Pan Am Games heading to T.O.?

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

The head of the Pan American Sports Organization didn't exactly hand the 2015 Pan Am Games to Toronto on a silver platter yesterday.

They're going to let it sit under the warming lights for a couple of months. But, delivery appears imminent.

If it was Dr. Julio Maglione's intention to fuel excitement at the possibility of hosting the games, he did a gold-medal job. His five-man evaluation commission completed its two-day fact-finding mission yesterday that included a 30-minute GO Train ride from Toronto to the proposed site of the track and field stadium in Hamilton.

There was a helicopter trip to show off the rowing and kayak facilities in St. Catharines and Welland and finally a tour of BMO Field and the Rogers Centre. "It's not our responsibility to say which (city) is better," said Maglione of the commission, which also visited the other bid cities of Lima and Bogota last week.

"What we can say is (Toronto) meets all the conditions to host an excellent games. This city will be able to not only host the Pan American Games but also the Olympic Games if you wanted."

Of course, he probably says nice things like that wherever he goes.

But, if there is a betting favourite going into the PASO vote Nov. 3-5 in Mexico, it would be Toronto.

Maglione won't say that -- although he came close.

"Toronto has all the requirements ... I don't know if I am clear with my English. It is terrible, eh?" Maglione said at a brief news conference.

"It's perfect," chirped David Peterson, chairman of Toronto 2015. "You said this was the best city." That drew laughs.

Maglione, playfully exchanging a shoulder slap with Peterson, then deadpanned: "No." Bigger laughs.

Like Maglione, the bid committee isn't guaranteeing a winner.

The confidence meter has taken a bit of a kicking after two lost Olympic bids by Toronto and Hamilton's failed attempts to get the Commonwealth Games.

But they were feeling pretty good about their prospects.

While it is true Maglione's commission won't publicly announce a No. 1 candidate, it exerts tremendous influence. Rules forbid heads of national Olympic committees from taking paid visits to bid cities so many voting members rely on the committee's report.

"We showed off this city and this province to its very best. I'm very proud," said Peterson. "We're hoping they go home with a very favourable view. I don't know how they could do anything else but support Toronto."

Maglione said the commission was impressed with "the excellent facilities and plans" dismissing arguments that the distances between the Athletes Village at the West Don Lands and venues in places like Hamilton are an issue. "They're going to make a connection (with GO Trains) that are no more than 40 minutes. At some Olympic Games, the distance from village to venue was an hour, sometimes two hours."

Not everyone supports the plan that would see 38 sporting events at 50 venues in 16 municipalities throughout the Golden Horseshoe. About two dozen people held a small, but noisy demonstration at the U of T part-time student union building yesterday, a structure that would be razed to make room for a Sports Institute.

John Clarke, of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, says the $2.5-billion cost of the games doesn't offer long-term jobs and are part of "up-scale redevelopment" that excludes the marginal and poor.

"Stopping them must be a major priority," he said. "The games must not come to Toronto."

The voices of protest, however, might already be too late. There are indications Toronto has the support of Mexico.

Steve Stoute, president of the Barbados Olympic Committee, is on record as supporting the Toronto bid.

And while there may be a few holdouts, almost the entire 26-member Caribbean regional bloc (almost half the total votes) is poised to vote for Toronto. Then there's Mario Vasquez Rana. The influential president of PASO has quietly indicated he would like to see the games return to North America.

What Rana wants he usually gets -- giving Ontario its first multi-sport international games since 1930.

BILL LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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