Architectural rendering of the new Aquatics Centre coming to UTSC. Architectural rendering of the new Aquatics Centre coming to UTSC.

On November 6, Toronto beat out Lima, Peru, and Bogota, Colombia, in its bid to host the 2015 Pan American Games. The Games are scheduled to take place from July 10 to 26, 2015. Thirty countries will participate in up to 36 different sporting events.

U of T’s central position in the city means that it will play a major role in these games. University resources will be widely used throughout the two weeks. To accommodate the events, new aquatics facilities are planned for UTSC, including the high-performance Pan American Aquatics Center. St. George is slated to see major renovations to the Varsity Arena, two new artificial grass fields on the back campus, and the construction of the Goldring Center for High Performance Sport.

The Games, and these developments in particular, have elicited significant controversy. An association called No Games Toronto (NGT) has provided some of the most vocal opposition. NGT spokesperson Joeita Gupta is also on the U of T Governing Council, and she is especially concerned about the university’s role in the affair.

“It seems absurd,” says Gupta, “that the university administration would be compensating for lower endowments by raising class sizes, increasing tuition fees, and planning to cut vital programs, while at the same time pledging millions of dollars towards a two-week bonanza. This means that whatever the administration cannot procure will have to come out of the pockets of students.”

Gupta points out that there is already a referendum planned for March 2010, asking UTSC students to pay for all operational costs of the new facilities through mandatory levies.

NGT is also concerned that the proposed Goldring Center will displace the office of the Association for Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), on 100 Devonshire Place. This will be the second eviction faced by APUS. Students and staff of the association are worried that it will severely affect their ability to function effectively.

Supporters of the 2015 Pan-Am Games, however, believe that the benefits will be worth any immediate shortcomings.

Laura Matthews, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at UTSC, considers the games a chance for the university to improve on multiple fronts. “Current UTSC facilities are designed for only 4,000 students, whereas the campus has 10,000 students,” she says. “It has constantly been one of our major deficiencies. For years, we were in conversation with the city of Toronto, to see if we could combine common interests. The Pan Am Games provided a perfect opportunity. Now, instead of suffering a blow to its resources, UTSC will gain valuable government funding, and only pay $7.5 million of the $170 million needed to put up much-needed facilities.

“Plus, these facilities will become legacies far beyond the games. There will be new career and academic options: graduate Physical Education students will be able to get hands-on research experience, and UTSC is considering using the new resources to initiate a Co-Op Program in Sports Management.”

These sentiments are echoed by Bruce Kidd, Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health. “My colleagues and I have been a part of the Pan-Am Bid right from the start, and are overjoyed with the decision,” says Kidd. “There will be a huge boost to student life.”

Kidd underlines that the Pan Am facilities will be for all members of the university community: “As a rule, we allocate UofT resources to students 75% of the time and to outside groups only 25% of the time. That will be the case for any new facilities on campus. Even the principal outside groups will be Canadian and Ontario-carded athletes, some of whom are UofT students, and school and community groups, such as the Toronto Sport and Social Club.”

But NGT and other opponents of the Pan Am Games are adamant that the costs associated with the event are simply too high. They believe that government and university funds will be spread too thin to devote sufficient attention to student-life and equity issues.

“Whatever supposed benefits there are will only affect a very specific segment of the student body,” says Gupta. “It is likely that the revenue that UofT gains from all the real-estate will just be reinvested into the stock market. I doubt whether those students who need institutional support will have anything to gain from such superfluous spending.”

Despite the controversy, the Pan Am Games are scheduled to go on as planned. Construction of new facilities at both the Scarborough and St. George campuses will begin in the very near future.

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  • Subtitle: U of T site of future athletic facilities: students may pay the bill
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