This past week has shown signs that there may be some hope to this ambition after all.
Let’s start with Toronto being the point of departure for Canada’s 58- member team to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India. The Opening Ceremony was Saturday and already the Canadians have captured their first medals.
True, there will be little media attention paid to the athletes who range in age from 15 to 18, but in their midst are likely to be the stars of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 as well as many Olympians who will fly Canadian colours in London come 2012.
“The Commonwealth Games are iconic games,” noted the president of the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada, Dr. Andrew Pipe. “They are a Games invented in Canada.”
Indeed, the first British Empire Games, the precursor to the Commonwealth Games, were held in Hamilton in 1930. But that was the last time that Ontario, the most populous and arguably the most powerful province in the country, staged a major, international, multi-sport event.
This is something not lost on those who have supported Canadian athletes over the years. People like George Heller, the president and CEO of Hudson’s Bay Company from 1999 to 2006. Heller was also the president and CEO of Victoria’s Commonwealth Games Committee which organized the XV Commonwealth Games in 1994.
“The Commonwealth Games are an emotional contact that we need,” said Heller as he handed over a cheque in the amount of $400,000 to the athletes who will participate in Pune this fall and in New Delhi two years hence.
Jessica Parry is a track star from London and one of 20 Ontario athletes in the contingent. She carried the flag for Canada in the opening celebrations in India and recognized the importance of the endeavour.
“I’ve been to the world junior track and field championships and the World Youth Games in the Czech Republic and Poland, but India is a big one,” Parry enthused. “This is the first time that Canada will field a full team at the Commonwealth Youth Games and it is a huge honour to be the flag-bearer.”
Indeed, it is the first time that India has staged an international multi-sport gathering of this scope. No doubt the youth summit will serve to test the waters for the larger Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in two years time. Still, this effort is a big deal for Pune, a city of some five million people in a country of 1.2 billion.
The record shows that Toronto has hosted nothing of the sporting magnitude of the aforementioned Games in its history.
Aside from soccer’s FIFA U-20, which saw Toronto as one of six venues spread across the country, the last major, international athletic event in the country’s largest urban centre was the ill-fated world indoor track and field championships of 1993. Attendance was dismal at the cavernous SkyDome in spite of the fact that a Canadian, Bruny Surin, captured the crown in the 60-metre dash.
It is little wonder then that Toronto had its swagger stunted just a smidgen when it engaged in two failed Olympic bids for the 1996 and 2008 Games – events that went to Atlanta and Beijing, respectively.
The problem turns out to be that Toronto has a poor track record when it comes to appreciating major international sport.
Recent evidence, coupled with the launching of the Commonwealth Youth Games squad, suggests the tide may be turning in this country’s centre of the universe.
At the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season opener on Saturday, 20 Canadian Olympic medallists from the summer Games in Beijing were feted prior to the ceremonial face off between the home club and the legendary Montreal Canadiens, who are embarking on their centennial season.
Just before gold medal wrestler Carol Huynh, and champion rower Kevin Light, both of British Columbia, dropped the puck, there was a prolonged standing ovation from the discerning, hockey-crazed crowd. It was at once startling and heart warming. Uncharacteristically, the Air Canada Centre fans belted out our national anthem without accompaniment.
Then there’s news that Ontario’s intention to bid for the 2015 Pan American Games is meeting with approval at the outset. After the launch of the process in Acapulco over the weekend, Premier Dalton McGuinty came away buoyed by the favourable reception the “Golden Horseshoe” plan had received.
Toronto would be the hub of the Games and at the centre of the $1.77 billion bid – a bid that would involve many other communities in the vicinity of the metropolis. The only other Canadian city to have hosted the Pan American Games is Winnipeg which last did the honours in 1999.
It’s about time Toronto took this step. After all, it is a multicultural conglomeration with few equals worldwide. It is also a city possessed of wealth and power but one that has not yet demonstrated it can host the sporting world and in the process build the infrastructure needed to adequately contribute to Canada’s athletic landscape.
In the past Toronto has staged the Maple Leaf Indoor Games for track and field and the Milk Meet for elite, international gymnastics. But the present sees a town too often infatuated with professional, commercial sport.
The future demands that Toronto, Canada’s “Big Smoke”, live up to its billing and host the world on a more consistent basis. When it comes to the Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan American Games, smaller municipalities like Hamilton, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and Winnipeg have stepped up to the plate.
Now it’s time to motivate our major metropolis and get Toronto into the “Games”.
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