GUADALAJARA, Mexico - Mexico is set to host its biggest sporting event since the 1986 World Cup, but it comes during some of the country's most volatile times.
Police officials are expected to outnumber athletes at the 2011 Pan American Games, which open Friday in Guadalajara as Games organizers have pledged to make security a top priority in a country ravaged by drug violence.
Some 10,000 officers, from local, regional and federal forces, are expected to be deployed during the Games, which will bring 6,000 athletes to Guadalajara, including a Canadian contingent of almost 500.
"Security's a concern at all major Games. It was in Vancouver (for the 2010 Olympics), it was in Beijing (2008), all over," said Canada's chef de mission Jacques Cardyn. "In Rio (for the 2007 Pan Ams) it was a huge concern.
"We are confident the Games will be as (safe) as the other Games."
Canada traditionally travels with RCMP officers to major Games, and the number of security officials has been increased for Mexico, Cardyn said. He would not specify how many.
"They'll be there," he said. "They've been working with the federal police in Mexico, they've been working with the provincial and municipal police and they've stayed in contact with (U.S. security officials), so we're pretty confident they know where we're going."
Mexico's deadly drug war has killed more than 35,000 people since 2006. While the gruesome violence has been concentrated along the Mexico-U.S. border, the relative serenity of Guadalajara was shattered in February when grenades thrown at an entrance to a nightclub killed six people. Gunmen firing automatic weapons torched vehicles and blockaded roads.
Athletes say they just have to trust in the security measures.
"You do everything you can, you stay wise and hope for the best I guess," said Canadian squash player Stephanie Edmison. "I know that the security will be over the top for the Pan Ams. I know Mexico will make sure that the athletes are safe and I know that (Canadian officials) will ensure that Mexico is doing everything they can to secure the village and to secure us, which was done in India for the Commonwealth Games.
"For such a high-profile event, I think that they'll be doing everything they can to make us safe, so it's not my main concern."
With India's track record for terrorist attacks, there was a huge police presence at the Commonwealth Games last fall in New Delhi, India, where two tourists from Thailand were shot less than two weeks before the opening ceremonies. Signs were posted daily in the athletes village stating the terrorist threat level.
New Delhi organizers also used 38 langur monkeys to guard the athletes village and venues, but the monkeys were there to guard against attacks by other animals.
In a post on its website, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada warned "Canadians travelling to Mexico should exercise a high degree of caution due to a deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country."
Athletes from 42 countries will compete in 39 sports at the Games, which run through Oct. 30.