Ontario Summer Games coming back to Ottawa

By Kimberly Shearon

The Ontario Summer Games are returning to Ottawa in 2008, and while plans to match the success of last summer’s games are underway, organizers are also laying the groundwork for things to come.

“Putting on the games is the easy part because we’ve already done that,” says Pat Reid, general manager of the 2008 games. “The challenge is building on that and building a reputation. These games are a springboard for larger events.”

Having won the right to host back-to-back games, Reid says Ottawa is on its way to distinguishing itself as one of Canada’s top sports cities, he says.

Others are starting to take notice.

“Ottawa has definitely raised the bar in recent years,” says Blair McIntosh, the games director for the Sport Alliance of Ontario. The SAO awards host privileges for provincial competitions.

The 2006 games, says Blair, demonstrated Ottawa’s ability to accommodate large sports events.

The organizing committee for last summer’s games focused on providing a memorable experience for almost 2,500 athletes.

Organizers brought athletes in earlier than usual, so each athlete could take part in the opening ceremonies, held in Lynx Stadium. During previous games, opening ceremonies coincided with the start of competition and some athletes had to miss the festivities.

Athletes were housed at Carleton University, which became the first athletes’ village in the games’ history.

“In past games they had kids sleeping on cots in gyms of 20 high schools across the city. It was a bit of a disaster,” says Reid, who also co-chaired the 2006 games. “We just wanted to give the athletes a really unforgettable experience.”

Athletes can expect the same – if not better – treatment at the 2008 games, he says. Hopefully they can also look forward to bigger crowds, he says.

“We did a poor job advertising locally [in 2006],” says Reid. “We started too late and I think we can do better in that area.”

Reid will spend the next six months finalizing media partners, staffing a volunteer board of directors and reviewing the games’ budget and host agreement with the SAO.

The games will cost around $1 million to host. Approximately $400,000 will come from the provincial government, says Jim Watson, Ontario’s health promotion minister and MPP Ottawa West-Nepean.

“It’s good for the economy, great for the athletes and it really brings a sense of pride to our community,” he says.

The 2006 games pumped almost $3.5 million dollars into Ottawa’s tourism sector. The 2008 games are projected to rake in a similar figure.

The City of Ottawa has also agreed to provide $200,000 in services and waived facility rental fees. Sponsorship agreements are the games’ other major source of funding.

“We want to make sure, as a bare minimum, that we provide the same level of experience to the athletes that they enjoyed last time,” says Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien. “But if there [are] some other things we can put into the equation, we’ll do it.”

Facility upgrades are one thing the city is willing to investigate, he says.

But upgrades may not be what Ottawa needs to sell itself as a premier host city. What the city does need, says Reid, are more ballparks and Olympic-sized pools.

“We need to look at what facilities we have and do an inventory,” he says. “Then we need to identify what we’re missing and keeping us from getting bigger events.”

And while facilities are a key factor in choosing hosts for national and international sporting events, Reid says reputation plays an even larger role.

He was part of Ottawa’s unsuccessful 2014 Commonwealth Games bid. The Games were eventually awarded to Halifax, a city that is no stranger to hosting big events.

Ottawa’s inexperience was the bid’s major flaw, says Reid.

“The [Commonwealth] Games going to a place like Halifax really opened our eyes because we’re fairly even in terms of facilities and expertise,” he says. “Now we’re concentrating on building a legacy as a city that knows how to host and does the best job.”

The city will have several opportunities to prove its mettle during the next few years.

Ottawa is one of six Canadian cities that will host FIFA under-20 World Cup matches in July. The city will also host the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship.

These events, along with the return of the Ontario Summer Games, have the sports fanatic in O’Brien smiling.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be the mayor of this city for the next few years.”