When Neven Ilic was elected president of the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO) in April of last year, the body that oversees Olympic sport in the Americas was suddenly bestowed with a palpable sense of optimism. Here was a man who, at 55, was notably younger than his ageing rivals, a smooth and articulate administrator whose rousing 11th-hour speech had convinced PASO members that he was the ideal candidate to lead their organisation into the future.
To many, Ilic’s election heralded the start of a new chapter in the history of PASO, which had been striving to reinvent itself following the death of its former president, Mario Vázquez Raña, who had led the body for four decades, in 2015. Ilic, the long-time president of the Chilean Olympic Committee, had risen to power preaching professionalisation and the promise of a more youthful approach, part of an ambitious campaign manifesto he quickly set about putting into practice.
In the months since his election, the Chilean has overseen the finishing touches on a broad transformation of the 78-year-old organisation - a process which culminated in a major rebranding project that included a new commercial identity and saw the PASO name dropped in favour of the altogether more modern Panam Sports.
“We are working first on the image,” confirms Ilic, speaking to SportsPro during last month’s SportAccord convention in Bangkok, Thailand. “For that, we are trying to grow in terms of our brand, to modernise our brand, and on that we are working on the logo, the web page, the social networks. We are changing everything and trying to put everything together with the same idea. We are the Americas; we have to communicate about all of our 41 countries.
“We have in the region different levels and kinds of countries, different cultures, and it’s important for us to understand the needs of each of them because obviously big countries need some kind of support but you have another kind of country that needs full support. Sometimes they don’t receive support from the government but they want to develop their athletes. This is the most important role that I am trying to do: to listen to each Olympic committee, to understand what is the reality for each of them, and to support exactly what they need.”
We have in the region different levels and kinds of countries, different cultures, and it’s important for us to understand the needs of each of them.
A year into his presidency, Ilic explains that the Panam Sports organisation he inherited is “in a very good place” financially but that the same cannot be said for its entire membership - a vastly differing mix of countries and national Olympic committees strung out from Canada to Chile by way of Central America and the Caribbean. “I received a very good company in terms of resources, in terms of organisation,” he says. “We have good financial moments but we are 41 countries and when you want to help, in terms of sport, 41 countries, you need a lot of money.
“In most of the countries they have to develop the sport by themselves because they don’t have enough support from the government. Our idea is to grow in terms of income, mainly to finance all the different programmes and projects that we want to develop within the small countries.”
In the interests of lifting all boats, Panam Sports has implemented a new event delivery model in conjunction with the hosts of its blue riband occasion, the Pan American Games, the next two editions of which will take place in Lima, Peru and the Chilean capital of Santiago in 2019 and 2023 respectively.
“We changed now the rules,” says Ilic. “Years ago, we didn’t have any kinds of sponsors at Panam Sports because we sold the rights to the host city. But today we have an agreement with Lima, and for sure with Santiago, where we will work together to find good sponsors.
“We are still growing in this - it’s part of our marketing strategy to go to the big companies and not only to have sponsors, we want to have partners in all the different ideas that we have for the Americas. I hope to find these partners because it will be very important for us.”
Neven Ilic was elected president of Panam Sports - then known as the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO) - in April of last year
Lima 2019: the journey so far
One of Ilic's first priorities as president was to get stalled preparations for Lima 2019 back on track. In the lead-up to his election, concerns had been raised over a perceived lack of local leadership in the Peruvian capital, the organising committee’s evident struggles in securing private financing, and the fact that the athletes’ village and key competition venues were still far from completion just two years out from the start of the Games.
“In Lima’s case, to be clear, they lost a lot of time, but today they are working really hard and very good,” Ilic reports, reflecting on preparations for what will be his first Games at the helm. “But we don’t have enough time for the Games - the Games will be in July next year - and we are running in different aspects of the Games, mainly the venues.”
Though a regional occasion by definition, the magnitude of the Pan American Games is such that they are among the world’s largest multi-sport events. Next year in Lima, more than 3,500 athletes from across the Americas will compete in 39 sports and 62 disciplines, with around 1,890 athletes set to feature in 17 sports and 18 disciplines during the Parapan American Games.
