Big Games, Bigger Scandals! A Look at Toronto’s Pan-Am Games

Award-winning journalist Nick Fillmore discusses his latest reporting into the “gross public over-spending” associated with the Pan-Am games.

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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

As the 2015 Pan-American Games wrap up this summer in Toronto an accounting of the costs of those games has been offered by our next guest, Nick Fillmore, and there appears to be a lot to cause concern. In a new piece published recently by the Huffington Post titled The Pan-Am Games Have Been an Exercise in Gross Public Overspending, Fillmore seems to have touched on an issue we’ve seen raised elsewhere related to world cups and Olympics.

Fillmore is an award-winning journalist based in Toronto, from where he now joins us. Welcome, Nick Fillmore, to the Real News Network.

NICK FILLMORE, JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.

BALL: So if we could, let’s start there. Tell us about this overspending, and is this similar to other big game scandals we’ve seen and heard about related to World Cups and Olympics recently?

FILLMORE: Yes, I think it is. Very few of them manage to ever get near to breaking even to the amount of money they say they will spend. In the beginning we had a budget of $1.5 billion. Now that’s gone up by an extra $1.1 billion, and I think it could actually double by the time they’re over.

Two or three things have occurred. The first director of the games was appointed by Rob Ford, kind of a notorious former mayor you may know of. And he was fired later one, and just–budgets were just not done properly and things have escalated, and they’ve been able to slow the process down.

BALL: So you write in this piece–first of all, if we could just take a quick second for those who may not be aware. The Pan-Am Games are similar to the Summer Olympics track and field events. And tell us very quickly, they’re held every year or ever four years. And of course they’re meant to be, to include all those in the Americas.

FILLMORE: That’s right, 41 countries from the Americas. And pretty well all of the same events that are in the Olympics.

I suppose it should be said that while there are financial questions the games in terms of Canada are going off quite well. They’re quite popular. It’s really interesting that Canada actually beat the United States in Baseball a couple of days ago. So the games are very popular here.

BALL: And you–well, speaking of their popularity you talk a little bit about the perks and the benefits to the elite. So I’m wondering initially what is the impact, materially, on the people there in the city, and more broadly speaking in Canada as a whole?

FILLMORE: Well, the media here is not really talking about the deficit at this stage. It’s all pretty much celebration because Canadian athletes are doing so well. But it’s going to come very, very hard and heavy once the games are over when the final tabulations are done.

I could give you a little bit–I have to look at my figures here, give you a bit of an idea. Some of the things that have happened. For instance, we have an athlete’s village that has cost $709 million, and that provides only a couple of hundred apartments in it. We have Hamilton, which is a city not too far away from Toronto. It has built–they’ve built a huge soccer stadium. And the cost of it over $6,000 a seat for the accommodations there. A mascot, a porcupine that doesn’t look much like a porcupine. They’ve spent $308,000 on this little guy already, with contracts for the design and all of those kinds of things.

BALL: But Ned Fillmore, we often hear when we hear about these things new stadiums and infrastructure being built. We often hear that this is going to bring jobs to the local community, it’s going to increase revenue, it’s going to help working people, it’s going to help the poor. Is that not the case there in Toronto?

FILLMORE: Well, the hotels and the restaurants are complaining that this has not turned out to be much of a boost for them. It just hasn’t happened, and we only have six days of the regular games left.

Now, I think it’s interesting–that’s an interesting question, because if you compare the $3 billion this might end up being, the budget for the entire city of Toronto per year is $11 billion. And Toronto in a recent survey has the worst child poverty in all of Canada. There are more young poor children here than anywhere else. We do have a lot of issues. There are health issues of poor people on the streets, not enough housing. There’s a big backlog for public housing. So all of these kids of things right now are being kind of ignored, but as I say a little later on this year it’s going to come back to haunt some people.

BALL: And very finally Nick Fillmore, you talk a little bit about the elite that truly benefit from these games. Could you quickly tell us a little bit about who they are and how they’re benefiting?

FILLMORE: There’s a former premier of Ontario is the chairman of the project. And yes, this just seems to have moved in among an elite group of people who have taken this on. And they actually say in some places that an effort to make Toronto a world-class city is one of the objectives. And they did some repairs in one of the big buildings that cost over $3-4 million dollars to fix the floors. And they said at the time, this is important to keep our image up.

So people next–in four years from now the games go to Peru, and I hope this might be seen as a bit of a warning for folks in Peru when it comes down there.

BALL: Well Nick Fillmore, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network and updating us on what’s actually happening with the Pan-Am Games.

FILLMORE: Thank you.

BALL: And thank you for joining us out there in the Real News Audience. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as always as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.