Toronto planning big party, win or lose

TORONTO, Reuters

Win or lose, Toronto plans to show the world that it can throw a party of Olympic proportions.

The party is scheduled for July 13, the day that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decides whether Toronto, Beijing, Paris, Osaka or Istanbul has won the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

It will go ahead whatever the outcome for Toronto, one of the three front-runners.

But Toronto’s bid committee insists that the day-long outdoor party will not turn into a massive wake if the IOC picks another city.

“Too often in life one does not take the time to celebrate accomplishments. And everything in life isn’t about winning and losing, although you would rather win every time,” John Bitove, president and chief executive of Toronto’s bid committee, told Reuters.

The party will include concerts and an all-night gathering culminating in a rally outside Toronto’s central Union Station, the country’s busiest train station, where the IOC decision will be broadcast live from Moscow.

“There’s an element of ‘Thank you Toronto’ for four years of building spirit in this city and…that’s a huge part of the reason why we’re getting together,” said Sandra Levy, a member of the bid’s special events committee and a former Olympian.

Bid organisers know they have a lot of work to do in the final month of what is shaping up to be a three-way race.

An IOC report placed Toronto, Paris and Beijing on equal footing in the race but with wording which observers said seemed to give Beijing the advantage.

Istanbul and Osaka were seen as well back in the race.

“I love where we are and I can see all kinds of possible scenarios. But if we just stay focused and communicate the key messages we can win,” Bitove said.

But Bitove said Toronto still needed a gold-medal performance in its final presentation to the IOC in order to woo as many of the voting members as possible.

The city’s cause was not helped by some unguarded remarks from Mayor Mel Lastman last month before a trip to Africa to promote the bid.

“What the hell do I want to go a place like Mombassa?,” Lastman said. “Snakes just scare the hell out of me. I’m sort of scared about going there but the wife is really nervous.

“I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.”

Lastman subsequently apologised for the remarks.

“I think there are a lot more undecided people out there than the media even pays attention to,” Bitove added.

“Some people are going to wait for the presentations, some people are going to wait to see what the chatter is among friends just before the vote and some people are going to make up their minds when they wake up some time over the next three weeks.”

Toronto officials are confident that their bid is the most technically sound of the five cities. Some 85 percent of events would take place in the downtown core along a revitalised waterfront and almost 75 percent of the venues are already completed seven years before the Games are to be staged.

Bitove also points to the united support of the city, provincial and federal governments, whose cabinets have already approved funding totalling C$1.5 billion.

“A lot of bid cities will tell you they have their governments unified but the difference this time is we have the agreements on paper from the three levels of government approved by the cabinets which I don’t think has happened before,” Bitove said.

Ontario premier Mike Harris wrote to the IOC last month to reinforce the support of the province after IOC experts expressed concern about the bid’s budget structure and financing.

Toronto knows that the window of opportunity to host the Games might be closing. Toronto was an early runner in the bidding for the 1996 Games, which were awarded to Atlanta.

“We’re focusing on winning and I’m not sure that we can have the opportunity of the waterfront land and the unity of the three levels of government like we have this time,” Bitove said.

“You don’t know if you’ll have the chance again and you run all kinds of risks if you don’t get it now.”