Pan Am Games: Toronto’s Cultural Diversity on Display

September 16th, 2015

The excitement of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games reached a crescendo at the end of July as nearly 40,000 people – athletes, coaches, volunteers, officials – gathered for the closing ceremony. The 2015 Pan Games (July 10 – 26) brought together 7,500 athletes from 41 countries DAY_4_Thessalonaround a passion for sport – a universal language with the power to overcome cultural and ethnic differences, and foster a sense of connection and belonging.

More than one media report commented on how well the host city of Toronto reflected the rich diversity and talent represented by the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games,  the world’s third largest multi-sport event. With a booming economy fuelled by immigration, Toronto is heralded as one the most multicultural and successful cities in the world. Over half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada, making good the City of Toronto’s motto: Diversity, Our Strength.

Diversity, Our Strength

In the Pan Am stands, Canada’s maple leaf mixed wildly with dozens of other national flags.  Along with her Canadian flag Giselle Cole flew the flag of  Trinidad and Tobago from where she emigrated many years ago. Reflecting on her adopted city, Cole commented: “I think the one great difference to the rest of the world is that we have a little bit of everywhere here and that we love to celebrate in a proud and inclusive manner.”

Cole, a former Paralympian who won the gold for Canada in 1980, believes encouraging members of ethnic communities to embrace the games not only makes visiting athletes feel at home but also provides an opportunity for Canadians, particularly youth, to identify positive role models and connect with their heritage:  “We’re going to be able to celebrate Canada while at the same time welcoming and supporting our athletes from the Pan Americas.”

Those in charge of managing the various components of the Games, be it outreach, procurement or the city’s tourism, are also making sure that diversity is reflected in the work they do.

Michael Coteau, Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sports, said Pan Am organizers worked hard to form local partnerships and create programs that would showcase the cultural diversity of the Games and be relevant to local communities: “These Games are successful, not only for people involved in sports and athleticism but also, there’s a cultural component to it… we want to make sure that we work with the community, all communities, to get this right.”  Coteau, whose father is from Grenada, believes that the approximate 250,000 people from Jamaica in Ontario and the African Canadian diaspora at large would “feel a sense of belonging” during the Games.

Employees, Suppliers, Buyers

“Diversity is reflected in both our employee and supplier base because we know it’s going to be reflected in our customer base,” says Bill Zakarow, Director, Procurement of TO2015, the Organizing Committee established to plan, manage, and deliver the games, and responsible for creating the first-ever Diversity Policy for a Pan Am/Parapan Am competition.

TO2015’s Diversity Policy aimed to harness the economic impact of the Games to create a pipeline for segments of the population that have typically been under-represented in projects of this magnitude. Opportunities in the areas of procurement, governance, employment, volunteerism and others will now be accessible to the region’s many diverse communities.

When Zakarow was hired, one of the first things he did was develop a procurement strategy with a supplier diversity component. With this foundation in place, TO2015 faced an enormous hurdle right out of the gate: how to get the word out about the Games’ business opportunities and how to find the best companies to deliver on hundreds of contracts? As Zakarow puts it, “We had to figure out how to tell our story and set up a network of suppliers.”

A Supplier Diversity Advisory Council made up of organizations promoting supplier diversity was created to help organizers identify diverse businesses across different sectors and categories and to spread the word quickly.

Longer term, says Zakarow, “We hope our legacy will be that all we’ve done to make these Games diverse ends up laying the groundwork for supplier diversity for many years to come.”


For good ideas on the role of sport in facilitating immigrant integration and building inclusive communities, see below:

Auckland, New Zealand: It starts with Soccer

Calgary, Canada: Hockey Night in Canada – in Punjabi!

Greenwich, United Kingdom: Giving Equality a Sporting Chance

Melbourne, Australia: Kangaroos, Football and the Local Community

Munich, Germany: Buntkicktgut! Integration Through Sports


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