“We have probably never done such a big event,” says Carlos Manuel Lazarte, the director of operations at the Lima 2019 local organising committee. “We have done some previous summits, some other conferences and events, but never in sports and never as big. For us, this is an opportunity for Lima to showcase itself as a vibrant city and a city that has to offer, in the future, a good destination for sports and events in general.”
This is an opportunity for Lima to showcase itself as a vibrant city and a city that has to offer, in the future, a good destination for sports and events in general.
While concerns over the pace of progress remain, work on the ground has gathered considerable momentum in recent months. Five of the biggest infrastructure projects are “on time and on schedule”, says Lazarte, with work on one of the main competition complexes at Villa El Salvador and the Panam Village, a US$114 million development where athletes will reside during the Games, continuing “at a very fast pace”.
“Most of the venues are going to be delivered by March 2019 and the village by the start of 2019,” he adds. “In terms of time concerns for infrastructure, we are going okay.”
That message has been echoed by others outside of the organising committee, too. During an inspection visit earlier this month, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) chief executive Xavier Gonzalez said he was “generally happy with preparations” but warned that there was “still a lot to be done with 15 months to go” until the opening ceremony.
“Right now we are in the process of basically finalising the level of services so that we can finalise the documents for the overlays,” continues Lazarte. “We already have the first book of overlays ready and approved and we have done a venue model exercise for one venue, a difficult one, which is going to be replicated to the other venues. That’s also finished, and of course 2018 is the year in which operations, which is the area that I head, is going to work a lot to be sure that sports, venues, medical services, transport, security, etc - all the processes, all the procurement - is on time for the Games. I think we are very optimistic about what we have done in the last year.”
With the countdown clock ticking and time increasingly of the essence - 10th April marked 500 days until the opening ceremony - the organising committee has been busy in recent weeks staging a series of seminars and workshops in order to showcase Games opportunities and generate interest among both domestic and international companies. Firms across various different sectors have been invited to attend each workshop, with a session in February dedicated to construction projects attracting some 500 companies.
“What we did with the workshop is we told them what we are doing, where we were standing, our basic layouts and designs for some of the venues, some numbers that they wanted to know,” explains Lazarte. “It was open and very transparent and very positive, and out of that, when the bid processes started for these projects, there were more requests than we could have even thought of.”
One competition at Lima 2019 has already been won: the battle to be the event's official mascot. Milco (pictured, left) was given the honour in July last year.
Best of British
Following the awarding of the main construction contracts, talks are underway with prospective partners and service providers in other key commercial areas such as host broadcasting, IT services and software management, and timing and scoring. Tenders for those contracts were issued several weeks ago and bidding is due to conclude imminently, with Lazarte expecting many to be assigned by the end of May.
Each of those contractors will be signed according to the procurement processes outlined in a government-to-government (G2G) agreement between Peru and the UK, whose authorities have been providing operational support to Lima 2019 for the past two years. That agreement has enabled contact tenders to be administered in record time, accelerating preparations after the initially slow rate at which progress was being made.
“For all the infrastructure projects, we underwent a NEC3 contract, which was something new for us and was very efficient because of the time issue,” explains Lazarte. “And at the end we are going to have knowledge transfer from the UK, we’re going to have support on all the functional areas, and we’re going to have legacy support too.
“Of course, we have Peruvian people who are working day-to-day, we have experts who are doing a great job, and the UK is providing that on-top support, giving us best practices from London 2012 and other Games that the UK team has been involved with. So I think we are a very good combination.”
Besides assisting on operations and legacy aspects, British authorities are also helping to bring about greater clarity and accountability in the overall delivery of the Games, as Jaime Reusche, the chief advisor to the Lima 2019 chief executive, explains.
“Something important relating to the G2G agreement is that it also provides some tools for something we are looking for in this case for Panam Sports, which is obviously transparency,” he says. “Many things have been going on in the sports community. We know about situations that have occurred in Brazil, situations that have occurred in several countries in construction in Latin America, so for us transparency in this aspect is very good for sport.”
After Lima 2019, future Panam Games hosts could look to forge similar G2G agreements with foreign governments - although the organisers of Santiago 2023 have yet to sign such an agreement. “Obviously that is going to depend on the specific organising committees,” says Reusche. “But once they see that the experience has worked well in the case of Lima 2019, it’s very likely they are going to try to do similar things. That’s going to provide a precedent and an example for future events.”
