Michael Pavitt

The fortunes of Lima 2019 and Panam Sports have been operating in near unison over the last couple of years.

Preparations for the 18th edition of the Pan American Games appeared to stall completely at the same time as the then-named Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) was in a state of paralysis during the two year interim-Presidential period of International Swimming Federation head Julio Maglione.

When the continental body finally had their Presidential election for a replacement for Mario Vázquez Raña, who led PASO for 40 years before his death in 2015, the organisation then appeared to truly wake up to the alarming situation surrounding Lima 2019.

Coordination Commission chair Keith Joseph last week offered a frank assessment of Panam Sports President Neven Ilic's view shortly after his election in April of last year, stating he remembered the Chilean's disappointment that his first term in office might not see him able to deliver a Games.

Ilic, it appears, has given both Panam Sports and Lima 2019 the jolt in the arm the organisations needed.

Lima 2019 have had some tough parenting after being viewed as directionless and in some cases venue-less. Demands were placed on organisers to begin work on their Athletes' Village last December, with progress considered well behind schedule at the site.

Progress at the Lima 2019 Athletes' Village has been praised by Panam Sports ©ITG
Progress at the Lima 2019 Athletes' Village has been praised by Panam Sports ©ITG

Aided by an agreement between the Peruvian and British Governments, with the latter providing significant expertise and leading procurement processes, progress has been extremely impressive. 

Having attended the ceremonial "shicra" stone laying event last year - a tradition designed to ward off earthquakes - it seems remarkable that a year on all seven towers have now been constructed and interior work is largely the focus.

Organisers have insisted 95 per cent of the Games infrastructure will be ready by March next year, including the athletics venue and velodrome, while the aquatics facility is predicted to be ready by May.

Ilic batted off concerns about the construction timeline, joking that as a civil engineer himself he knows a thing or two about such projects. While I humbly bow to his knowledge, after a first hand look at construction at the VIDENA complex, located in the south of the Peruvian capital, it remains clear that a huge amount of work still needs to be done. The velodrome, for instance, looks some way from completion.

The tight timelines were made apparent by only four official test events being announced, with other field of play exercises set to be held just ahead of the Games' July 26 start date next year. Any complications that arise with venue construction in the coming months would provide a rather large headache.

A decision has finally been made regarding the Games rowing venue, just 10 months out. A dispute with nearby residents and an inability to reach agreement with a land owner saw Panam Sports take an authoritative stance, stepping in to move away from the proposed Puerto Viejo site and instead taking competition further south to Paracas Bay.

"We have come to the point where we had no choice but to make a final decision," Joseph admitted.

The Coordination Commission chair stated there has been much "hand-holding" with Lima 2019, with two members of Panam Sports staff now embedded permanently with organisers to offer expertise and direction. While acknowledging they were not "out of the woods yet", Joseph expressed confidence a successful Games will take place.

Venues such as the Games velodrome are claimed to be on track for March completion, with timelines remaining tight ©ITG
Venues such as the Games velodrome are claimed to be on track for March completion, with timelines remaining tight ©ITG

Problems have persisted surrounding the preparations, with both Lima 2019 and Panam Sports both distancing themselves recently over alleged payments made by the former leadership of the Peruvian Olympic Committee, surrounding a headquarters for the Games.

Both Lima 2019 and Panam Sports have admitted their main concern at this time is transport, with traffic in the city being known to crawl rather than speed along.

Ilic took the lead in questioning organisers over their transport plans at the Panam Sports General Assembly and his active role has been noted by delegates. 

Several have admitted the organisation had previously been "drifting" and a new lease of life has been welcomed.

Just as Panam Sports are creating a handbook designed to give organisers a plan of action in delivering future Pan American Games, they are currently in the process of delivering on their own strategic plan taking them through to 2023.

Moves to rebrand as Panam Sports last year and create a functioning website were small but necessary. 

Bigger tasks and goals are now taking steps forward to fruition.

Panam Sports have sought to provide guidance for Lima 2019 but provided probing questions for the organisers ©Lima 2019
Panam Sports have sought to provide guidance for Lima 2019 but provided probing questions for the organisers ©Lima 2019

The most notable is the unveiling of a "multi-year cycle of events" which Ilic claims could "change the history of sport" in the continent. 

The cycle would include newly established youth and junior versions of the Pan American Games, as well as following their Asian and African counterparts in creating a continental Beach Games.

Billed as an opportunity to give younger athletes increased opportunities to compete while offering progression from event to event, there does seem sound logic with the plan. 

