TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto greeted the opening of the 2015 Pan Am Games with a mix of annoyance and indifference on Friday as concern about traffic, ticket sales and money spent weighed on a city that would have rather been hosting the Olympics.
The July 10-26 Pan Ams will be the largest multi-sport event held in Canada as nearly 7,000 athletes from across South and Central America, the Caribbean and North America compete in 36 sports.
But the Pan Ams lack the prestige of a Summer Olympics, which Toronto unsuccessfully bid for in 1996 and 2008, and the response of the locals in Canada’s largest city shows it.
“I just hope the city makes a profit, that’s all. It seems like every time there’s an event like this, it ends up costing money,” said retired Toronto businessman Joseph Cassar, 65, enjoying the sun a few blocks from the downtown stadium where the opening ceremonies were to be held later on Friday.
“I hope it puts Toronto on the map a bit. It’s just the traffic I‘m worried about.”
Ticket sales have been slower than organizers hoped, with sellouts only for high-profile sports such as swimming and gymnastics. Plenty of seats were still on offer for newer or more obscure events, including roller-blade figure skating, wake boarding and bowling.
Pan Am Games Chairman David Peterson said about 850,000 of the 1.2 million tickets available had been sold and that 90 percent were expected to have been taken by the end of competition. Complaints about traffic and tickets are par for the course, he said.
“This always happens in every Games, Olympics or otherwise. It happened in London, it happened in Vancouver. But ... once the Games start, you can see all the positives wash out the negatives.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said his view of the city making a third Olympic bid will be based in part on how it handles the Pan Ams, has scolded residents for moaning and groaning about traffic problems instead of celebrating the opportunity to host the Americas.
The loudest complaints so far have come from commuters annoyed by traffic restrictions implemented before the Games even began, including high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes that give preference to athletes and cars with at least three occupants.
Toronto police this week charged a driver who tried to use two fully dressed mannequins to fool his way into a HOV lane to beat traffic, while former Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted to using the HOV lanes even when he was alone in his car.
“These HOV lanes are a complete disaster,” he told reporters later, unapologetic.
Some who hope to attend the Games say ticketing glitches have made planning difficult.
“The system is tricky. It’s not clear when some tickets are being released, and some that we tried to get in December, we still don’t know if we’ll get them,” said Sheila Warren, a downtown office worker who plans to attend some rugby and archery competitions.
Retired businessman Cassar was content with a lukewarm approach to the Games. He plans to stay off the roads, take public transit, and watch the events on television. Why not buy some tickets and see it in person?
“It’s not the Olympics,” he said with a shrug.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway