If you were in Toronto in July and August this year (or in the months leading up to it) you cannot not have been aware of the City’s big sports-a-palooza, otherwise known as the Pan-Am/Para Pan-Am Games. From the opening ceremonies to the close they were all over the news, and in the end they were a big success.
Apart from the medal count though, what did we get from the experience? As a guy who really pays attention to the nuances of just what Toronto is all about, I came to a few conclusions.
1. WE MAY BE SLOW OFF THE BLOCK, BUT WE POUR IT ON IN THE STRETCH.
There was a pretty scathing article in the New York Times, criticizing Toronto for not embracing the spirit of the Games. The way I see it, it took us a bit to get going, but people caught on. I think it may be because the Pan Ams don’t have the brand awareness of the Olympics, but this literally had the World competing at an Olympic level. In many cases, winning in Toronto meant qualifying for Brazil. On the streets and in the cafes and restaurants, I heard more and more people talking about Canada’s performance overall, what sports they caught, what parties or concerts they were going to and more. Overall, we got into it in a big way.
2. WHATEVER IT IS, WE CAN HANDLE IT.
It seems like silliness now to look back at the brew-ha-ha over the HOV lanes before and during the games. I’m probably biased by living and working in North Toronto, where the streets and transit offer easy access to the downtown core, but in the end it did not feel like too big an inconvenience. When you balance it with the value of the increased business that came with all the attention, it really wasn’t a big deal. On the other hand, I also think it’s impressive that the infrastructure development was spread across the Greater GTA region – meaning the costs and benefits were distributed widely, from Welland to Haliburton, and across the city itself.
3. WE’RE BIG ENOUGH TO NOT BE TAKEN OVER BY IT.
It’s not like every corner of the city was all Pan-Am, all the time. Mostly we ticked on into summer, with all its fantastic details. You could catch a movie, grab a coffee or a drink, head out shopping or whatever your regular routine offered, without feeling overpowered by the fact that we were hosting a multi-sport event on a scale that we’d never taken on before. I see that as a good thing, because it shows that whatever’s happening, there’s always a lot more going on here than you can imagine.
4. WE’RE A CITY OF WELCOMING COMMUNITIES.
Toronto proved that we are as international as the Pan-Am/Para Pan-Am Games, if not more so. There is simply no community of fan or athlete that could come here and not be treated to a welcome from someone from home. From Jamaica to Brazil to Mexico to even the USA, Toronto fans pretty regularly cheer for a plurality of “home” teams. With our myriad choice of restaurants, festivals and cultural pockets, Toronto’s multiculturalism is a huge part of what makes living here special.