Colombia will not remain silent and will protest the loss of the 2027 Pan American Games. COC. COC

Colombia will protest "strongly" after being excluded as host of the upcoming Pan American Games, scheduled for 22 October to 7 November 2027. The country plans to take administrative action against Panam Sports for stripping Barranquilla of the organisation.

2024 began with some surprising news for the sporting world. Barranquilla, not only previously announced as the host city, but also presented at the closing ceremony of Santiago 2023 as the next host of the 2027 Pan American Games, was left empty-handed. 

Financial problems, delayed guarantees of almost eight million dollars, the left-wing government of President Gustavo Petro besieged by internal political and economic problems and a slow bureaucracy used as an excuse for not paying the agreed half (four million dollars due before the end of the year and not received) led to the drastic decision by Panam Sports. They issued a statement, unequivocally withdrawing the opportunity for Barranquilla to host the upcoming Pan American Games due to non-compliance with the contract. 

In response and unhappy with the situation, Ciro Solano, president of the Colombian Olympic Committee (COC), admitted in an interview with AFP that the government had failed to pay Panam Sports some four million dollars by 31 December, as agreed. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the "incomprehensible" decision of the body, which is headed by the Chilean Neven Ilic. 

Colombia's head of Olympic sports also expressed his frustration with Paraguay, accusing the Mercosur country of interfering and lobbying to deprive Colombia of the hosting rights. Although no replacement has yet been announced, there are strong rumours that Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, could be in the running to replace Barranquilla.

The loss of the Games is a setback for the left-wing president Gustavo Petro, who has not shown complete conviction in investing this money since taking office in August 2022. Criticised at the time for his reluctance to offer support, he is now being heavily blamed for the image that Colombia is presenting to the world by losing the rights Pan to host the Panam Games for breach of contract.

This is not the first time that the northern South American country has lost out on an event of global significance. In the 1980s, insecurity and a growing drug trade in Colombia led to the losing out on hosting the FIFA World Cup. The tournament was eventually moved to Mexico, where Argentina, led by the legendary Diego Armando Maradona, were crowned champions. 

The situation has turned into a political scandal. The president has maintained an unusual silence on Panam Sports' decision, but the Minister of Sports, Astrid Rodríguez, has had to explain the events to the State Attorney General, the state body that supervises public officials. Meanwhile, the opposition is planning a "vote of no confidence" in Congress to remove her from office. 

Amid the turmoil, President Ciro Solano told AFP in recent hours, "We are expectant because the damage is significant for Colombia's image, for the sporting nation, and for the Colombian people themselves. We will take action, we want to settle everything amicably. We still have hope of getting the Games back. (...) Although they have many arguments for their decision, we, as a committee, ask to be heard." 

He also expressed confidence that he would be able to convince Chile's Neven Ilic and the Panamanian Sports Assembly, which must officially ratify the decision at a plenary session next month, to reconsider the "indecipherable" decision.

Ciro Solano, Astrid Bibiana Rodríguez, Julio Ávila and Jaime Pumarejo, among others. COC
Ciro Solano, Astrid Bibiana Rodríguez, Julio Ávila and Jaime Pumarejo, among others. COC

Asked if they would challenge the Panam Sports decision in court, he said they would try to do so through administrative channels. With caution, but with determination, "we will claim the right (to host) that was granted two and a half years ago, regardless of the difficulties we have faced". 

As for whether there will be any further sanctions against Colombia beyond the loss of Barranquilla, he was confident after speaking to his Chilean counterpart. He believes there will be no sports-related sanctions or possible legal action, contradicting the statement issued a few days ago, which reserved the right to do so. 

The COC President admited that the payments had not been made. "I always saw the willingness of the government, led by the minister (...), but on 26 December the alarms went off, and she told me it would be difficult for the Treasury to release the funds. Obviously, we were worried and we started to move. She called Neven and he said that we have to meet the deadlines." 

Since 2021, the president of the COC, who is also a lawyer, has left the door open to an administrative solution. However, he is well aware that the die has been cast, that the termination of the contract (to host) was for a reason and under Colombia's responsibility, and that no court in the world (whether ordinary justice or the Court of Arbitration for Sport) can provide a legal remedy. 

He will try to find a political solution, but it will not be easy when the Colombian government does not seem to have the will or, more importantly, the resources and guarantees necessary for Barranquilla to host the twentieth edition of the Pan American Games, the most important multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics.