If we want the Olympics, our time is now,

If we want the Olympic Games, it’s time to seize the mo­ment

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Rosie DiManno

On a hot evening in July 2001, I was in Bei­jing when that city was awarded the 2008 Sum­mer Olympics.

Spon­ta­neously, tens of thou­sands of Chi­nese poured into the streets to cel­e­brate, singing and danc­ing and just hap­pily strolling about into the wee hours of the morn­ing.

They were so proud and so grate­ful.

It was the be­gin­ning of a great na­tion’s com­ing-out party.

And yes, the fix had been in with the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee. They al­ways in­tended to be­stow those Games on the Mid­dle King­dom, even if Bei­jing’s host bid was not as mer­i­to­ri­ous as the pack­age put for­ward by Toronto, which came in sec­ond when the votes were counted in Moscow.

For the sec­ond time, T.O. had come a crop­per.

From the other side of the planet, I had no idea how the news was be­ing re­ceived back home. Doubt­less there was mas­sive dis­ap­point­ment. Yet I sus­pected that, had Toronto been anointed by the IOC, there would have been im­me­di­ate protests and years of grum­bling ahead.

Pub­lic ob­jec­tions had gone a long way to­wards scut­tling Toronto’s pre­vi­ous for­mal ten­der for the 1996 Sum­mer Olympics which, re­gret­tably, were in­vested on Atlanta – The Coca Cola Games. Worst Games Ever, even for the shame­lessly cor­rupt and greedy IOC, as Big Corp. usurped the global she­bang.

But Toronto’s bid had been ef­fec­tively ham­strung and hexed by a grass­roots anti-Olympic bloc led by Jack Layton and his Bread Not Cir­cuses coali­tion.

Toronto didn’t get those Games, which so pleased Layton et al. Nei­ther, though, did it get many com­mu­nity-ori­ented ben­e­fits for a city’s need­i­est pop­u­lace – the ser­vices and en­rich­ing so­cial pro­grams that the re­sis­tance move­ment claimed would be sac­ri­ficed to an Olympics pub­lic-purse bud­get.

It turned out a lose-lose propo­si­tion.

Next time around, Toronto was a vic­tim of bad tim­ing and geopo­lit­i­cal pres­sures. Bei­jing was the pre­emp­tive choice, si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­low­ing the IOC to dodge an es­ca­lat­ing out­cry over the Games’ bal­loon­ing costs. Bei­jing 2008 would come in on time and beau­ti­fully mounted, with no quib­bling about $1.6 bil­lion al­lot­ted for venues and in­fra­struc­ture. China had all the money in the world, a dirt-cheap labour force, no unions, no fear of demon­stra­tions, and un­fet­tered show-off agenda.

When those Games opened, they also had fences and bar­ri­cades ev­ery­where – not to pro­tect against ter­ror­ist at­tack but to pre­vent the cit­i­zenry from get­ting a close-up look at what had been ac­com­plished. I will never for­get the faces of or­di­nary Chi­nese, kids in tow, peer­ing through wires for a dis­tant peek at the gor­geous Bird’s Nest Sta­dium and the Wa­ter Cube.

The Peo­ple’s Republic of China put on the least peo­ple-friendly Games in his­tory.

Th­ese should be all lessons learned for the IOC, which end­lessly finds new ways to make poor de­ci­sions – like giv­ing scan­dalously dis­or­ga­nized Athens the Sum­mer Games in 2004, which ul­ti­mately bankrupted Greece, push­ing the country to­wards its cur­rent fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

But if the Lords of the Ring are watch­ing – and they are, be­cause IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach twice vis­ited Toronto in the past fort­night – they will have seen that this city (and en­vi­rons) staged a mar­velous Pan Am Games spec­ta­cle, which came as some­thing of a shock even to us.

Yes, the Pan Ams are a sec­ond-tier multi-games ex­trav­a­ganza, nowhere as un­wieldy as the Olympics. Still, they ran more smoothly than other Pan Ams and Com­mon­wealth Games I’ve cov­ered. Cru­cially, they were well-at­tended, with up­wards of a mil­lion tick­ets sold, and Cana­dian ath­letes did their country proud, amass­ing a record 217 medals, al­beit send­ing the cream of our crop against what was of­ten B-team com­pe­ti­tion from other na­tions.

But we got a taste for it, in a prov­ince which last hosted a mul­ti­sports sports event in 1930 – the Bri­tish Em­pire Games, in Hamil­ton.

If th­ese Games were a spring­board for Canada’s ath­letes head­ing into next year’s Olympics in Rio, so too were they a dress-re­hearsal for a po­ten­tial 2024 Sum­mer Olympics bid. (As the 2007 Pan Ams in Rio teed up their suc­cess­ful Olympic sub­mis­sion.)

We are not the Toronto of 14 years ago or a quar­ter cen­tury ago. The pub­lic, I dare say, is charmed with the idea of host­ing the Olympics, though some of that en­thu­si­asm may quickly wear off. But there’s hardly enough time for cyn­i­cism and dis­ap­proval to set in – the dead­line for of­fi­cially throw­ing our civic hat in the 2024 Games ring is Sept. 15 .

Most of us will re­mem­ber the bil­lion-dol­lar money pit of Mon­treal 1976. Re­mem­ber also, though, the $150 mil­lion legacy from the Cal­gary Win­ter Games in 1988 and the break-even out­come of Van­cou­ver in 2010 – and all the glory of those last Olympics that can’t be mea­sured in dol­lars, what they gave us as a country.

Mayor John Tory has been non­com­mit­tal when the pos­si­bil­ity is put to him. And, in­deed, Toronto’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee took a pass last year on a 2024 Olympic bid, es­ti­mated to cost be­tween $50 mil­lion and $60 mil­lion. There’s not even a city coun­cil ses­sion sched­uled be­fore the dead­line where the mat­ter might be re­opened.

But that’s neg­a­tive think­ing and we’ve had en­tirely too much of that around th­ese parts when it comes to the vi­sion thing.

The Pan Ams im­posed dead­lines and dis­ci­pline on Toronto – where in­er­tia is too of­ten the by­word – in the con­struc­tion of a new aquat­ics cen­tre, a di­rect rail link be­tween Union Sta­tion and the air­port, and an ath­letes’ vil­lage on the wa­ter­front.

We can do this. We can seize the mo­ment – and the im­pe­tus it would pro­vide for bold in­fra­struc­ture and sports venue de­vel­op­ment.

The Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee of­fi­cially took up the 2024 Games bid man­tle on Sun­day, an­nounced by pres­i­dent Mar­cel Aubut at Canada House.

“I will work closely with the city of Toronto. There’s noth­ing to be done with­out the mayor.”

We can do this. We have the mo­men­tum. Do we, fourth largest city in North Amer­ica, have the nerve? Will we cry poor in this cash­strapped prov­ince?

At least seven cities have al­ready ei­ther filed their bid pa­pers or in­di­cated they in­tend to do so: Rome, Ham­burg, Paris, Bu­dapest, Boston, Nairobi and Casablanca.

“We can’t af­ford to miss this op­por­tu­nity,” Aubut de­clared.

The slo­gan for Toronto’s Pan Games was: #noworn­ever.

Ditto Sum­mer Olympics 2024. Rosie DiManno usu­ally ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day, Fri­day and Satur­day.

MARK BLINCH/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Women’s bas­ket­ball gold medal­list Kia Nurse car­ries the Cana­dian flag dur­ing the clos­ing ceremony Sun­day.

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