17th Pan American and Parapan American Games
On Friday 10 July 2015 the Governor General of Canada officially declared the 17th Pan American Games and 3rd Parapan American Games officially open. This came in the midst of an exciting opening ceremony that witnessed the lighting of the Games Flame following its journey from Teotihuacan, Mexico, through several cities in Canada eventually ending at the Rogers Centre, Toronto.
Loss of PASO President
Earlier this year the longest serving president of the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO), Mr Mario Vazquez Rana, passed away.
When Rana assumed the presidency several years ago the organisation was literally subsisting from hand to mouth, as the old people would say. The resources were extremely limited to such an extent that he often loaned monies to it in order to facilitate its sustainability.
At the time he was also president of the Mexican Olympic Committee and was able to have his organisation persuade the country’s government to step in when a host of either the continental or sub regional Games found it necessary to withdraw for one reason or another.
As a multi-billionaire, Rana soon endeared himself to everyone right up to the highest level of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and was the one who took the initiative to found what is now the Associational of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), the international organisation that brings together all of the National Olympic Committees (NOC) of the world.
He later became a member of the IOC and served as a member of that organisation’s executive board for some time.
At the level of the PASO Rana worked assiduously to develop the organisation to the point where it has become the most lucrative of the five continental organs of the IOC. Today, PASO stands head and shoulders of the continental organisations in may important ways that allows for its members to feel justly proud of the astounding legacy created by Mr Rana.
The Pan American Games, now into its 17th edition, has grown immensely over the years and has been the base from which the Americas have been motivated to become one of the International Olympic Movement’s superior sporting powers.
The Games in Toronto this year is the third occasion on which Canada is hosting the mega sporting event, having hosted them in the city of Winnipeg in both 1967 and 1999.
All indications are already pointing to this year’s edition being by far the best organised and most exciting of the three held in Canada.
As expected there are hiccups along the way but the athletes are committed to delivering their best performances in facilities that are clearly world class.
The crowds in attendance are tremendous and while obviously supportive of their local athletes are nonetheless sufficiently enthusiastic about sport that every participant comes away feeling the energy of the average Canadian at the competition venue.
One gets the feeling that the way in which Toronto has approached hosting these Games the city may well be using them as an exploratory undertaking in respect of a potential bid to host the Summer Olympic Games.
The Summer Olympic Games held in Montreal in 1976 and the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver in 2010 are still memorable sporting spectacles all around Canada. Hosting another edition of either of the Games would certainly receive popular support.
SVG at the Games
Maurice King was this country’s first medallist at the Pan American Games when in Chicago in 1959 he won the bronze medal in weightlifting while competing under the West Indies National Olympic Committee during the period of the West Indies Federation.
St Vincent and the Grenadines first participated as an independent NOC in the Pan American Games when they were held in Havana, Cuba, in 1991. Since then we have participated in every subsequent edition of the mega sporting spectacle.
At the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1995, Eswort Coombs brought glory to our country when placing third in the 400m, the first Vincentian track and field athlete to mount the podium at these Games. Of course in that same year he became the first Vincentian to win gold at the Central American and Caribbean Athletics Championships and also the first of our citizens to win gold at the World University Student Games in Fukuoka, Japan.
We were in attendance in Winnipeg, Canada in 1999, Santo Doming, Dominican Republic, in 2003, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2007 and Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011.
For Toronto 2015, several of our sports were facilitated by the NOC to participate in the slew of qualifying competitions around the Americas. In the end, Athletics, Swimming and Taekwondo earned the opportunity to compete at the Games.
Prior to attending the Games the majority of the athletes were involved in a training camp held at Barrie University in Canada where they had access to adequate training facilities.
As always there is no shortage of challenges for the participants from our country. They know that the competition would be very keen and the local support for Canadians would be a huge burden to overcome.
Track and Field athletes preparing for the Pan American Games experienced a number of challenges not the least of which was the late changing of the standards.
Initially the Association of Pan American Athletics (APA) circulated the standards that were approved for the athletics component of the Games. Because most of the major countries hold their annual championships in the month of June, athletics was given until 29 June to submit their final entries for the Games.
The quota for athletics at the Games was 680 athletes. By early June it became clear that many athletes had attained the standards and the quota had been exceeded by almost 200. It appeared that faced with this problem APA changed the standards, lowering them to facilitate a reduction in the number of participants to meet the quota. In this process, a number of athletes who had attained the standards were summarily removed from the list of participants.
Unfortunately for some countries their NOCs had already announced the qualifiers as having made their respective teams, delivered uniforms and purchased tickets. Many of them were left in the hole when the names of several of their athletes were removed from the list of final entries.
Happily, Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines did not engage in this practice and so did not mislead the NOC into unnecessary expense. What it did was to facilitate participation in competitions to allow the best athletes to make whatever standards were acceptable to APA.
The aforementioned confusion did create major problems for the Games organisers and eventually, based on consistent pleading, some athletes were placed back on the list and the quota exceeded by some 47 athletes.
The Games organisers also posed some challenges for delegations as in the early days of the Games transportation was deficient. Some delegations found their athletes arriving at competition venues late either because the buses were late or the drivers did not know where to take them.
Even at competition venues there were challenges getting to the correct point of entry by athletes and officials, something that one would not have expected at this level.
The Games organisers did however seek to address the challenges as they arose in order to facilitate the success of the event.
Participation at the level of the Americas has its own set of challenges but it has to be understood that for our athletes most of the challenges begin at home.
We are aware of the significant weaknesses in our facilities that place severe constraints on many of our athletes in different sports who would have wished to make the established standards set by their respective continental sport organisations.
We keep hoping that our athletes can do well when they travel without taking into consideration the conditions under which they have had to prepare themselves. While we can readily understand the expectations of our sport loving people we must nonetheless insist that these expectations be tempered by an appreciation for the realities that abound and which hamper the athletes’ attempt to improve to the point of making it to the podium.
Perhaps we should be mindful here that as yet we have heard nothing of which sport facilities have been designated for what type of upgrade using the allocated $6.5m that has been borrowed by the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) from the National Insurance Services (NIS).
Funding would have restricted the capacity of many associations to access appropriate level competitions on a consistent basis. The state of the Vincentian economy does not readily encourage the private sector to come to the financial assistance of national sports associations and athletes. This is a very tough environment.
Government assistance to sport remains threadbare.
National associations have come to increasingly rely on the National Olympic Committee which has a mandate to facilitate development relative to improved performances at Games held under the auspices of the IOC. These resources are no inexhaustible.
There is little doubt that St Vincent and the Grenadines possesses people with talent. We can achieve much more in the world of sport of we do the right thing. Instead, we bury our heads in the sand while incessantly complaining that the athletes are not doing well enough at the regional and international levels.
There has to be a change of mindset relative to just what we wish to do with sport development that goes beyond the mere platitudes of our politicians.