Team sport: Delivering the Pan Am Games – Canadian Government Executive

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October 29, 2012

Team sport: Delivering the Pan Am Games

It will be the largest international multi-sport event ever held on Canadian soil – the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games. 

The Pan/Parapan Am Games rank third after the Summer Olympics and the Asian Games in size and scope. Ensuring the successful delivery of an event involves a major investment in new infrastructure, complex operations and balancing the diverse interests and priorities of three levels of government as well as a bevy of broader public and private sector partners and stakeholders.

There wasn’t a lot of direct experience to tap into when Ontario’s bid to host the 2015 Games succeeded. 

The province’s last foray into staging a major international multi-sport competition was more than 80 years ago, when Hamilton hosted the 1930 British Empire Games. Those Games featured 400 athletes from 11 countries competing over eight days in six sports. By contrast, the Pan Am Games will feature about 6,000 athletes from 41 countries competing in 36 sports over 17 days. In addition, the Parapans will see about 1,500 athletes in 15 sports in competition over eight days.

Organizers must also deal with hard deadlines, respect budgets, manage within a multi-layered governance model and operate with full transparency toward the tax-paying citizen. 

And there’s that stone wall of a deadline. On July 10, 2015, the venues for competition will have to be ready and tested. The commitment is that the 2015 Games will not go over its $1.4-billion budget, which is vital for Ontario in its role as the deficit guarantor.

But perhaps the most unique aspect of the Games for a public servant is how complex the decision-making is because it involves all three levels of government and a variety of agencies, universities and other non-governmental organizations. 

Of note, the Games are not awarded to Ontario or any other government. The Pan American Sports Organization awards the Games to a city authorized by a National Olympic Committee – in this case the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) – although the funds for the event come from governments, municipalities, universities and corporate sponsors.

The task of delivering the Games falls to an arm’s length organizing committee, Toronto 2015. It is overseen by a board that includes representatives selected by Ontario (including the chair), the federal government, the city of Toronto, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Ontario’s relationship with Toronto 2015 is defined by a Transfer Payment Agreement and it must maintain effective relationships with all the parties to the Games.

Oversight of Toronto 2015 is one critical role for the Ontario Pan/Parapan American Games Secretariat (PPAGS). The Secretariat is also charged with ensuring that the vision of involving Ontarians and providing a legacy for future generations is achieved. It’s a big task for a small organization that was created from scratch in 2010.

We work closely with Toronto 2015 to ensure that its financial model provides a real-time view of spending and that it offers a robust risk-management practice. As well, we work closely with Infrastructure Ontario, which is delivering the major sporting venues – representing about 80 percent of capital expenditures – through the private sector. We oversee the development of the Pan/Parapan American Games Athletes’ Village, as well.

We work hand-in-hand with Sport Canada, which is overseeing Ottawa’s $500-million contribution for venue construction, the post-Games legacy of the major facilities and essential services.

PPAGS also plays a coordinating role within the Ontario government, through a network of cross-ministerial or inter-jurisdictional committees dealing with key planning and operational issues. For example, a transportation working group with representation from the provincial government, local municipalities and agencies such as the TTC, GO Transit and Metrolinx is studying the smoothest way to get athletes, officials and spectators to and from venues around the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

There is also a deputies’ committee developing a plan for how government ministries will promote and celebrate the Games and ensure they leave a legacy that benefits the province long after the athletes have gone home.

Effective governance and rigorous oversight are critical to the success of the Games, but we must never lose sight of what the Games are really about – a celebration of our athletes, our creativity and cultural diversity, and the intricate tapestry of trade, tourism, culture and sport that connects Ontario to its neighbours across the Americas and the Caribbean. 

A dynamic promotion and celebration program leading up to and during the Games will help ensure that the 2015 Games are a pan-Canadian experience that strengthens our sense of national identity and pride.

So, PPAGS has a lot on its plate. Just as we’ve seen with the Olympics – in Vancouver in 2010 and more recently in London – the 2015 Pan/Parapan Games, notwithstanding the challenges, promise to be a transformational experience for Ontario that will define our province for years to come.


Paul Genest is deputy minister of the Pan/Parapan American Games Secretariat and of the Office of Francophone Affairs. He is a former deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities.

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