NEWS
10/27/2011 01:33 EDT | Updated 12/27/2011 05:12 EST

TO2015 officials studying every aspect of Pan American Games in Guadalajara

GUADALAJARA, Mexico - A half-dozen Toronto 2015 officials follow a guide through the bowels of the Scotiabank aquatic centre in Guadalajara, jotting down notes and snapping photos of everything from the position of television cameras to the number and size of the scoreboards.

In all, some two dozen 2015 planners are poking their heads into every imaginable corner of Mexico's Pan American Games, looking to soak up as much local intel as possible.

On this day's agenda: a trip to the aquatic centre, and presentations on media and food services.

"Our objective is to learn as much as we can about Guadalajara, so we can be in a position to take the good things we learn and roll it forward into our Games," said Ian Troop, CEO of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games organizing committee.

"We've done a lot of planning, so it's a good time for us to look at what our theoretical plan is and say: how does it work in practice? It's a very important time for us to be here."

Other presentations have included security, transportation, marketing, and the "spectator experience" — the Toronto officials entered the venue as would-be spectators, checking out everything from the accessibility to their seats, to the concession lineups, to the price of the pink plush mascot at the souvenir stand.

The food services seminar focused on the athletes village where up to 8,000 athletes and coaches are served three meals a day in a dining hall that seats 2,700. Some days are busier than others, and long lineups have caused some grief.

"They've been very frank in what went well and what didn't go well," Troop said.

Athletes are provided with box meals when they leave the village.

"It's a very substantial food operation. . . it's a very large number of people to feed," said Allen Vansen, TO2015's senior vice-president, operations. "And athletes obviously want to eat a lot and eat healthy food, and it's important to make sure you provide that right meal program and in the right variations."

The most common observation from the dining hall: the tables and chairs, like most of the rest of the chunky furniture in the village, are made of layered pieces of cardboard. The athletes claim it's comfortable, if a bit odd. The only concern was early on when Hurricane Jova caused some minor flooding in the village, and led to the demise of a handful of chairs.

Along with members of the TO2015 organizing committee — who stand out at events in their tropical coloured orange, blue and green golf shirts — representatives from the City of Toronto, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, GO Transit, Metrolinx, and the Toronto Police Service are in town as observers.

Troop praised Guadalajara's ability to finish the venues in time for the opening after harsh criticism about delays. The track and field stadium was approved just days before the opening, and the lane markers painted on a week before competition.

Frederico Torres, director of press operations for COPAG — Guadalajara's organizing committee — issued a stern warning to TO2015 officials.

"Do not forget about checking the calendar to make sure the days don't pass by and you find things accumulate at the end," Torres told them at the seminar on media. "Try to resolve things quickly, because quite frankly good friends, time flies."

Troop was happy to announce Friday that they'd signed their lead sponsor. TO2015 signed an a multi-million dollar, four-year deal with CIBC.

Still, the Toronto Pan Am boss has spent a good chunk of his trip to Guadalajara defending plans for the Toronto Games after several media reports claimed they had fallen well behind schedule.

Reports claimed that the location of 25 per cent of the venues was still to be determined, but Troop argued that number is closer to five per cent. The cycling velodrome, plus baseball and softball and shooting have yet to be finalized.

"Never have I taken so much grief over something that is so untrue," Troop said. "Our venues are right where we need to be. We have five major builds, we expect to have designated builders determined early in the New Year, construction is starting in 2012, they'll be ready in 2014 for test events.

"We're right on track with where we need to be, and we'll have these venues with test events so they will be great venues in 2015."

The bigger challenge may be getting the people of Toronto to support the Games in a city with so much else going on. Guadalajara has embraced their Games, with long lineups for tickets and noisy, crowded venues.

"Just here, this is a preliminary event, on a Wednesday morning, and it's full," says Michael Williams, general manager of economic development and culture for the City of Toronto. He was watching diving. "And it's not packed with students. It's a very impressive attendance here."

In Toronto, the Games will fight for attention with the Blue Jays and Argonauts, street festivals and concerts.

"It's about getting everybody to buy in and be a part of it and make it their Games rather than the city's Games or the organizers' Games, to try to make it the local citizens,'" said Williams. "I think that's going to be a bit of a challenge, because I don't think Pan Am Games have traditionally been a highlight of Toronto's sport experiences.

"To get on the front page of the sports section let alone the front page of the newspaper, or the lead item on a TV or radio broadcast, it's going to be a challenge for media folks."

What's impressed Troop the most is the festive feel Guadalajara has injected into these Games. Mariachi bands entertain spectators at sporting events, the city is draped in colourful bright blue signage, there are giant three-dimensional boxing gloves punching out of the wall of the main press centre, and upside-down legs of a synchronized swim team dancing in a downtown fountain.

"They put a great face on the Games," Troop said. "It's clear there's a major event happening here. I think the Mexican fans have been terrific. I was at baseball (Tuesday) night, Canada versus U.S. and it was filled with Mexican fans and they were very engaged, very involved."

TO2015 officials hope to benefit from the cultural diversity of Toronto.

"We are the most multicultural city in the world," said city Coun. Mark Grimes. "All these countries who are here today, they're represented living in Toronto so it's going to be really neat to gather up that energy and bring it to Toronto."