the Games in Guadalajara.
The deadline for bidding on the 2024 Olympics is Sept. 15, and the winning bid will be announced in 2017. Several bids have already been launched: Budapest, Boston, Rome, Paris and Hamburg, Germany.
“They have work to do that Toronto probably doesn’t have to do,” Furlong said. “Toronto would have lots of work to do, but the kinds of things that many of these cities would have to face, the grinding that they will have to do to develop plans, for Toronto, a lot of that work has been done or tested.”
The Pan Am Games have reportedly been working under a budget of $2.57-billion, which is only a fraction of what it would cost to stage an Olympics. In Tokyo, which is host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics, officials this month announced they would revise plans for the centrepiece stadium — which was going to cost more than US$2-billion alone.
“And that’s Tokyo’s decision, and I don’t believe anyone in the IOC has asked them to (spend that much),” Furlong said. “I think what the IOC wants you to show is that you can stage the Games, that you can create the atmosphere. And Canada’s credentials, they’re bulletproof in respect to delivering on events and keeping its promises.”
In a city such as Toronto, though, where needs exist in everyday services such as public transit and infrastructure, why spend money chasing a Games?
“A well-organized bid could deliver for Toronto many of the things Toronto dreams about, that it probably may never be able to find the impetus to deliver,” Furlong said. “If you decide to go for it, decide that, ‘We’re going to do this, let’s do as much good as we can, while we can, for as long as we can.’”