The 17th Pan American games are more than a year and a half away and for some people that might seem like an eternity and far too early to be talking about this subject, let alone an individual sport such as boxing, but for the planners and decision makers, they are in the final stretch of preparations and time is of essence.
News has been plentiful with regards to the mismanagement and overspending of these games that had a budget of $1.4 billion. We now know that spending has come in well above this and as a result, we’ve had the firing of former Pan Am games CEO, Ian Troop, who had the attitude of ‘lets get it done’, but his management team couldn’t do it without excessive spending, so he took the blame.
So, where does the sport of boxing fit into this and why am I concerned? Well first off, not to toot my own horn, but I was a Silver Medalist at the 1999 Pan Am Games that Winnipeg hosted in 1999 and I should note that they did a magnificent job. I feel that with my experience from various multi-sport games that I competed in, such as, the Francophone, Commonwealth, Pan Am, and Olympic Games, I know a thing or two about what needs to be done, at least in the sport of boxing.
I was selected to be a Sport Organizing Committee Member for TO2015 and as a result have been on a few conference calls and meetings, where other committee members have asked my opinion and taken my suggestions in terms of making the games the most successful that they can be when the 120 boxers from the 41 nations arrive here in Toronto.
Years ago, when Toronto was bidding for the 2008 Olympics, I was an athlete representative and found myself on tours with delegates from around the world showing them the event locations for our respective sports. Boxing was to be held at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, ON. I asked the organizing committee at the time, ‘Why Hamilton, a 45 minute to an hour drive away?’. I mean, I like Hamilton as much as you or me and I have nothing against this town, but why on earth would you make the athletes travel all the way from Toronto to compete in Hamilton? Their answer was that they wanted to spread the games around, so that cities in and around the golden horseshoe could all feel a part of these Olympics.
I didn’t agree with the answer, but at the time I was just a University student and was in my final year of competing on the National Team, and truthfully, I didn’t have much of a say. So, this brings me to my first meeting for the Pan Am Games committee and I asked the question, ‘Where in Toronto will they be holding the sport of boxing?’. I was soon told that they would be holding boxing at GM Centre in Oshawa.
Now, I like Oshawa, like you like Oshawa, I even have relatives that live in Oshawa and to be honest I like it almost as much as I like Hamilton, but these games were awarded to Toronto, not Oshawa, an hour drive away on a good day, not Hamilton, not Barrie, but Toronto. I’m born and raised in Toronto, and if I hop on the highway, i’ll pass the CN Tower in exactly 7 minutes, so I was genuinely excited to know that we would be hosting the Pan Am Games here in 2015 and could take in as many sports as possible, but never expected boxing to be held as far out of the city as it is scheduled to be. I understand that certain sports need to be held outside the confines of our great city, due to facilities and so forth, but boxing could be held at any arena in and around the GTA. Why make our athletes drive an hour east out to Oshawa to compete?
I asked this question again, ‘Why Oshawa?’ and was told, ‘This decision has been made and we don’t have a say in this matter’. Apparently, the thought of the higher ups was that Oshawa is a blue collar city and would be ideal to hold a blue collar sport like boxing. Yes, I was told this, whether or not this was the rational, i’m not quite certain, but I fully believe that the decision makers have totally missed the mark and should have paid more attention to the appeal of boxing to the corporate world.
Boxing, while it does bring a wide array of people from many different backgrounds, you only have to look into the crowds at Championship fights in Las Vegas or Montreal to see that the fans in attendance are celebrities, corporate business people, and the rich of the rich that want to attend and watch this sport. In addition, these same corporate business people want to feel like fighters and train in boxing gyms in places like Toronto and New York City on a regular basis.
Currently here in Toronto, there have been numerous first class amateur shows that have raised huge money for charity, such as Agency Wars, and Brawl on Bay St. In addition, professional fight cards are held by United Promotions at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga throughout the year and huge money is raised at such events as the black tie affair for the Shaw Festival in Stratford.
Boxing may hold blue collar roots as many fighters have worked their way up through the ranks from barely being able to afford to put food on their plate to becoming World Champions, but it very much has a white collar following. Even today that might even be changing as both World Heavyweight Champions, Vitali and Vladimar Klitschko have PHD’s, whom are among many highly educated fighters today.
So my frustration here is the decision making from high above in the Pan Am committee, placing boxing in the city of Oshawa. We will have some of the greatest amateur boxers in the world competing at the Pan Am games next year and rather than having them compete in front of the people of Toronto, the Pan Am committee is banking on the fact that fans of boxing will travel out to Oshawa, which probably will not be the case.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are numerous facilities in and around the GTA that could have been used, but instead, the organizing committees have elected to logistically make things difficult. Perhaps if Toronto ever plays host to an Olympic Games, we could hold the sport out in Windsor to ensure that this blue collar town can also enjoy our sport of boxing!
Follow Mark Simmons on Twitter: @TheMarkSimmons