Wednesday marks the two-year countdown to the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games—exactly 750 days until the events kick off in Toronto, Hamilton and other communities across the GTA.
As hosting cities across Ontario look forward to the Games with countdown celebrations ranging from softball clinics to table tennis demonstrations, representatives from Hamilton's diverse communities say the Games can provide a great opportunity for integration.
Hamilton is hosting the men's and women's soccer competitions in a new Pan Am Stadium that will become the home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton's Centre for Civic Inclusion is looking for games organizers to build the cause of integration and diversity right into their planning.
Evelyn Myrie, executive director of the Centre, cited the example of Vancouver Winter Olympics during which the aboriginal community was actively involved in the planning and programming process.
"[The Pan Am Games] does have the capacity to really drive diversity and inclusion," she said.
In addition to cultural events that promote the cultures of the participating nations, she would like to see programs that help provide job and volunteer opportunities. For example, programs that connect employers with qualified, internationally trained individuals, as well as programs that offer mentorship to disadvantaged groups –especially youth from countries where the games originated.
And she would like to see targets for reflecting the cultural diversity of communities in recruitment of labour.
According to Rocio Reyes, second vice president of the Fraternity Hispanic Association, the Games, especially the soccer programs, are familiar events to the Hispanic community. Many are excited about the city hosting the soccer games at the brand new Hamilton Pan Am Soccer Stadium.
"Soccer is part of our fabric," she said, "[The Games are] about receiving our fellow countrymen into our new homes and making sure the city of Hamilton welcomes all these athletes with open arms."
To build momentum for the Games, the association has been working with the Games' planning committee to host a series of youth soccer tournaments.
"I see a lot of enthusiasm in our youth right now," Reyes said. "They are looking forward to seeing all their favourite players playing in Hamilton."
In addition to cultural exchange, the Games could also mean more business and volunteer opportunities for immigrants, according to Ines Rios, executive director of St. Joseph Immigrant Women's Centre.
The centre's language instructors will also be teaching students about the upcoming games in ESL classes.
"We'll make sure people know what's going on and how to participate," she said.
Rios, who emigrated from Chile, said she'll be watching for her home country.
"It's about bringing little pieces of our countries to Hamilton and, I'm telling you, it's exciting."