This July, world-class athletes from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean will descend on Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, to compete in the third-largest international sports competition, the 2015 Pan American (Pan Am) Games. Surpassed in size only by the Summer Olympics and the Asian Games, the quadrennial event will feature baseball, wakeboarding, waterskiing, roller skating, rugby sevens, and squash, in addition to the traditional Olympic sports.
The first Pan Am Games were held in Buenos Aires in 1951, where 22 countries participated. This year, more than 6,000 athletes from 41 countries in the Americas will take part. More than just an opportunity for regional bragging rights, the Games, governed by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), will also serve the dual purpose of qualifying athletes in more than 15 sports, such as men’s water polo, gymnastics and diving, for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Cirque du Soleil, perhaps Canada’s most iconic cultural export, will kick off the two-week XVII Pan American Games with a performance on July 10. The Games promise to put Toronto’s culturally diverse population of more than 230 ethnic groups and nationalities on display. “Our plan is to ignite the spirit [not only] through a celebration of sport but also a celebration of art and culture,” says Teddy Katz, the games’ director of media relations.
But the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games go beyond athletic competition and regional culture. According to the Organizing Committee, the event aims to leave a sustainable legacy for the local community. The CIBC Athlete’s Village will serve as a mixed-use neighborhood with affordable housing, new condominiums, a YMCA, and a university dormitory to be enjoyed long after the athletes go home. And of course, there will be plenty of venues for sports-mad Torontonians to enjoy for years to come.