The Under-18 Youth Games would offer qualification to the next Youth Olympics, with athletes then anticipated to compete at the Under-21 Junior Games, which would come with the prize of direct qualification to the Senior Pan American Games for gold medallists. The cycle would in theory conclude with athletes reaching the Olympic Games.

The cycle presents clear stepping stones for athletes, with Panam Sports hoping the plan will lead to long-term support from Governments for the stars of tomorrow as they support their progression.

There is a commercial incentive to the plans as well, with the continental body seeking to deliver their own version of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) TOP sponsorship programme. Working closely with the Wasserman Group, whose influence continues to grow in the Olympic world, Panam Sports are hoping sponsors will sign up to their Americas Wide Partnership programme.

Rather than signing sponsors for individual Pan American Games, it is hoped by presenting a clear cycle, with events being held on an annual basis, long-term and trusting partnerships can be built with companies.

The current plan is to see sponsors sign through until the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, with IT services company Atos the first to join up. A further nine industries are being targeted, with three negotiations claimed to be at an advanced stage.

Plans for new events and a commercial programme were presented at the Panam Sports General Assembly ©Lima 2019
Plans for new events and a commercial programme were presented at the Panam Sports General Assembly ©Lima 2019

However, as poet Robert Burns once wrote, "the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew". While listening to the plans for the new Games being presented, I could not help but consider this to be largely at odds with the current landscape in which sporting bodies are finding it more challenging to secure hosts for multi-sport events.

Panam Sports state that Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico are interested in staging the first Pan American Youth Games, while their aim to have the event cost between $20 million (£15 million/€17 million) and $30 million (£23 million/€25 million) appears an attempt to make their ambitions possible.

A low cost Beach Games certainly seems a workable idea, but one wonders whether trying to find hosts for the elite, youth and junior versions of the Pan American Games will prove too tall an order every four-year cycle.

It seems possible that the youth and junior events could operate on a much smaller scale regarding the number of sports, as a full Pan American Games programme would surely prove too taxing and limit the field.

Just as the Games are being viewed as a development opportunity for athletes, could the same not be the case for hosts? Could a significantly reduced sport programme give smaller nations the opportunity to gradually build infrastructure, while gaining a great understanding of the demands required by hosting a multi-sport event? 

It seems likely that Lima could have benefited from staging a small scale version first, rather than appearing to have bitten off more than they can chew with the full Pan American Games.

Joseph highlighted in his Lima 2019 progress report that a "grown-up understanding" has been reached, concluding that the Games are a "major undertaking" and that there is a need to constantly rethink their size.

With 39 sports set to feature in the Peruvian capital next year, rising from the 36 at Toronto 2015, it is clearly a huge job for an organiser.

Change could prove to be in the offing, with Panam Sports Technical Commission chair Michael Fennell stating the organisation will undertake a full review of the Pan American Games programme after Lima 2019.

A review of the Pan American Games sport programme is set to take place after Lima 2019 ©Getty Images
A review of the Pan American Games sport programme is set to take place after Lima 2019 ©Getty Images

"There must be concern as to the relevance of some of those sports and them being justified on the programme," the experienced Jamaican administrator said. 

"This would allow us in conjunction with the decision of the IOC to make our own decisions for what should be the best programme for Panam Sports. We have a lot of work to do to ensure the technical requirements, presentation and the sports on our programme best represents what there is in the Americas."

Fennell's comments indicated that while the Olympic sports would continue to be the basis of the Pan American Games programme, the organisation could still yet opt to forge their own path. His statement appeared to have greater significance just hours after a separate presentation to the body's General Assembly regarding regional training camps for sports.

Panam Sports said that funding for the camps comes after analysis of performances at the Rio 2016 Olympics and Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, with a focus placed on sports in which the continent thrives with finals appearances and medals.

Could this be followed at future Pan American Games, with a more selective programme focusing on the sports where the Americas' strengths lie, while also offering a more slimmed down event to ease the burden on hosts?

Plans for future Games and an assessment of the sports programme are both at an embryonic stage, as Panam Sports roll out their strategic plan aimed at boosting athletes and National Olympic Committees, as well as their Games and their own organisational brand.

There are still several hurdles left for Panam Sports to overcome. Presentations at the General Assembly calling for great influence and presence of both athletes and women in the continent's NOCs and federations, with increased identification of candidates, is a strong recommendation.

In a similar way to Lima 2019, it does seem as though a dormant PASO have woken up as the recently branded Panam Sports and are putting measures in place to become a modern and effective body.