By Heather Mallows
On July 14, 1,800 athletes and 1,200 artists will gather at Lansdowne Park to kick off the Francophone Games IV (les Jeux de la Francophonie).
Over the course of 10 days, more than 50 countries and governments who share the French language will compete in athletic and cultural competitions.
Along with track and field, boxing, and judo, the Francophone Games also feature story-telling, busking, and photography competitions.
Francophone singing stars Diane Dufresne and Roch Voisine will perform at the opening ceremonies and track stars Bruny Surin and Glenroy Gilbert will compete.
“It’s a huge event,” says Serge Amyot, director of communications for the Francophone Games. “And we’re going to prove that we can hold international events here in Ottawa-Hull.”
Held every four years, the Francophone Games are designed to promote francophone culture.
Amyot says he believes the Games will eventually achieve a status equal to that of the Commonwealth or Pan-American Games.
Six hundred thousand people, including 500 members of the media, are expected to descend on the city to watch the competitions.
Centretown residents are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the festivities.
Men’s soccer will be played at Frank Clair Stadium and men’s basketball will be played at the Civic Centre.
On the cultural side, the National Arts Centre (NAC) will play host to the singing competition.
“The venues are perfect,” says Amyot. “Frank Clair Stadium, for example, has brand new turf, the stands are good…and people know where it is.”
Morgan Quarry, the men’s World Cup soccer team manager and director of communications for the Canadian Soccer Association, agrees.
“I think (Frank Clair) is a great venue,” he says. “I’ve played on the field turf and it’s very good and the location is excellent.”
According to Amyot, the organizing committee expects about 3,000 to 4,000 spectators for each basketball game and about 5,000 for each soccer game.
“It’s definitely exciting for the soccer community in Ottawa,” says Quarry. “I know it will be well-received because there are people who have been waiting a long time to see soccer played at this level in this city. It’s not very often that we get international teams coming to this region.”
Fans can expect a strong men’s soccer team this year, says Quarry.
The team has won gold in the Francophone Games two out of three times the Games have been held, in 1989 and 1997.
Over at the NAC, 75 to 80 singers and singer/songwriters are expected to compete in the singing competition.
“It’s a great event not just for francophones, but for the anglophones as well,” says Linda Lauzon, executive director of the Ottawa branch of the French-Canadian Association of Ontario. “It’s a good way for anglophones and francophones to indulge in francophone culture.”
To add to the cultural festivities, the annual Festival Franco-Ontarien, which usually runs for four to five days in June, will begin on June 24 this year and run until the end of the Games.
“It’s going to be a ‘Super Franco Fête’ for a whole month,” says Lauzon.
Organizers say they are hoping to overcome the misconception that the Games are solely for those who speak French. “It’s not only for francophones,” says Amyot. “It’s for everyone.”
Lauzon says she hopes this misconception will not affect attendance.
“We hope that the anglophone community will enjoy it as much as we’re going to,” she says. “We hope it will show that the two communities can work together and can share our culture and our language to the benefit of everybody.”
Lauzon says she expects the event to be a huge boost to Ottawa-Hull’s francophone community.
“If Ottawa didn’t have a strong francophone community,” she says, “we wouldn’t have been able to get the Francophone Games.”