In a few weeks, the 2015 Pan Am Games will commence in Toronto, drawing in over 6,000 athletes from 41 countries. To date, millions have been invested in advertising, festivals and concerts, in an effort to stir up excitement for the summer games. Hoping this energy will translate into more ticket sales, Toronto Mayor John Tory made an appeal for “an even greater dose of enthusiasm” among city residents. But alongside the parties and athletic competition, there exists a side to Pan Am which directly undermines the interests of Torontonians. Big business, city council and the provincial Liberal government have conceived a budget for the games that effectively privatizes all the profits at the expense of working class people.
Thus far, the budget for the games sits at $2.57 billion dollars, a price tag nearly twice the original estimate of $1.4 billion. And while the games are set to be the largest multinational event in Canadian history, its costs have been financed mostly by the hard earned tax dollars of Canadians whose calls for affordable housing and living wages have fallen on the deaf ears of their elected officials.
Who Really Wins in These Games?
One of the largest stakeholders for the games is Pan Am CEO Saad Rafi whose annual salary is $428,794 (a pension equal to this annual salary is also promised to him at the end of his contract). However, he’s not the only one expected to benefit. By the time the games begin, Canadians will have paid close to $21 million to 17 executives on Pan Am’s organization committee. These exuberant salaries are being staunchly defended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne who is also offering $7 million in bonuses for 64 executives.
When Ian Troop (former Pan Am CEO) was fired in 2013 over an expense scandal – which included charging tax-payers for things like Starbucks tea and a 91-cent parking fee – Wynne said “I believe that it is the kind of entitlement that is unacceptable. I don’t believe it should happen.” But for all the outrage Wynne displayed for reporters, there is now evidence she is just as complicit in facilitating the “unacceptable.” When Troop was eventually let go for his actions, he still walked away with a severance package of $534,800. This abuse of tax dollars echoes the spending nightmare of the 1976 Olympics, a debt which Montreal was only able to finally pay off a few years ago!
At the same time, these leaders insist that working class people must tighten their belts and accept austerity. Throughout the past year, the Ontario government – burdened by a $12.5 billion budget deficit – has consistently outlined a ‘net-zero’ target to wage increases amongst public sector workers. And yet this same government is prepared to throw billions of dollars on a party that mostly benefits corporations. Such a glaring contradiction speaks to the government’s priorities, which ultimately represents a rich minority.
Aware of the possibility of discontent, elected officials have decided to spare no costs to silence public protests. Pan Am organizers have designated a whopping $239 million security budget which includes a massive policing force – serviced mostly by private security firms. This brings back memories of repressive policing tactics used during the G20 protests and the Occupy movement. Rallies have been held across the city calling for “shelters, not spectacle” as people vocalize their frustration with all three levels of government. In a city facing an affordable housing crisis, skyrocketing transit costs and an assault on trade unions, there is a growing demand for a change from the status quo.
The Game’s True ‘Legacy Project’
The Wynne government has also invested $709 million into the Athletes’ Village. This not only contributes to Toronto's overinflated condo bubble, but also is an insult to the 83,000 residents currently on the waiting list for affordable housing. Indeed, after the games, 800 of these units will be sold at market value prices, while only 100 units will be considered for affordable ownership and a mere 253 units will operate as affordable rental units.
Mayor Tory has embraced the project, saying “when I use the word 'miracle,' if you go back and look at what people were saying about this very site that we're standing on today 20 years ago, I think it's a miracle we're standing here today.” Indeed it is a miracle, but for Tory’s rich investor friends who will be the ones collecting the profits.
This trumpeted “generosity” in the form of condo developments is occurring just as the city is planning on closing six homeless shelters in the downtown core (and near tourist hotspots). This will limit access to important social services for a vulnerable homeless population as they are driven out of the city. Sadly, this process of shelter closures has already begun.
Just last April, Hope Shelter was forced to close its 124 beds due to a lack of city funding and its inability to meet the maintenance costs of their building. While there has been vague discussion on relocating the shelter, it seems unlikely that an alternative location will materialize. Despite the rise of homelessness in Toronto, the general manager of Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) is calling for the liquidation of downtown shelters, citing the “pressure created by a rising real estate market.” The same politicians and city officials lauding the Pan Am projects have no intention of solving the crisis of housing affordability, and are actively contributing to it.
Sports without Capitalism!
The Pan Am Games should be a celebration of life and athleticism, and for the athletes and fans it may well end up being a great event. But under capitalism, every good thing is distorted and leads to a further transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. The Pan Am Games represent a massive siphoning of public funds into the pockets of big business. Developers walk away rich, while ordinary working class people pay the price.
The very framework of the Pan Am games is a reflection of the domination of the profit-motive in society. It does not have to be this way. If public funds are utilized to build the Athletes’ Village, then all of these units must be made available to solve the housing crisis. Attendance at the venues must be made free so that the poor can enjoy the celebration rather than be moved out in another round of “social cleansing.” The Pan Am facilities must be made available to working class youth on an ongoing basis, with the necessary training, so that all can participate. A socialist approach to the games means sports for all. Capitalism means profits for the rich minority, while the majority only loses.