How Pan-Am Has Infiltrated the University of Toronto Campus

The Pan Am Games, being the latest weapon of the ruling class in their war against the poor, have sought alliances and support bases amongst broad sections of the middle-class and other privileged strata. It is thus unsurprising that the Pan Am Games have made concerted (and in many ways, successful) efforts at extending their grasp over various post-secondary institutions in Toronto. Not only are the games being held on campuses, but there has been a large amount of student programming used to glorify the games.

In this article, I will examine the efforts of the Pan Am Games to disseminate propaganda on U of T campus, specifically the equity rhetoric used to spin the Games—and thus mask the processes of social-cleansing and gentrification accompanying this event—that has permitted the collaboration between the Games’ committee and several well-known campus social justice organizations.

The Games on Campus

The Pan/Parapan American Games are holding much of their games at the University of Toronto and York University. The benefit of holding some of the games on campuses is that the administrations are happy to help push the costs of the games onto the students.

Students at the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto in 2010, for example, ended up paying a $140 dollar student levy for 25 years in order to help finance a $158.8 million dollar aquatics center just outside UTSC campus. 1 Through this tactic, the Pan Am Games was able to unload 22% of the cost of the $158.8 million dollar aquatics center onto the students at UTSC, a largely racialized and proletarian campus. This is just one example of students footing the bill for the Pan Am Games.

The Primary Suspect: The Pan Am Parallel Programming Committee

With such an investment at the University of Toronto, the Pan Am Games has a heavy stake in ensuring student complacency during the games. The programming presence of the Pan-American Games on U of T campus is carried by the Pan-American Parallel Programming Committee (PPPC). The PPPC was publicly launched on September 25th, 2014, founded primarily by Hart House, U of T’s center of co-curricular affairs. The committee has been carrying out a large amount of programming since its inception with activities, ranging from art exhibits to panel discussions on the subject of social justice and equity in sports, intensifying as the games approached.

The committee’s stated political focus is to “explore sport culture through the lens of equity, diversity and inclusion, with particular attention to our most vulnerable populations such as queer and trans-gendered people.” 2 Almost the entirety of the programming presented by this committee consists of material around “access to sports,” “change room culture,” and other social justice topics. In this sense, the material presented by the committee to the university public uses identity politics as a political cover for pro-games propaganda.

One of the main programming series presented by the committee is the “Sports, Equity and the Pan Am Games Series” which describes the games as “celebrations of human achievement,” yet balances this inflammatory statement by then adding the qualifier: “But often it’s not a level playing field when it comes to inclusivity in areas of sexual gender identity, race, or class,” and then reiterates the need “to build awareness and deepen critical understanding of the issues surrounding barriers to inclusion in sport and recreation.” 3 The page for the Sports, Equity and Pan Am Games Series sums up the entirety of the propaganda tactics of the Pan Am Games on (and off) campus—disguising outright glorification of the Pan Am Games with “critical” and anti-oppression phraseology.

Behind this rhetoric lies the ideology that the Pan/Parapan Am Games is a supposed opportunity for progressive students to push for an equity agenda. For example, “A Hurdle to Success: The Path for Pan Am/Parapan Am Legacy”, a symposium held by the committee in their equity series on January 22nd, seeks to “explore the intersections between race, sports and post-secondary education.” The Hurdle to Success discussion paper states that “the Games give hope for a future in sport to many young people—including Indigenous and racialized youth who currently have little chance of making it to elite or professional sporting ranks,” and the games “provide a tremendous opportunity to examine the role of sport in the lives of Indigenous and racialized youth.” 4

The panel organizers primarily concern themselves with inclusion in sports so that the Pan Am Games can “feature Canada’s best athletic talent,” in typical bourgeois meritocratic (not “critical”) fashion. 5 These Pan Am mouthpieces, plagued with liberal individualism, tokenize the inclusion of a very small section of racialized and indigenous youth into a mega-event that is the product of and re-enforcement of these structures.

Interestingly, the Pan Am Parallel Programming Committee receives no funding from the Pan/Parapan Am Organizing Committee—the main organizer of the games themselves. The majority of resources used by the committee are either provided by Hart House, or by the campus organizations the PPPC collaborates with on an event-by-event basis. This means that the main avenue of propaganda glorifying the Pan Am Games on University of Toronto campus is completely funded by student money.

Financial Grants for Pan Am Propaganda

In addition to initiating the Pan Am Parallel Programming Committee, Hart House also initiated the University of Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Student Initiative Fund. The initiative fund is for students who hold events “that celebrate the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto.” 6

The fund providers specifically call for “themes of equity, accessibility, and engagement,” 7 a sign that Pan Am is very consciously holding its propagandists to a common political line, as not only must Pan Am’s own initiatives carry the anti-oppression rhetoric, but so must initiatives indirectly sponsored by the Pan Am Games. Hart House and the other sponsors receive no money from official Pan Am funds, and it is thus fairly clear that the money put into this Pan Am fund, much like the funding for the PPPC, comes directly from student tuition.

Campus Collaborators: The Political Bankruptcy of the Student Associations

The University of Toronto Students Union, the largest student association on St. George and Mississauga Campus has allowed the Pan Am Games to conduct promotion at UTSU events. At the Club & Summer Job Fair, held by the UTSU as part of their winter orientation week, the Pan Am Ignite project (a fund for independently initiated pro-games programming) was advertised as a feature exhibit.

The Ignite project has largely sought out partnerships with the major student associations so as to be able to conduct outreach to the largest number of students possible. As we see, the UTSU seems to have no problem being this partner. In addition, the Scarborough Campus Students Union, which represents all students at UTSC, has also endorsed and promoted the Ignite project, and is listed as a participant in the Ignite project on the official website of the Pan Am Games. 8

The Equity Studies Students Union (ESSU), one of the more well-known student unions amongst campus activists, collaborated with the PPPC in their annual “Decolonizing our Minds” conference. Specifically, ESSU invited PPPC to hold a panel at the conference, titled “The Pan American Games: Bodies in Sports.” 9 Making use of the tired equity language seen throughout this paper, we can see that the anti-oppression mask of the pro-games Pan Am Parallel Programming Committee was ultimately successful in duping the ESSU into supporting the games, and the projects of gentrification and social cleansing that accompany them.

As we see, the Pan Am Games, wary of their well-deserved reputation as a front for social-cleansing and gentrification, have tried, through their use of equity rhetoric, to build an alliance with various social justice and equity student organizations at the University of Toronto. Many of these student organizations have graciously accepted this alliance, and have provided space, legitimacy and even money for the cause of the Games. Without any apparent structural understanding of the oppression these activists sloganeer against, their equity rhetoric becomes hollowed out by petty-bourgeois individualism and a tokenistic understanding of oppression. Liberalism is thus the social basis for this alliance between campus social-justice groups and off-campus social cleansing.

A member of the RSM-Toronto