TORONTO (AP) Toronto isn’t ready to bid for the Olympics, but the head of the Pan Am Games knows he’ll be judged by that measure.
The Canadian city is spending more than any previous Pan Am host to organize the multi-sport event, which opens Friday with more than 6,000 athletes from Newfoundland in Canada’s far north to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of the hemisphere.
”There is no question in my mind we’re going to be judged by Olympic standards, so we have to perform to Olympic standards,” Saad Rafi, CEO of the games, said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. ”I think we have beautiful facilities. I know we have an Olympic-caliber village.”
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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach will attend Friday’s opening ceremony and has been in town looking around.
However, there is more important business than Olympic protocol – like pre-game jitters over traffic restrictions, concerns about ticket sales and the absence of many top American Olympians who could provide star power and create a buzz.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, in a television interview this week on Canadian broadcaster CBC, chided his citizens for complaining.
”I think the only sport that we’re not playing at the Pan Am Games is moaning and groaning, and Toronto on a regular basis would be qualifying for a gold medal in that,” Tory said.
Tory acknowledged that traffic jams have been ”a little bit worse than I expected.” He asked people to forsake their cars and use public transportation. He said congestion might be thinned out by summer vacations, with the city expecting an influx of 250,000 visitors.
”We will adjust as other cities have,” he said.
Bach this week called Toronto ”a good candidate” for future Olympic bids – but unlikely for 2024 with five cities already bidding: Hamburg, Germany; Paris; Rome; Boston; Budapest, Hungary.
”The Pan Am Games can give a boost to a (Olympic) candidate,” Bach said.
The mayor dismissed any Olympic talk, saying he just wanted to ”get through these games.”
”Toronto is on display this week,” he said. ”We’ve got a very big international event that’s going to be seen all over the place and we don’t want to reflect badly on our city.”
Janet Mawhinney of Toronto, who was cycling Thursday past Exhibition Place – a main venue on the corner of Strachan Ave. and Lake Shore Blvd. West – sided with the mayor.
”I think the media should pay a little more attention to the athletes and the competitions, because that’s what exciting,” she said. ”I think it’s unfortunate the biggest conversation is about traffic. We need to get past that. Everybody is obsessed about the impact of traffic.”
Rafi said 800,000 tickets have been sold, two-thirds of the 1.2 million available. He said walk-up sales at the just-completed women’s World Cup was 30 percent, a rate he expects during this 17-day event.
”There are great sports fans here, and they’re going to get behind us.”
Toronto is spending about $2.5 billion ($2 billion US) to organize the games. It has built 10 new sports venues, renovated 15 and has also built a new rail line from the airport to the center of town.
Without top Americans like swimmer Missy Franklin and sprinter Justin Gatlin – or Canadian NBA star Andrew Wiggins – local attention will focus on the giant 720-member Canadian team, which even dwarfs the Americans by 100.
The United States is a sure bet to top the medal table, but Canada is hoping for second ahead of Brazil and Cuba.
Although Rafi isn’t looking past the first medal event yet.
”If we talk on Day 5 of the games, I hope that I’m feeling really, really good – I’m sure I will be – about how things are progressing,” Rafi said. ”But you want to get through the first few days, because there’s always that break-in period.”
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP