Pan Am Games: World-Class Event or Traffic Nightmare?

The Pan Am & Parapan Am Games kick off this Friday and the city is abuzz. Everywhere you go, smiling Torontonians are high-fiving in the streets and swapping stories of their favourite athletes. Just this morning I saw a grown man weep openly because he was so excited to see the roller figure skating.

….at least that’s how it looks in the promo videos.

In the lead-up to one of the most significant athletic events on the planet, a once-in-four-years occasion, the coverage of the Games has been oddly muted, hasn’t it? And if muted isn’t the right word, then ‘crushingly negative and rage-filled’ might be the right ones. Rather than greeting the incoming international community with open arms, locals are fleeing the city like there’s an impending zombie apocalypse.

Angry Mob

Instead of boarding the bandwagon of fury – after all, it’ll be stuck in traffic and won’t go anywhere – this Sport & Social correspondent is going to take a measured look at a few of the pros & cons of the Games, and what they mean for residents of the GTA.

PRO: Toronto finally gets to host a major, world-class event, befitting of a major, world-class city.

It’s about time, right? We’re a cultural, economic, and athletic global hub, and consistently rated at or near the top of those ‘Best Cities to Live’ lists. Now the whole world will get to see all that we have to offer. Vancouver got its chance to shine in the 2010 Olympics, and now it’s our turn.

CON: Toronto finally gets to host a major, world-class event, befitting of a major, world-class city.

You know that friend you have from Europe, who you keep trying to convince to come visit you in Toronto? You keep telling her that it’s right up there with London and Tokyo and New York as a can’t-miss urban travel destination? And then she actually comes to visit and you’re up all night panicking because you can’t think of anything to impress her with other than the CN Tower and Niagara Falls?

We Torontonians have a serious case of impostor syndrome. We want to believe that we’re all the things that the promotional fliers at the airport say we are, but we’re also pretty insecure about whether or not it’s actually true.

And, of course, our long-suffering sports fans can be forgiven for not believing that ‘Toronto’ and ‘sporting excellence’ can go together.

Ossington

PRO: The Games are a chance to see ultra-elite athletes compete live at the highest levels.

The Pan Am & Parapan Am sports offered page is almost as impressive as the TSSC sports offered page. There’s a tantalizing mix of mainstream events with recognizable stars – tennis, soccer, baseball – and less high-profile events that you may never get to see at this level and with this fanfare again in your life (with pretty low ticket prices). There are 51 sports in total!

So maybe you don’t really know a lot about fencing. But isn’t it pretty cool to see athletes who have dedicated their lives to this craft compete at a world-class level from 20 feet away?

There’s also a lot of concerts, events, and productions happening around the city that should help create a legitimately fun and vibrant atmosphere once this all gets going.

CON: No one really knows what the Pan Am Games are.

Do you know that the last Pan Am Games were in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011? Neither did I until a Google search 11 seconds ago. Did you know that there are 41 countries that participate in the Games? Again, thank you Google.

We haven’t heard a lot about the athletes, sports, or compelling stories we should be looking out for during the Games. That’s probably why half of the 1.4 million available tickets are still unsold. But if you take a few minutes to do some research, you’ll see that there are plenty of reasons to care. It’s just that Brian Williams won’t tell you what they are every 40 seconds.

Inigo Montoya

CON: You will definitely hate your life at least once in the next two weeks.

Here’s the one everyone is talking about: the traffic. We’re all terrified of how our already snarled highways can possibly accommodate 250,000 visitors from around the world. And there will be one moment for each of us when you’re driving to an important meeting, and you’re stuck in soul-crushing gridlock, and you’re bashing your head repeatedly into your steering wheel, and you will hate your life.

PRO: You might make a new friend or two.

HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lanes bring people together. Get to know your co-workers by suggesting some strategic carpooling, and then laugh maniacally as you bomb down the left lane of the DVP past all the people bashing their heads against their steering wheels.

Even better, grab a couple of the mannequins that have suddenly gone up for sale around the city. They’re usually topless, very well-proportioned,
and make great listeners. None of those things is guaranteed with your co-workers. (Disclaimer: The Sport & Social Club will not pay your ticket when you are inevitably caught and fined.)

And remember: every single day Toronto’s population swells by 450,000 people as commuters flock in from the suburbs. 60,000 more pour in when there’s a Jays and Leafs game on the same day (let’s be honest, their schedules rarely overlap). What’s a few thousand more?

CEO of Canada Boutique Bags Shai Azoulay drives along his mannequins on June 30, 2015 . Azoulay has posted ads online to rent out his mannequins to individual drivers hoping to take advantage of the new HOF lanes in effect for the Pan Am games. Brian B. Bettencourt / Toronto Star

So let’s all agree to relax for a minute, and make the best of the next two weeks. Accept that there will be some disruptions to your daily life, and make sure you reap enough of the unique rewards to make it all worthwhile. Let the games begin!

~Written by Sandeep Kembhavi

Want to get out and active? Sport & Social Club provides sports and programs for adults in the GTA. Check out www.torontossc.com for more info!