LIMA (Reuters) - The United States and Canada need to open their eyes to what is happening outside their own borders if the Pan American Games is to get the kind of attention it deserves, the secretary general of Panam Sports said on Saturday.
Labelling the Lima Games as the greatest ever, Panam secretary general Ivar Sisniega said the lack of interest for the two-week multi-sport event in North America was because of narrow thinking.
“If you think the American continent is just USA and Canada then you’re right there is (a lack of interest),” Sisniega told Reuters on Saturday following a mid-Games press briefing.
“Some countries ... maybe need to open up to what happens in the world and not be so involved with what just happens (at home).”
Sisniega pointed out that considering 6,600 athletes from 41 countries are competing in Lima, the region is more than just the U.S. and Canada.
But even a quick glance at the medal table on Saturday reveals how significant the U.S. (108) and Canadian (64) participation is as the two nations have won a combined total of 172 medals.
Despite being one-two on the medals table - when total number of medals won by each country are taken into account - the event is largely ignored by mainstream media in both countries.
Canadian Press has sent one reporter and a photographer to provide on site coverage while the country’s national broadcaster CBC is live streaming the Games but has no on air programming planned.
Coverage by U.S. outlets is equally thin with no major newspapers accredited and broadcast rights holder ESPN focussing on Spanish language content.
It is not just the media but athletes themselves, who in many cases, have made the Pan Ams a low priority.
Competitions have offered up a mixed bag in terms of quality.
Cuba sent a elite line-up of world and Olympic champions into the boxing ring and took eight golds, a silver and bronze from 10 weight classes in the men’s competition. The only gold won by the U.S. was in the women’s competition thanks to Oshae Jones.
The U.S. will send out mostly B teams when the athletics and swimming races get underway next week but are still expected to dominate both competitions.
Over the two weeks athletes are competing in 39 sports, many of which offer qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, something Sisniega says the Panam Sports Organisation needs to do a better job in selling.
“We have spoken to NBC and major television networks and it comes down to how many of the sports are Olympic qualifiers and that is something we are going to push really aggressively over the next four years,” said Sisniega.
“We have spoken to USA and Canada about these issues, it’s a perception that they have that the Games are not of a high quality.
“These are the highest quality Games in history so we are hoping to move forward on this and the U.S. and Canadian media understand how big these Games are and the level of athletes is high with over 100 Olympic medallists.
“It is certainly a challenge we have for the future.”
Pan Am Games officials, however, have more immediate problems to deal with, particularly transportation.
The facilities built for the Games are largely first class but navigating through Lima’s chaotic traffic is a challenge.
The press briefing called on Saturday to discuss the first week barely touched on any concerns and instead turned into a 90-minute self-congratulatory pat on the back that dismissed problems as “small issues”.
While Sisniega conceded there were problems, he put a positive spin on any such issues.
“Are there issues? Sure,” said Sisniega. “Any Games of this size where you are moving a village, people get sick, people even die during Games because it is like you are in a whole town and anything can happen,” he said.
“In that sense, compared to previous Games, things have been pretty normal.
“If you look at the plus and minuses, the pluses outweigh the minuses by a lot.
“If we were caught off guard, it was that we didn’t think they (the Games) were going to be this good.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar