Niagara’s bid for the 2021 Canada Summer Games

As Canada gets set to celebrate their 150th anniversary, the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is getting set to host the 2017 Canada Summer Games, which also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the games. The high level multi-sport games are similar to a Canadian version of the Olympic Games. Being hosted every two years, the summer games and the winter games run on four year cycles.

The first games were held back in 1967 in Quebec City as a part of Canada’s centennial celebration. Instead of every country competing, as they would in the Olympics, each province and territory puts their own teams of high-performance athletes together. At the last games back in 2015, which were the winter games held in Prince George, British Columbia,  the province of Quebec took the gold medal as they racked up a total of 141 medals, including 62 gold. Ontario brought home the silver medal with 112 medals, and British Columbia got bronze with 88 medals.

After the 2017 games are finished, the spotlight will focus on Red Deer, Alberta, who will host the 2019 winter games. Then, things will switch back to the summer for 2021. On March 30 of this year, Canada Games will announce their final decision on who will host the 2021 Summer Games.

On February 28, the bid evaluation committee visited Brock University as part of a Niagara Region tour, who have put forward a bid to host the games. The committee also visited other places in the area such as the Henley Regatta, Niagara Falls and the Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines, which Niagara has announced will host the opening ceremonies if they were awarded the games.

If the games were to take place in Niagara, Brock would be the official athletes village, where athletes would stay throughout the event. In January, Brock announced that they had partnered with other agencies to support the Niagara group, and would host 2,400 athletes to make use of residences, dining halls and other services on campus.

When the Niagara Regional Council had a vote on whether or not to move forward with a bid for the games, the council voted 27-1 in favour of the bid. The lone opposer was St. Catharines councillor Andy Petrowski.

Petrowski, who took backlash from the community and other councillors last August for posting homophobic comments on his Twitter page, expressed his reasoning for voting no by saying that a region with so many other problems, such as a mental health and drug crisis, it would be a disappointment to the taxpayers to spend over $10 million on the games. He also pointed out that the region is over half a billion dollars in debt.

Doug Hamilton, the chair of the bidding committee for Niagara, was quick to rebut Petrowski’s points by giving evidence that the strategic plans of past Canada Games have proven to be successful and have put on profitable games for nearly 50 years. The current economic plan for the 2021 games shows the games have the potential to generate a $200 million dollar economic impact for the Niagara Region.

However, there is some stiff competition for the games, as Niagara must go head to head with several other Ontario regions who are also looking to host the games. The other cities that are in the running to host are Ottawa, Sudbury and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge.

The bid evaluation committee made stops through each region, and each host city put on a day of celebration by bringing out thousands of locals who are in favour of the games. The Niagara visit on March 1 was the final stop for the committee, who now have all of March to make their final decision.

Although there are many good things that each region could bring by hosting the games, there are several reasons suggesting the Niagara Region might have an advantage over the other competitors

“I just think Ottawa is too big of a city,” said Brock Sport Management professor, Rachel Corbett. “Niagara offers so much more tourism wise [as well].”

On top of expressing her hopes that the Niagara Region is awarded the games, Corbett touched on how the games would be a great fit with somewhere such as Sudbury. If you look at the history of the host cities, the Canada Games tend to go to smaller cities/regions where people might not visit normally. Places such as Saguenay and Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec (1983), Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador (1999) and Bathurst and Campbellton, New Brunswick (2003) have all hosted the games in the past. With Sudbury being the most remote location out of the four bidding regions, it fits that pattern well.

Although the events are mostly planned out by Canada Games themselves, the host does get some say on how things play out logistically. The sports being played at the games are chosen by a committee, however they do leave one option that can be decided by the host.

For the 2021 games the events take place in 17 days over an 18 day period, and will include approximately 4,800 athletes. The sports being played include both male and female beach volleyball, basketball, CanoeKayak, rowing, road cycling, wrestling and soccer. In order to even be considered for selection, the national sport organization for the specific sport must be active in more than 50 per cent of the provinces and territories in Canada.

“The reason a sport like lacrosse has never been able to make it into the Canada Games is because it’s just not popular across all of Canada,” said Corbett. “It is extremely popular in places like Ontario and British Columbia, but it’s just not there in most provinces.”

The popularity of the sport is not the only criteria used in the sport selection process. The committee must also consider the inclusion of athletes with disabilities. The current policy surrounding para-sport is that five per cent of the total number of athletes participating in the games must have a disability. The 2021 Summer Games will include three sports that will have events for athletes for disabilities – sailing, athletics and swimming. The latter two will also have events for Special Olympians.

Once the host city is selected, they will be given the choice on the final sport that they select. For 2021, the host city gets their choice between Rugby 7’s male or Rugby 7’s female. Rugby 7’s would be a great fit for Niagara with increasing popularity in the sport over the past several years.

The biggest attraction that Niagara has to offer though surrounds water sports such as rowing. With an abundance of facilities in the region, there are many options as to where the water sports could be played. The region has the Henley Regatta, the Welland International Flatwater Centre and Lake Erie in close proximity.

Looking at the list of selected sports, which can be found at canadagames.ca, Niagara seems like a great fit facility-wise for many of them. Taking advantage of facilities such as Alumni Field and Bob Davis Gymnasium, Brock could play host to sports such as soccer, basketball and indoor volleyball. After another U Sports Championship from the Brock Wrestling teams this year, there is no better place to host wrestling events.

The problem with wrestling as it stands now, is the University does not have a specific facility that is dedicated to it. They currently compete inside of Ian Beddis Gymnasium, but with limited seating, it could cause an issue at a large scale event such as the Canada Games.

That is why the Niagara region is proposing the creation of a multi-purpose athletic, health and well-being facility on Brock’s campus to use in the games. If accepted, the facility would be built in Thorold across from Merrittville Highway on Brock’s property. The facility would include three stories including an accessible gym, as well as a second floor wrestling and martial arts facility and several health and wellness facilities.

There could be other facilities built and/or improved if Niagara wins the right to host and they receive their funding from the federal, provincial and municipal governments. When all’s said and done, they should have approximately a $40 million budget to spend on facilities and other parts of the games. On top of the $30 million that will be received from all levels of government combined, the host city is also given $3 million from the Canada Games itself to spend towards the event.

The Canada Games, according to their strategic plan, have a vision of being a “premium, nation-building, multi-sport event that enrich Canadian culture and create lasting legacies”. Niagara’s plan for the 2021 games would include a unique cultural experience that implements this portion of the Canada Games vision.

The plan would be to match up each of the provinces/territories with a local municipality that is taking part in the games. An example would be matching Quebec with Welland, due to the francophone history in Welland. Each municipality would then host events to show off the unique culture of each province and territory.

Director of Brock Sports, Neil Lumsden, is hopeful that Niagara is awarded the games as he believes Niagara and the Canada Summer Games are a great fit.

“I think [Niagara] is a perfect fit given what this Region has to offer and that a true legacy will be left as a result of the games, the timing is perfect as we see both growth in the Region and the growth in sport in our Region and at Brock University.”

When the decision is announced on March 30 at Hart House in Toronto on who will host the 2021 Canada Summer Games, the Niagara region will know whether or not they will be given the chance to run the large scale event four years from now. Until then, all Niagara can do is wait and hope that the bid evaluation committee was impressed with what the region has to offer.

 

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