Who wins now that the PanAm Games party is over?

Organizers of events like the PanAm games are not spending their own money and too often are easily caught up in their own enthusiasm, adding projects, inflating the overall cost of the games. An example is the $20,000 coughed up by the City of Toronto for friendship bracelets to be given to athletes to remember the games.

That is $20,000 that could have been used to open shelter beds in the city or to help those in need. Events like the PanAm Games seek to show Toronto, Ontario and Canada in the best light possible, but too often this means showing the rest of the world a rose-coloured vision of the GTA and the game venues.

Boosters of the PanAm games remind us that the legacy of the games is more than the financial cost. They want us to remember the new venues built, the achievements of Canadian athletes and the recognition garnered by the games for Canada as host nation.

But as Canada moves into a recession and we see the Canadian dollar fall below 80¢ U.S., the financial cost of the games is hard to ignore.

Overall the cost of the games from all levels of government is currently $2.5 billion; $1 billion dollars over the original estimate promised by the organizing committee. These costs include not only new buildings and venues built for the games but also ancillary development projects, security, transportation and beautification. We all know how easy it is to become carried away by an important event in our lives, how you can spend more than you expected. However, when we spend on a party to celebrate an important event we know at the end of the day we have to pay the piper.

Organizers of events like the PanAm games are not spending their own money and too often are easily caught up in their own enthusiasm, adding projects, inflating the overall cost of the games. An example is the $20,000 coughed up by the City of Toronto for friendship bracelets to be given to athletes to remember the games.

That is $20,000 that could have been used to open shelter beds in the city or to help those in need. Events like the PanAm Games seek to show Toronto, Ontario and Canada in the best light possible, but too often this means showing the rest of the world a rose-coloured vision of the GTA and the game venues.

It is great that organizers of the games want to present the best face of the GTA and to make sure that the games run smoothly but too often the comfort of the athletes and officials in the games was achieved at the expense of regular Canadians.

The most obvious example is the HOV lanes that popped up on highways linking PanAm venues. These lanes were carved out of existing lanes decreasing the amount of lanes for regular use, creating delays and frustration for GTA drivers. It seems counterintuitive to piss off the residents of the host city, those you want attending the games, to please those who are visiting.

Residents of the GTA were in essence made second-class citizens to ensure that PanAm athletes and officials did not have to deal with GTA traffic.

Do we as Canadians want to foot the bill for an idealized vision of Canadian society that is sold to the world? Much was made during the opening ceremony of the role of the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation as official welcomers to the games and yet Ontario and Canada’s record on aboriginal issues is far from stellar.

First Nation peoples across the country continue to suffer from issues of poverty as second-class citizens and yet there is no mention of this during the games. In the long run, what will be the legacy for the first nations of Canada? Will anything change?

It is depressing that the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario were able to pony up the incredible costs for the games, (this includes a $70 million legacy fund for three PanAm facilities) but are unable to improve housing, social services or infrastructure spending for schools. What does it say about a society that spends so much in such a short span of time on a sporting event when we allow our own citizens to go unhoused and without food?

The boosterism that comes with events like the PanAm games or the Olympics sees all common sense thrown out the window. Developers, politicians and advertisers line up behind these venues because they see easy cash that is never accountable to those who must pay the bills.

We need to ask ourselves, why do we need such events when they cost so much and give so little back?

Do we want to end up like Montreal or Athens, bankrupt after hosting such games?

Polls suggest that after the experience of the PanAm games Torontonians are 60% against any Olympic bids for the city. Who wins after the party is over?