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PASO VP says Toronto ahead of other Pan Am countries in venue construction

10/07/2013 06:05 EDT | Updated 12/07/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - When the Pan American Games opened in Santo Domingo in 2003, the last-minute scramble to finish the venues left Ivar Sisniega and other delegates with "fresh paint stains on our clothes."

In 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico, the seats at the track and field stadium were still covered in plastic wrap when competition began.

"It's been an issue," Sisniega said. "Even a city like Rio (which hosted the Pan Ams in 2007), with a very large budget and Olympic dreams, had some issues with some of the venues. It's always an issue."

While construction delays are a recurring Pan Am theme, Sisniega doesn't see that being a concern in Toronto when the city hosts the Games in 2015.

"We can see clearly that they're well ahead of what other Pan Am Games have done as far as completion of the (athletes') village and many of the sporting venues, so we're fairly confident that those will be ready on time from what we've seen so far," said Sisniega, the first vice-president of the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO).

Sisniega is one of some 350 delegates in Toronto for this week's PASO General Assembly, of which venue construction will be one of the key topics.

Traditionally held two years before the Games, it's the most important assembly prior to the Games.

"It kind of gives all the Olympic committees a chance to get a direct view of what's going on in the host city, as far as the village and the venues and the progress on that," said Sisniega, a former modern pentathlete who competed for Mexico in three Olympics (1980, '84 and '88).

The assembly also includes the election of the 2019 Pan Am host. The four finalists are Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela; La Punta, Argentina; Lima, Peru; and Santiago, Chile.

Sisniega was the director of operations for the 2011 Games in Guadalajara, and was impressed by how that Mexican city embraced the multi-sport event.

"One of the most rewarding things we had was to have the athletes and the delegations say they weren't just happy with what happened in the village and in the competition areas, but when they went out around the town, just to have people be open and receptive to them all over town, it was just a great experience," he said.

"I'm pretty sure Canadians and people from the Ontario area will certainly be very friendly and receptive to visitors."

The Toronto Pan Ams, which open July 10, 2015, are expected to draw about 6,000 athletes from 41 countries from North, South and Central America competing in 36 sports. Women's baseball and golf will make their Pan Am debut in Toronto.

Toronto beat out Lima and Bogota, Colombia, in its bid to host the Games.

Sisniega said one of the benefits of hosting the Games is the spotlight it shines on the city.

"It allows a city to be heard about, read about ... in all 41 countries so sometimes for cities such as Guadalajara, which was not well-known outside Mexico, or Toronto, which is so far north, it allows people to get a view of what Toronto has to offer," he said.

"We'll get over 1,500 people from the media from all of these countries, and they won't just go to the sports venues, they'll visit the restaurants, and visit the city, and probably do special interest articles on what the city has to offer.

"It's always a great economic and tourist promotion to have the Games and get your name sounding all over the continent before, during and after the Games."

The Toronto Pan Am Games have been the subject of controversy over the past week however, mostly over a $7-million bonus package for 64 executives organizing the Games.

Ian Troop, CEO of the Pan Am committee, was paid a base salary of $390,000 last year plus an $87,000 bonus. He's eligible for a $780,000 bonus if the Games come in on budget and on time.

Pan Am executives earning between $190,000 and $250,000 will be eligible for bonuses of up to 100 per cent of their annual pay when the Games are over — half for staying on the job and the other half conditional on performance.

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