Pan Am bid down to wire

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- As the Pan American Sports Organization opened its congress here yesterday, Toronto's bid committee needed 27 votes to win the 2015 games.

All three bid cities have booths set up on the mezzanine floor of the Guadalajara Hilton, but Toronto's is the only one that overlooks the lobby.

"We made sure we got here early," said Bob Richardson, senior adviser to the Toronto bid. "We wanted as much visibility as possible."

Toronto may have been the early line favourite but behind the handshakes, smiles and good will there is also emotion and uncertainty among all three bid groups.

"You can never tell with these things," said Sylvie Birgas, a Canadian Olympic Committee spokesman and a veteran of numerous international host city votes.

"There's a great feeling here. Everybody is chatting and even though we're competing, we're having a good time but (at the upper levels) I know it can be tense."

If Toronto does win, it would give Ontario its first international multi-sport games in 80 years. The $2.4-billion bid has backing from all three levels of government and bid president Jagoda Pike has stressed that Toronto can give PASO a safe, competent event.

In light of the problem-plagued Commonwealth Games scheduled for India that is a nice selling point.

Bogota isn't renowned for its security. Lima is just a generation away from having guerrillas roaming the streets.

But many of the voters come from South American countries and they are just as familiar, and comfortable (perhaps more so), with the idea of going to nearby Peru.

All of which casts uncertainty on the Toronto vote.

"We feel good but there is tough competition. Our opponents are engaged," Richardson said. So yesterday the Toronto bid committee flew in Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. "He's been working the phones. He knows a lot of these people from being in Beijing, being at the last PASO Congress and in Copenhagen (at an IOC Congress). We decided a year ago the premier would be the lead on our presentation," Richardson said.

Toronto Mayor David Miller arrived yesterday.

There are 52 votes available from 42 countries and the next 48 hours are all about swaying the fence-sitters and solidifying positions. Pop star Shakira is part of the Colombian presentation. Yesterday morning, the Bogota booth featured a guy dressed up as Juan Valdez (guess they wouldn't let the donkey in the hotel) doing a solo act and dishing out coffee.

There were also some slinky models.

Toronto's booth had two Mounties. "I told them to look (studly)," said Birgas, chuckling. "Seems to be working. There's more people getting pictures with the Mounties than the models."

Lima? They might have been slow out of the blocks yesterday but they certainly knew how to warm up the crowd passing out glasses of Peruvian brandy.

Not a bad strategy. With all the begging, cajoling, threats, and favours being called in, before this is over there will be more than a few people who are going to need a drink.


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