The 2015 Pan Am Games are slated to take place July 10-26 in Toronto, followed by the Parapan Am Games, which run August 7-15. The Games will bring thousands of athletes, spectators and volunteers to Toronto and the surrounding area for a variety of summer sporting events. Between the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, 57 different sports will be played over the course of the three weeks that the Games take place. The city of Toronto hopes that the Games will have a positive impact on the area and leave a lasting legacy far after they end. Here are some of the highlights associated with the Games:
WOMEN'S BASEBALL DEBUT
The 2015 Pan Am Games mark the first time that women's baseball will be an official sport in a major multisport competition. Five teams comprised of 18 players each representing Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela will compete over the course of six days.
Players are happy to finally earn recognition for their sport and are hopeful that the media spotlight will quell some confusion. "Maybe after the Pan Am Games, people will stop asking me 'Isn't it softball you play, like underhand pitching?'" Vanessa Riopel, a 25-year-old teacher who will play for Canada in the Games, told The Globe and Mail.
The women participating in this year's Games want to show younger girls that it is possible to play baseball and hope that it will inspire growth in the sport now that it is receiving international attention. Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Ashley Stephenson, 32, a third baseman from Burlington, Ont., said, "Participation in the Olympics set off a wildfire of young girls playing hockey in Canada, and now we have a different stage of our own, the Pan Am Games, to show girls that if they love baseball, there are opportunities to play it internationally."
The first women's baseball games take place July 20.
DONORS PURCHASE TICKETS FOR KIDS
A program called "Friends of the Games" is providing children in underserved communities with an opportunity to attend this year's Games. Developed by the Toronto Foundation, the program plans to allocate approximately 10 percent of the available tickets for the Games to kids.
Donors can purchase "Friends of the Games" packages for $100,000 each. Each package buys 3,900 tickets for charitable organizations that can distribute them to youths 16 and under, as well as chaperones. The program's goal is to sell 22 of these packages by the time the Games begin.
The CEO of the Toronto Foundation, Rahul Bhardwaj, hopes the program inspires the youths who experience the events to realize their potential. He told the Toronto Star, "It's about helping people raise their eyes up to what the possibilities are...for young people to see other young people who have worked hard and achieved."
Bhardwaj wants future host cities to see the program and hopefully adopt one of their own. "I'm hoping this could be a model for other cities," he says. "I hope when they are thinking about their Pan Am games they will think about doing something like this as well."
A number of new venues and new infrastructure were constructed for the Games, and once the Games end, many of these venues will continue to be used for sports and events. Organizers of the Games expect these venues to have positive impacts on their communities.
Mattamy National Cycling Centre, Canada's first velodrome built to International Cycling Union Standards, will be making its debut in Milton. Only the second in North America, the velodrome will also function as a recreation center for the community, with three multi-use courts in the infield that can accommodate basketball and volleyball, as well as a walking track located on the spectator level.
The Athletes' Village, situated on Toronto's waterfront district, will host 10,000 athletes and coaches over the course of the Games and, following the Games, become condos and townhomes. It will also have a YMCA for community use.
Infrastructure such as the Union-Pearson Express rail link was added to the Toronto area for use during the Games and after. The train runs from Union Station in Toronto to Pearson Airport. Additionally, transit services in the area, including trains and buses, have been improved in anticipation of the Games.
Laura Godlewski is editorial assistant at Athletic Business.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "MORE THAN MERE GAMES"