Reflections on the Panamania of the Pan Am Games

When it was first announced that the Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games were set to take place in Toronto, it wasn’t well received. Where would all the money come from? As the $1.4 billion dollar budget grew, and grew… and GREW to almost twice its original size, a potent debate began between the public and civil servants: “Is it worth it?” Is it worth the hassle of HOV lanes and those confusing transportation signs (what do they even mean?) and the temporary policies that caused small disruptions all across the GTA? 

As a sports event, not only are the Pan Am Games highly underrated (one of my six-year-old old campers told me: “the Pan Am games are just a rip off of real sports,” which I awkwardly laughed off, “haha…oh, you…”), but the exclusivity of the event also turned away many because it wasn't really an international event either. The fact that most of the competing athletes weren't “Olympic famous,” was also somewhat of a turn off.

Before the games started, ticket sales were in a serious slump, reflecting lack of local interest. The goal was to sell 1.4 million tickets, and just a few days before the official start of the games, barely half had been sold. What did this mean for the City of Toronto? Did this show that we are incapable of successfully hosting such large-scale events? New spaces and venues were built at a cost that contributed to the ballooning budget, not including additional costs that would remain after the event was over, such as maintenance fees.

As someone who is not particularly interested in sports, I quickly turned to an economic perspective that was highly pragmatic… and mostly cynical. It wasn’t until the opening ceremony that I remembered the most important aspect of an event like this.

A chance to share (and show off) our amazing culture, our spirit, and our story.

That night, Cirque-du-Soleil, along with hundreds of volunteers, dancers, musicians, and athletes, performed an absolutely spectacular show. Taking us on a journey through the history of Canada, it illustrated our colourful past and multicultural present through dance and acrobatics and told a beautiful story inspired by Canada’s Natives.

It was this that sparked my interest in the games. Panamania went beyond my expectations. As most of the events were free, I had a chance to check out various musical and cultural acts representing all there is to celebrate about Canada for two weeks. And these events were packed. If you were lucky enough to bypass Nathan Phillips Square, you would probably have seen the glowing, neon TORONTO sign with a backdrop of people screaming, jumping, and loving the music scene.

And now, with the closing ceremony barely behind us, I can’t help but feel proud. Not just for Canada (with an amazing count of 217 medals!), but for every team that danced down the ceremonial carpet. I thought about the countries with teams with 8, 7, or even less members who got the chance to participate and show off their hard work which transcended their less privileged environments.

Even though the oh-so controversial Kanye West headlined the ceremony, I wouldn't say is performance took away from the success of Pan Am. Though there was much debate about him closing off the games, it did help push ticket sales (which surpassed a million!), and resulted in more people experiencing the excitement of being a part of the Pan Am games.

My mom always told me that, if nothing else, an experience is usually worth the money spent. Though I did not get to participate in as much of the Pan Am events as I would have liked to, I will definitely take advantage of future events to come because Pan Am/Para Pan Am has left our city with something that goes beyond sports and budgets: camaraderie, passion and inspiration.

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