Wearing our diversity on our jersey: How the Pan Am Games plans to deliver one of its key promises
In 2008, Toronto put forth the winning bid for hosting duties of the Pan American/Parapan American Games
, which will see more 10,000 athletes from more than 41 countries make temporary residence in the heart of the Don Valley and compete in venues all over the Golden Horseshoe. Toronto won the right to host on the condition of an audacious promise
: to deliver the most diverse Games ever to be held in the half-century-old institution's history. As essential to the preparation process as construction for the village that will house the athletes is the ongoing planning to deliver on the diversity that was such a core of the pitch.
The question is, how? The athletes themselves, drawing from a variety of regions, ethnic backgrounds, gender and sexual identities, cultures and linguistic groups on two continents, will certainly account for a good part of the Games' diversity. But with 20,000 volunteers drawn from around Southern Ontario, as well as staff and other contractors helping make things happen, organizers are trying to make sure diversity soaks through every element of the games, which run from July 10 to August 14, 2015. The games need to be as much about Toronto's diversity as the Americas'.
"We're trying to make sure that people from across the Toronto region, into the greater Golden Horseshoe, understand what opportunities exist from [an employment] perspective, and how to access them," explains Naki Osutei, the lead of diversity and inclusion for the 2015 Games. But, she adds, ensuring diversity isn't all about jobs.
"When we talk about this being the 'most diverse Games,' we're talking about the process of delivery, but also from the perspective of the experience at the games. When you check out any of the sporting events, you should see Toronto reflected in every aspect."
Harnessing Toronto's intrinsic diversity is the nucleus of the strategy Osutei and the Pan Am team have come up with, and the metrics of the project's success are largely dependent on a process of inclusion. There will be no carnivalesque Diverse-O-Meter to ding triumphantly when certain quotas have been filled to signal Optimal Diversity. Rather, the Games' plan of integration rests upon concerted outreach efforts that address—and overcome—systemic barriers of geography, class, race, sexual orientation and gender so that the truest, most broad representation of the city's socio-cultural mosaic shines through the organizational foundation of the 2015 event. The ultimate objective is to let Toronto speak for itself.
Unsurprisingly, making that happen requires some thoughtful planning.
The team behind the event's execution has been carefully assembled to be representative of every corner and crevice of the Torontonian fabric. Early initiatives highlighting the city's vast international ties are already under way. Though much is behind the scenes, some of the efforts are on public display. "Play Me, I'm Yours,"
launched in July, featuring 41 pianos scattered across the city; each piano has been painted by a professional local artist with roots in the Games' 41 represented countries. Then there is Arrivals.ca, the website-cum-artistic team responsible for installation art pieces. Its first initiative, "Fresh Eyes,"
which opened July 3 at City Hall, reflects on the experience of new Canadians in a series of transparent photos applied to the windows of city councillors offices, allowing, as the news release suggests, "our city officials to see through the eyes of a new citizen."
"It's a general feeling of well-being and connectivity that we're trying to bring," says Giselle Cole, a member of the TO2015 community engagement team. A Trinidad-born Torontonian who represented Canada in the 1980 Paralympic Games, Cole emphasizes the importance of the 2015 Games to show "diversity on many levels."
"This is our opportunity to showcase how [presentation of the games] is supposed to be done," she says.
Cole is excited to be part of an event that "acknowledges a vital part of the world" through its focus on multiple levels of diversity. She's also fond of Toronto, and sees the event as a chance to build a lasting legacy of urban infrastructure and revitalization vis-à-vis developments like the athlete's village.
Executing balanced inclusion for an event of such grand scale is a formidable undertaking, but Osutei comes well-equipped. Before joining the Pan/Parapan American Games organizing committee, she served as the vice president of strategy for the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance
, an organization that works to better the social and economic climate of the city through public, private and non-profit sector partnerships. During her time there, she co-founded DiverseCity Fellows
, a one-year development program for rising civic leaders.
While Osutei downplays the degree to which her upbringing as a first-generation Canadian (she moved to Toronto from Ghana at age two) played in leading her to her instrumental role in the Pan Am planning process, she concedes to the unique influence it had on her outlook.
"The experience of growing up in a high-rise tower in Toronto and living in a community that's densely populated with newcomers to Canada definitely gave me perspective," she says. "Just going through the trials of being new to a country, and acting as a conduit for your parents to help them understand what's happening here, because their experiences growing up are so different from yours—I think having that insight has helped me be more attuned to the kinds of challenges that people are facing."
Osutei's organizing committee aims to work around those inherent challenges, particularly issues of access. "In some cases, access to jobs comes as a result of who you know as opposed to what you know," she says. "So from our perspective, how can we make sure that as many people understand how to access the jobs here? How can we make sure that those organizations whose mandate it is to support job seekers have an understanding of what jobs are available here at the Games?" Osutei says it comes down to a dedicated outreach plan.
Thus far, the Pan Am team has assembled an array of some 20 committees to ensure community engagement, including an Aboriginal leadership partner group, an arts and culture council and an LGBTQ forum to tap into their respective communities to inform the event's planning process. Osutei explains that, while the focus thus far has been on putting these committees together, the next 12 months will shift toward implementing the communities' suggestions in concrete ways that will dictate the final look and feel of the Games, largely through a selection of small-to-medium sized business contractors and suppliers from diverse communities for the Games' provisions. Osutei sees the Games as a font of opportunity for Toronto's future.
"I've had the pleasure and privilege of working with a lot of city-building institutions," she says, "and for me, the Pan Am Games is a city-building initiative in a lot of ways." And that means much more than condos, apartments, stadiums and playing fields.
Kelli Korducki is a writer and reporter based in Toronto.
Photos: Boy playing one of the "Play Me, I'm Yours" pianos; Osutei with Elaine Roper, senior VP of HR for the Toronto Pan Am Games; Robert Daly, project manager, Iris Nemani, producer for the arts the culture initiative, and Caroline Petre, production assistant for arts and culture; Pan Am/Parapan Games offices.