Thu, August 7, 2008

It coulda been T.O. Games

We also lost a reinvigorated city

By BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media


A waterfront plan, complete with a new Olympic Stadium, was the key to Toronto's bid for the 2008 Summer Games. (Sun Media file)


Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

As the Olympic torch ascends tomorrow to light the Beijing sky, let it be remembered that this might've been Toronto's games.

This could've been Toronto's coming-out party, the unveiling of a grand, refurbished city with a waterfront that even Mayor David Miller could love -- room for people, bikes, boats and the elite of the sporting world. Instead of arguing still about a rail link to the airport, we might have been riding on one.

It would've been the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper would've been hosting the opening night gala -- illustrating that even someone from the humble Prairies with a reddish hue hinting at his neck can rise to unimagined heights and mingle with world leaders and sporting royalty.

This could've been the rebirth of a city that now instead finds itself in economic stalemate and often, it seems, on the cusp of social and political calamity.

There are those on Toronto city council who believe that hosting an international sporting event -- be it the 2004 Olympics or these Games or the proposed bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games -- would be unseemly, and that it would be an injustice to revel in fun while there are people hungry on our streets.

Well, congratulations. Beijing is having fun. After finishing second in voting for a host city back in 2001, we're not. You win. So how come every street corner still has a guy holding out a paper cup? Not hosting the Olympics has done nothing to solve homelessness. Not bidding for the Games hasn't kept a single neighbourhood pool open.

But not hosting the Olympics has cost us a reinvigorated city. Just like not making a bid to host the 2015 Pan Am Games will cost us a chance to reshape our athletic facilities and how the world views Toronto.

Just imagine, as the Olympic flame lights up Beijing, how vastly different it would've made Toronto's waterfront if it lit up our new Olympic Stadium near the foot of the Don River. Of course, it would've meant asking a couple guys living under a cardboard box to move -- so, I guess we couldn't do that in good conscience. And, if we'd built that Olympic Village near Eastern Ave. and cleaned up the riverside, how would people float all their garbage, dead trees, shopping carts and the occasional body out of their neighbourhoods.

Yeah, maybe such councillors as Michael Walker are right. The Olympics would just cause problems.

SHINY FACILITIES

After all, if we'd gotten the Olympics, instead of providing a perfectly good latrine for a couple of thousand seagulls, the CNE grounds would have an equestrian stadium and a shiny new velodrome with an Olympic pool for water polo. Appalling. PETA would be outraged.

A world-class triathlon course would've been set up at Marilyn Bell Park and when Canada's baseball team took the field they would've been doing it at the Rogers Centre. For Canada's players it would've been the ultimate Field of Dreams.

The National Trade Centre would've been abuzz this week with judo, boxing and badminton. Yeah, there would've been traffic jams but at least when you got to the end point there would've been something more exciting waiting than another cold dinner.

TOURISTS GALORE

Toronto's restaurants would've been a star-gazers paradise: Foie gras with Michael Phelps anyone? Or maybe a hotdog a la cart along Front St. with Stubby Clapp? A cappucino anyone? Maybe with Jacques Rogge as he strolls to one of the dozens of yachts moored in Toronto Harbour. And every other day a soccer party on College St. or dancing the samba on St. Clair Ave.

Too expensive, people say. People like Councillor Walker (an opponent of the Olympic bid) who stated recently Toronto shouldn't consider a $1.7-billion bid for the Pan Am Games. But at the same time the city and province pour $120 million annually into funding for the homeless. CBC-TV recently estimated Canada spends $1 billion a year in taxes on homelessness -- but it's still difficult to walk from Jarvis St. to Union Station without six panhandlers asking for the same loonie. No, these Olympics wouldn't have cured that.

But, look at it this way: If this city ever did get a world-class Games, the poor sap on the street corner might not get an invitation to Rogge's yacht but at least he'd have about a million more visitors to hit up for a handout. Callous? Maybe, but such is reality where beauty does not come without harshness and where sometimes benefits come in small, immeasurable ways.

MEDAL COUNT

VOICES FROM THE GAMES