This past Saturday, the 2015 Pan American Games began in Toronto. No, seriously - they’re going on right now. Medals are being won and everything. Yes, I’m absolutely sure that the sports have already started. I don’t know how you missed it.
So what do the Pan Am Games mean for you, personally? Well, if you happen to be an elite Paraguayan weightlifter or Dominican high-jumper, this is certainly a big week for you. Meanwhile, if you’re practically anyone else on planet Earth outside of Toronto, your life should continue unaffected.
If you are from Toronto, though, and you’re the type of person who regularly reads local blog comments, then you’re already well aware that this is the beginning of the disastrous debacle that may very well destroy the city of Toronto.
To recap, the Pan Am Games (and their sister, the Parapan Am Games) are like the Olympics for the Americas. 41 nations and over 6,000 athletes have descended on the Toronto area to compete in 364 events, ranging from the classics (track & field, swimming, soccer, basketball) to some lesser-known disciplines (artistic roller skating, water-skiing). It’s by far the largest sporting event ever held in Canada, well over double the size of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
And yet the overwhelming reaction across the Toronto area over the last few months has been a loud mixture of, well, both apathy and rage. Apathrage: the paradoxical state in which someone can say “no one cares about this minor non-event”, and yet also, “this colossally large disaster is the worst thing to have ever happened”.
The mixture of traffic delays and building costs (velodromes ain’t cheap), mixed with a collective shrug towards the actual sporting results, has fed itself into a steady outrage machine - a machine fed by a crew of dedicated tabloid writers shoveling heaping shovelfuls of Takes onto the fire.
“Pan Am Games More Punishment Than Fun”, blares a representative headline from local xenophobic-softcore-pornography newsletter The Toronto Sun:
“We’re spending billions on a lavish spectacle few people have ever heard of. Meanwhile, we can’t even get people to work on a Monday morning because our transit system is strained to the limit. I want to have fun at these games. I want to welcome athletes and visitors from the Pan Am world — wherever that is — to my city with pride and joy.”
(A common trope about these games is that no one understands what they are. The Pan Am games, no one’s heard of ‘em! The Pan Am world, wherever that is! It’s easy to knock down a concept if you first convince everyone how confusing and far-fetched it is, even if “the Olympics for the Americas” is a concept any ol’ dumb child could grasp.)
As that piece touches on, the new temporary HOV lanes put into place on the city’s major highways, intended to speed up travel across the region for buses, taxis, and athlete shuttles, have been a particularly loud source of complaints. One guy’s already been busted trying to get into the fast lane by strapping a dummy into his passenger seat. Another dummy’s already openly admitted to driving in the HOV lanes without any passengers, despite that being illegal, and him being an elected politician.
Here’s another actual Toronto Sun headline on the topic: “Damn That Pan Am Traffic Jam!” (You don’t have to bother reading that - it’s a paint-by-numbers bit of red meat for the Sun crowd - but I will say that one of the top comments is “I hope everyone remembers that this entire scam am games is just another liberal debacle.”)
Lemme just go in for a second here.
Listen, Guy-Who’s-Spent-The-Last-Month-Telling-Anyone-Who’ll-Listen-How-Much-You-Hate-The-Scam-Am-Games, I’m very sorry that for the next 2 weeks, it will take you an extra half-hour to get from your shitty suburban condo to your shitty downtown office job. I feel for you! That’s a half hour you could have spent writing unhinged comments on the Globe & Mail website. But part of choosing to live in a big, thriving, metropolitan city is hosting events, and parades, and festivals that you personally may not actually care about! That’s part of the deal!
When you plotted out your life and decided “I will live in the distant outskirts of Toronto and drive a long distance into the city centre by highway every morning” (something you were not forced to do!), you had to accept the fact that you will occasionally be inconvenienced by local events that don’t necessarily personally enrich your life. Traffic will occasionally be snarled and tax dollars will be spent on Greek heritage parades, and jazz festivals, and cystic fibrosis walks, and yeah, occasionally, international sporting events. And even if you personally don’t care about these sports, just based on the dinner party principle, some city has to host these things at some point.
Now, it’s one thing when it’s just some innocent bystander complaining about the traffic, but I’m surprised by how many self-identified Toronto Sports People have made it their mission to shit on the Pan Am games with gleeful abandon, maybe simply because it’s not their right kind of sports. If you’re that person who gets on a pedestal every Olympics to say how it’s such a shame our amateur athletes aren’t supported more, you could do more than let out a smirking “who even cares about Pan Am” when over 6,000 of the greatest amateur athletes in this hemisphere are right here in your city to compete. (Especially if you’re the type who pats themselves on the back every few years about how not enough people support women’s sports, considering that five times as many women are competing in these Pan Am Games as last month’s Women’s World Cup.)
It’s fine to say that you just flat-out don’t care about rowing, or fencing, or race walking, but - as every surly teenager eventually learns - there’s a fine line between “I don’t care” and “no one cares”. Some 19-year-old athlete out there in Brazil or Cuba or Mobile, Alabama has spent their whole life working their ass off to row, or fence, or race-walk their way to these Toronto games, and by fuck do they care.
If you believe that amateur sports are worthwhile, then you probably believe that the Pan Am games, as one of the very pinnacles of international sports tournaments, should exist. And if you believe the Pan Am games should exist, you should believe that, eventually, a time comes where cities that have the appropriate means and facilities should host them. Toronto is hosting the Pan Am games because it can host them; because, as hard as you clench and sweat trying desperately to shit on them, things like the Pan Am games are fun, and worthwhile, and fine.
Here’s all I’m asking for, Toronto: take a step back and chill for the next couple weeks. Enjoy what you have in front of you for once. Buy a ticket to some baseball or swimming or boxing, go to one of the dozens of art fairs and free concerts tied into the Pan Am games, drink a beer, cheer, laugh.
I’m not forcing you to care, but it can’t hurt to try.