With a month to go before a Pan Am/Parapan Games he has already declared a “fantastic success,” the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee says Toronto is now set to get back in the race for the Summer Olympics.
“My view is this country should look at the Summer Games as a priority and there’s not any other city in the country other than Toronto that could offer the site to do this,” said Marcel Aubut in an exclusive interview with the Star.
The 41-nation Pan Ams open July 10 and, while greeted tepidly by many Torontonians, Aubut believes the world-class sporting venues built for the event and the impressive work of the organizing committee make it a dress rehearsal for something bigger.
Aubut’s enthusiasm, even after two previous failed Toronto Olympic bids, is heightened by changes to the Olympic philosophy and bidding process announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in December.
The IOC, under president Thomas Bach, adopted 40 changes, many aimed at financial reform. Those alterations were largely in response to the boondoggle of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi that cost a staggering $51 billion. Only two cities — Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan — bid on the 2022 Winter Games after four dropped out in the face of soaring costs.
Among the IOC’s philosophical changes was a decision “to actively promote the maximum use of existing facilities” and the use of temporary venues.
In other words, venues built for the Pan Ams may not have initially met IOC requirements but they could be adapted to comply under the new approach. A velodrome in Milton and an aquatics centre in Scarborough are among the new facilities built for the Pan Ams.
“We’d be a big part of the way already done,” said Aubut, who is on the board of the Toronto Pan Ams and has attended 12 Olympics in various capacities.
“Toronto is going to benefit from that new open-mindedness of the IOC. Now (it will accept) good infrastructure of good calibre . . . before they would have said. ‘You build a new one and here’s the minimum capacity.’ This is all changing.”
Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Summer Games, has shaved $1.7 billion (U.S.) from its winning bid by using existing venues rather than proceeding with construction proposed in its bid, according to an IOC report.
The IOC also agreed that not all competitions must be held in the host city, which would make it easier to adapt the large footprint of the Pan Am Games.
Aubut would not indicate which Olympics Toronto should target but said he would foster bid discussions as soon as the Pan Ams are finished. Cities have until Sept. 15 to declare their intent to apply for the 2024 Games. The selection of the host city will be in the summer of 2017. The declared candidates so far are Boston, Rome, Paris and Hamburg, Germany.
In January 2014, Toronto’s economic development committee voted not to spend $1 million on a pre-bid analysis for the 2024 Games because it believed Toronto had no chance of winning.
Rob Ford, mayor at the time, said an Olympic bid and attempts at landing the 2025 world’s fair “should be shelved indefinitely right now.” A feasibility study indicated it would cost $50 million to $60 million to go through the bidding process and then an estimated $3.3 billion to $7 billion to stage the competition.
But that report noted that some of the Pan Am venues are “not designed to Olympic standards and/or are too dispersed geographically.”
Using existing facilities would lower the price tag. The Pan Ams/Parapan Games has a budget of $2.5 billion.
Aubut also believes the election of Mayor John Tory, succeeding Ford, will make this city more amenable to a bid. The COC president said he has spoken with Tory.
“Yes, one time,” he recounted. “And we are agreed that it was important to wait until the end of the Pan Ams but the excitement of exploring this exists. We didn’t talk about the detail or any year (but we) guaranteed to each other that this is going to be a serious discussion after the Pan Am Games.”
Tory could not be reached for comment.
Aubut said his public encouragement for a Toronto bid is meant to spark discussion and, he said, “I hope my voice will influence people.” His term as COC president ends in 2017 and he’d like his legacy to be a “very serious process” underway to bring the Olympics to Toronto.
“I’m absolutely convinced that Toronto is ready,” he said, noting the city could follow the Brazilian model.
Rio de Janeiro hosted the Pan Ams in 2007 and then used that momentum to create a winning Olympic bid in 2009. It will host the Summer Games next year.
Toronto bid for the 1996 and 2008 Olympics but lost out to Atlanta and Beijing respectively.
There are many factors that would cause the IOC to look kindly on Toronto, said Aubut, including the cultural diversity of the city, the 63,000 people who applied as volunteers to help stage the Pan Ams, the generous corporate involvement in amateur sport in Canada and the Pan Am organizing committee that he says is “very, very close to an Olympic level.”
“Also Canada has a great reputation from having hosted three fantastic Olympic Games,” said Aubut. “When it’s Canada you can sleep at night.”
While only 400,000 out of 1.4 million tickets have been sold for the Pan Ams, Aubut says that’s not a concern. He said the Pan Ams typically rely on a large walk-up crowd.
“The Pan Am Games today is already a fantastic success,” he said. “I’m not saying, ‘Let’s see how it will end up and if it’s a good success, that will help us talk about something else (the Olympics). I’m saying where it is now is enough to talk about the future of Toronto at the international level for Games.”