Playing for Keeps

Toronto and surrounding communities will be hosting the Pan/Parapan American Games in 2015.  While these events aren’t the same scale as the Olympics/Paralympics, they are none the less an opportunity for the GTA to host a significant sporting event with 41 nations participating in 37 sports.  But once all the events have happened and the medals have been handed out, some are already wondering what will be the point of the millions of dollars spent by all three levels of government and countless sponsors and NGOs.  Sure there will be the couple weeks of the events when Toronto and the rest of the GTA will be in the sporting news spotlight.  And yes, we’ll have the new sports facilities and the long awaited redevelopment of Toronto’s waterfront.  But the question on the mind of one new coalition of NGOs and government departments is, what is in it for the people of Ontario – how will their lives be made better because of the Pan/Parapan American Games?  This coalition calls themselves Playing for Keeps and their goal is to make sure that communities in Ontario benefit from hosting the Games both during, but more importantly in the long-term.
Playing for Keeps promises to create a legacy of healthier, more active and stronger communities and a deepened sense of belonging through a collaborative, innovative and strategic approach.  It is organized by The Toronto Community Foundation, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, University of Toronto – Faculty of Physical Education and Health, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Get Active Toronto and many other organizations to build social capital legacies by leveraging the 2012 Ontario Summer Games and the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games.  I attended one of their three design workshops last week that kick started the process of determining how to leverage the Games and to start getting organizations to commit to enhancing social networks and develop social capital before, during and after the games.

The Pan/Parapan Am Games already focuses on improving the health through lifestyle choices.  The focus of Playing for Keeps is on social capital rather than lifestyle.  They define social capital as the social networks and connections of diverse individuals and groups with shared values and assets.  And it includes the socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors that are often just as important, if not more, for health (also known as the social determinants of health).  The initial activity of the design workshop was to develop principles around aspects of social capital, including belonging, diversity, values and norms, citizen power, networks, trust and safety, reciprocity, and participation.  These are all things that are valuable to communities but difficult to measure and complex to address.

Playing for Keeps is ambitious and aspiring to tackle some really wicked issues in our society.  I hope that they make positive change by harnessing the potential of the Pan/Parapan American Games.  As someone who has never lived in a city leading up to or during a major international sporting event of this scale, I am hopeful.  But maybe those in Vancouver have a different perspective.   How did it work in Vancouver for the Olympics/Paralympics?  Was there a similar coalition?  If so, what has happened now that the Games are over?  If not, do you think one would have made a difference?  I look forward to learning more and observing how large sporting events can be leveraged for healthy people and healthy communities.