Reporting From Canadian Olympic House in Montreal, Canada – On Thursday, the eve of the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) President Marcel Aubut took International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on a whistle-stop tour of Montreal in what appeared to be an attempt to drive home a single message.
Toronto wants to host the Olympic Games.
After bidding unsuccessfully for the 1996 and 2008 editions of the Games, Toronto stood back and watched the Canadian city Vancouver win and organize the 2010 Winter Games. But now it seems the city is ready to take another shot.
It’s all contingent on the success of the Pan Am Games, Toronto Mayor John Tory along with Aubut and Bach have told media in recent weeks. Aubut’s end game is clear:
“The Pan Ams would be a really good step up to get the biggest show on Earth, the Olympic Games,” he told the media in Montreal.
An IOC source said that there have very recently been discussions with Mayor Tory, and that a 2024 Games could be the first target for Toronto. The IOC nomination deadline is September 15.
Aubut and his team invited Bach to Canada Olympic Excellence Day featuring the opening of a new COC facility in Montreal, a street party and a 2,000 person luncheon featuring several dignitaries and about 200 Olympians. The Canada Olympic House will prominently display the Olympic Rings over the building – the first time the IOC has permitted this, Bach told dignitaries at the building’s ribbon cutting ceremony. The new branding rule was part of Bach’s Agenda 2020 reforms.
Perhaps to win favour for the COC and its bid for an Olympics, they uncovered the soft spot that Bach already has for Canada. At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Bach and his team won the gold medal for West Germany in fencing – an event that arguably set him up for success and his eventual leadership of the Olympic movement.
“If it wasn’t for Montreal 1976, I wouldn’t be here today,” Bach said.
In almost 40 years Bach hadn’t been back to the Montreal venue where he achieved national glory, but Aubut changed that. The Olympic fencing venue has lived out its legacy as a hockey arena at the University of Montreal and on Thursday the ice was covered with a rubber platform and a medals podium, exactly where it sat all those years ago, with the German, Italian and French flags hanging over accordingly to show the gold, silver and bronze medalists.
After being greeted by 500 singing and screaming school children, Bach entered the arena that remains almost exactly as it was during the Games. He was silent and spent minutes visually probing every corner, every wall and every other nuance of the facility. Then, with his wife by his side he watched a fencing match on the same spot here he won gold.
“I still saw the venues,” he later said.
I could have shown you the place where we won that semi-final qualifying event for the final, I could have shown you the changing rooms…” he went on.
“Many memories there were really coming back and that is for me amazing.”
He was then taken to another part of the university where he was awarded with an honorary doctorate – another nice gesture by Canadian officials. While coming up to the podium to make his remarks, a video was played showing original scenes from his Olympic victory. This was all too much for Bach who began to reminisce while struggling to hold back tears. The uncharacteristic emotion for Bach had him gushing about the University of Montreal and his Canadian memories.
“It was a really special and really moving moment,” he said about his return to the fencing venue.
“It was a great feeling of joy and it was also a very sad moment,” he continued and described the recent passing of his teammate that he competed with at the Games.
The doctorate, a trip down memory lane, a huge street festival on a Thursday evening to celebrate his visit – and earlier in the day he was given a key to the city of Montreal by Mayor Dennis Coderre, and named an honorary citizen. This was quite a reception for the IOC President who has been in office for less than two years.
When pressed about a Toronto bid Bach answered “we have seen even in Montreal in what the Olympic Games can do for the city and development of sport, now we see great enthusiasm there in Toronto and we can only encourage there with the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Mayor and the community of Toronto to study these questions very carefully and a successful Pan Am Games of course can help.”
Toronto had considered a 2020 Olympic bid but then Mayor Rob Ford was against the idea and last year a city council vote also trashed a 2024 bid. But Ford lost a subsequent election and the new city council seems more in favour, especially after organizing the Pan Am Games, and it could overturn last years vote.
In 2007, Rio de Janiero successfully hosted the Pan Am Games then immediately launched a campaign for the 2016 Olympic Games, which it won. This is the vision for Toronto.
Paris, Rome, Hamburg and Budapest are in the race for the 2024 Games along with a shaky Boston campaign where a poll Thursday revealed 53 percent are against hosting the Games. Baku, recent host of the first European Games is likely to enter the race soon. Toronto’s plans are still in the air, just like the rings that were raised above Canada Olympic House.
Bach will be in Toronto Friday night to attend the Pan Am Games Opening Ceremony.