Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Four years till... Canada Games

Winnipeg awarded 2017 competition

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Together there were dancing children, bouncing mascots and adults in the sharp suits all sharing the same big smile under the canopy at The Forks Friday afternoon.

The reason for the celebration: sport, specifically the announcement Winnipeg will be the official host for the 2017 Canada Summer Games. The tap on the shoulder was merely a formality, as Winnipeg was the only host considered once Brandon's bid was rejected by the Canada Games Council (CGC) late last year.

The provincial government, not wanting to lose the Games to another province, asked the CGC for extra time so the local organizing committee could throw together a new, Winnipeg proposal. Once that was granted, things quickly came together.

"It's absolutely perfect for us," CGC chairman Tom Quinn said of having the 2017 Games in Winnipeg.

"The facilities, the experience of the organizing committee and the support of (government) -- from a Canada Games Council perspective, we're very comfortable."

Quinn talked about how important the games are for the amateur community in the country, and the positive effect they have on a global level. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 47 per cent of Canadian athletes cut their teeth through the Canada Games program.

It's this impression on the field, in the pool, and on the track that has Jeff Hnatiuk, president and CEO of Sport Manitoba, the development agency for amateur sport in the province, grinning from ear to ear, too.

"(The Canada Games) heightens the awareness of our athletes and it gives them an opportunity to compete on their home turf, which could be a big advantage for some," Hnatiuk said. "It really raises the profile for sport, which is so important for those athletes on the cusp of taking that next step."

As the party anthems continued to rock under the main canopy Friday, Hnatiuk focused on the big-picture aspect regarding the Games and the community. Not only will the amateur athletes get a chance to succeed on home soil in 2017, the event should also leave a mark in terms of increased venue support and the quality of amateur coaching in the province.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz identified the Games as a "phenomenal opportunity" for the city, and said he's pleased thousands of out-of-province visitors (approximately 5,000 athletes and coaches; 20,000 people overall) will descend on the Manitoba capital. Katz cited the $130-million return Halifax brought in from hosting the 2011 Canada Winter Games, but in the next breath said Winnipeg should bring in more than that.

Katz also said some existing sporting venues in the city will receive upgrades, though he wasn't specific as to which ones are at the front of the line. The mayor also expects a "legacy project" will be a part of the Games, a venue that, according to Katz, will be determined soon.

The 2017 Summer Games should carry some extra ceremony, too. Not only will the year celebrate Canada's 150th birthday but it will also mark the 50th anniversary of the games.

Manitoba last hosted the Canada Summer Games in 1997 (Brandon). The 2013 Canada Summer Games are in Sherbrooke, Que., Aug. 2-17.

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 B2

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