Lima 2019 is being backed by a government-to-government (G2G) agreement between Peru and the UK, whose authorities have been providing operational support to event organisers for the past two years.
A Games for all Peru
The organisers of Lima 2019 have made no secret of their desire to learn from the recent past. Recognising that the hosts of other major sporting events, both in South America and elsewhere, have woefully under-delivered on their lofty legacy promises, they are making a conscious effort to ensure their event succeeds whether others have failed.
Reusche himself points to the difficult situation that has transpired in Rio de Janeiro, a city saddled with white elephants and spiralling public debts in the aftermath of the Olympic Games of 2016. To avoid a similar situation occurring in Lima, he says, a “legacy institution" will be established to handle post-Games venue management as part of the G2G agreement and with the support of the newly appointed British ambassador to Peru, Kate Harrisson.
“We negotiated in the G2G agreement, mostly in the final two stages, with Canada and the UK,” recalls Reusche. “One thing that differentiated them, in our opinion, was the transfer of knowledge and the legacy emphasis that the UK provided.
“In terms of legacy and ensuring the venues and infrastructure are well-maintained, we are planning specific aspects so that when we finish the Games and we turn them over as planned to the IPD, which is the Institute of Sports in Peru, they will have a plan of how to, commercially, use certain venues to get sufficient cashflow to maintain them.”
For Lazarte, meanwhile, the hope is that next year’s Games can galvanise the Peruvian people around a common goal, demonstrating their collective strength in adversity within the context of sport. He specifically points to the way in which the event has already had a social impact by contributing, albeit indirectly, to the recovery effort that followed the devastating floods which ravaged large swaths of Peru and killed dozens throughout the early part of last year.
The Panam Games has become an example of how other things can be done in Peru.
“The Panam Games is an effort that the government, the whole country, is doing,” he says. “It has become an example of how other things can be done in Peru. They are even talking about the possibility of approaching the reconstruction effort after the flooding by using some of these transparent and efficient and faster ways that the infrastructure has been started for the Panams with the support of the UK.
“If anything, it has given the Panams a better image, so we have come up stronger. Public opinion about the Panam Games has been rising, so we are very happy about that, and we do think that the Panam Games will be a turning point, not only for sports but also for a different way, a healthier way and a better way, of educating the youth and getting the youth out of the streets.”
Though that may sound like the kind of idealism so often spouted by event organisers, Reusche notes how Lima 2019’s cause is helped by having strong support from within the highest office of the Peruvian government, with Martín Vizcarra, who was sworn in as the country’s new president in March, having been a vocal advocate for the Games.
“Carlos Neuhaus [the Lima 2019 president] and myself went to see [Vizcarra],” reveals Reusche. “He immediately asked to see how things were going on the Panam Games. He was well impressed. He’s very interested in developing sports on an educational basis and is going to provide additional emphasis for the Panam Games to spread throughout Peru and create a different conscience for sports.”
Peru was able to pull through to organise last September’s 131st IOC Session despite fears that event could be relocated.
It is hoped, too, that the Games can further elevate Peru’s credentials as a major event host. Having successfully hosted the first IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings held in South America in 2015, the country was able to pull through to organise last September’s 131st IOC Session despite fears that event could be relocated due to the recent flooding. Now, Peruvian authorities have their sights set on ensuring next year’s Games establish a new benchmark for the quadrennial event whilst delivering a meaningful legacy for sport in Peru.
“I think this is going to provide a stage but any event of this magnitude has several stakeholders, and if in industrialised countries, developed countries, sometimes cities are doubting whether to be hosting these kinds of events, imagine what it’s like in an emerging country,” notes Reusche.
“Even though Peru is investment grade macro-economically and it has grown for the past 15 years, a middle-class has developed, an important middle-class which didn’t exist, still there are obviously politicians who say we should better employ the funds in hospitals, education, whatever. But it’s important that the population understands and certain politicians understand - and the more, the better - that you can do both things, especially if you allocate properly.
“Because many people in Peru were saying before: ‘Why are we going to do this event if we don’t have sports people who are of a certain level and are going to win medals or whatever?’ But it is like the egg or the chicken: if you don’t have proper infrastructure, it is difficult for a certain level of sportsman to develop. So that, I believe, is going to be important with the Pan American Games: that it is going to provide better infrastructure in many areas which will help develop sports in general in Peru.”