Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brandon never in the race

Failure to win bid for Canada Games indicates event may have outgrown its usefulness

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BRANDON -- How do you lose a one-horse race?

It's a question many Brandonites are asking after learning Brandon's bid to host the 2017 Canada Games has been rejected -- this despite the fact Brandon was the only community that submitted a bid.

It's a blow to not only the Wheat City's ego, but to the local economy as well.

The Games would have provided an estimated $100 million in economic spinoffs for Brandon and would have elevated the city's national profile through dozens of hours of television visibility. They would have also covered much of the costs of much-needed upgrades to recreation facilities and infrastructure.

Canada Games president and CEO Sue Hylland says Brandonites should not be surprised Brandon's bid was rejected. "There were numerous issues of non-compliance," she says. "The problems were pointed out during the technical review last June. They were repeated again after the bid was submitted and during the technical evaluation in September.

"We cannot compromise the integrity of the Games. It was a message we kept repeating to them."

Foremost among the issues was the pool that would have hosted the Games' aquatic events. Brandon's Sportsplex pool has six lanes for competitive swimming. That was sufficient when Brandon hosted the 1997 Canada Games, but the Swim Canada standard is now eight lanes, and there is no wiggle room.

"Even in June, we knew that they were concerned about a couple of things, the pool and the athletes' village in particular," says Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst says.

"We hoped we could come up with a compromise, but it was never in the cards that Brandon could build an eight-lane pool. There is no need for a pool that size in Brandon and the ongoing operating costs would be far too much."

What happens to the Games, now that Brandon's bid has been rejected?

"We know the Manitoba government doesn't want to lose the Games. There's too much benefit," says Hylland.

"We've given Manitoba until Jan. 30 to come back with a compliant bid from somewhere, to come up with a plan. We require written confirmation of its intent to host the 2017 Games in full compliance with applicable standards."

The only way to comply with those standards is for Winnipeg to host the Games, as it is the only Manitoba community with an eight-lane pool.

There's a problem with that option, however -- Winnipeg city council has already decided it isn't interested in hosting the Games.

Winnipeg has hosted the Pan Am Games twice, and the Canada Games are apparently viewed by some inside the perimeter as small potatoes, the $100-million economic impact notwithstanding.

That's not an opinion the Selinger government shares, however.

"A Winnipeg bid committee was formed following the CGC decision on the Brandon bid," says Matthew Williamson, spokesman for Manitoba Sport Minister Eric Robinson. "The province has until Jan. 30 to signal its intent in writing to submit another bid. The actual submission will require a lot of work and take more time to pull together."

These developments raise a number of troubling questions.

Why did Brandon proceed with the bid, at the cost of $250,000, when it was repeatedly told the bid did not comply with a number of the mandatory standards? Did the bid committee believe they could convince the Canada Games to water down its standards because Brandon was the only bidder?

Beyond that, have the Canada Games grown to such a size that they are beyond the reach of mid-sized communities such as Brandon? For decades, the Games helped fund the construction of recreation facilities in small and medium-sized communities and delivered significant economic benefits. There may be fewer than 20 cities in the entire country, however, that have the resources to shoulder the construction and ongoing operating costs of an eight-lane pool.

If eligibility to host the Games is now limited to such an elite group of cities, many of whom are indifferent to the opportunity, how realistic are the hosting criteria? Do they really serve the interests of the Canada Games and the athletes who participate in them?

With that in mind, how did Brandon lose this one-horse race?

It didn't. Without the pool, it was never in the race.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 A13

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