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‘We want to bring something positive’: Inside Ottawa’s mission to champion women’s sport

Ottawa has continued to bring women’s sports events to the city in recent years, including the LPGA’s award-winning CP Women’s Open last year. Robert Kawamoto, Ottawa Tourism’s assistant director for major events and sport, shares how Canada’s capital is pushing to host more competitions that align with its diverse values.

29 March 2023 Josh Sim

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Over recent years, Ottawa has been putting women’s events at the heart of its drive to establish itself as a premier destination for live sport.

In 2020, two Ottawa-based universities – Carleton University and the University of Ottawa – staged the U Sport women’s and men’s basketball championships, which marked the first time both tournaments shared the same location for their respective championship games. A year later, the city’s TD Place Arena hosted a game in the 2021 Rivalry Series, which pitted the Canadian women’s ice hockey team against their American counterparts.

Most recently, the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club was the venue for the 2022 CP Women’s Open, an event on the LPGA Tour. The Canadian capital’s efforts were rewarded with the LPGA Tournament of the Year award, highlighting its success in putting on a memorable event for players and fans in attendance.

Those experiences have emboldened the city to continue its pursuit of more elite sporting competitions, and it hopes its success in hosting women’s sport events in particular will not go unnoticed by rights holders, governing bodies and other event organisers.

Robert Kawamoto, Ottawa Tourism’s assistant director for major events and sport, shares how the Ontario city goes about staging major women’s sport events and why it wants to continue being the destination of choice for tournaments that champion female athletes.

Coming out of a pandemic, what was it like to stage ice hockey’s US-Canada Rivalry Series in 2021?

Firstly, you knew you had the best two women’s hockey teams in the world playing in Ottawa. And that was on the cusp of things just starting to open up with Covid. There were 10,000 people in the stadium, the atmosphere was electric, and it was one of the first large sporting events I’ve attended during Covid times.

With all of our events, we like to help promote them locally with our communities, but also on our channels to get to those markets that are outside of Ottawa, telling the story that there’s something exciting happening in Ottawa and that the best female hockey players are in town. It’s broadcasting that story too – Ottawa as a place to be for important competitions and big events. So that’s what we do when we host these events, we want to really promote them as much as we can in partnership with our event operator, our venues and our rights holders.

[The Rivalry Series] was a great flashback to how things were in the past, and it was good to see the place packed and the excitement for everyone to be there. It says a lot about the hockey community in the Ottawa region and the fans that came out to cheer on the Canadian women. There is a large hockey community in the Ottawa area and it didn’t surprise me to see a crowd like that.

But at the same time, it was pretty exciting to have that many people there for the match, under the circumstances too, to see a commitment to the women’s hockey programme.

Was there anything you did differently for last year’s CP Women’s Open compared to other events?

We had launched a destination campaign in 2022 with the slogan ‘Here to inspire’. Ottawa is a place for inspiration for many things – for visiting, engaging with nature, enjoying the culinary experiences throughout the city, and really enjoying the best things that Ottawa can provide a visitor.

Similarly with major sporting events like the CP Women’s Open, we focused on telling stories about the athletes, including where they came from and how they got involved in the game. When Golf Canada brought the LPGA to Ottawa, it was very important to note that the golfing success of Brooke Henderson, who grew up in the Ottawa area, inspires a lot of athletes to get involved. In fact, a 12-year-old Canadian girl called Lucy Lin qualified for the tournament, and she attributes a lot of her success to Brooke Henderson and her success in women’s sport.

So one of the things that we were trying to do as a destination is to promote some of the inspirational stories of some of the athletes. It’s not just inspiring women and girls and other athletes to come and play, but people in general, it’s a real human interest story. What we like to do is amplify those stories and make sure they get out through our social channels.

It was evident with the record crowds that came out for the CP Women’s Open in 2022. It was one of the better events hosted in our city that year and there was an award given to the CP Women’s Open, as it was named the 2022 LPGA Tour Tournament of the Year.

So there was a lot of effort put into hosting the event and it was driven by the athletes that represent the sport, as well as the organisers and all of the volunteers in our city that delivered this fantastic event.

Lucy Lin qualified for the CP Women’s Open at just 12 years old

How much of an emphasis is there for Ottawa to host sporting events that promote diversity?

I think there’s a groundswell of girls and women’s sport in Ottawa. There always has been. And I think that it’s been highlighted with changes in society and moving forward. Becoming a more inclusive, diverse and equitable community I think is very important for sport. Sport is a good way to communicate and create an environment where participation is unlimited in terms of race, colour, gender, etc.

It’s very important that that’s recognised, and it also ties into what our community is interested in participating in. I think that Ottawa is one of those places where people are very accepting and understanding and is well equipped to understand requirements and needs to be able to host events like this. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to attract organisers in women’s sport, driven by a lot of leaders in sport in our community.

At all of our events you want to follow that inspirational tagline and tell those stories about our athletes and the things that are happening in Ottawa. For example, there was also the Bingham Cup, a LGBTQ+ rugby tournament, that happened last year. After one of the host clubs, the Ottawa Wolves, won their championship, there was actually a marriage proposal made on the field after the celebration of winning the cup.

So it was very emotional and a great human interest story.

How easy is it to get local businesses onboard to support women’s sport events?

I think in the past, it was harder, no question. But that’s changing, it’s rapidly changing. There have been a lot of safe sport issues throughout many sport organisations around the world – those that have male-dominated offices in particular – which are not very attractive for sponsors and advertisers. They need to clean up their business and move with the times, and I think that’s opened up an opportunity for other sponsors and advertisers to consider women’s sport and women’s events. There’s a trend going that way for sure.

I think we’ve had some success with women’s sports and we’ve got some female leaders in sport in Ottawa. I’m not saying that we’re the only city that does, but we are willing to welcome and discuss and talk about things that are important in the rights holder’s interest and how they want to do business, and how our business community and our city’s residents believe is the right thing to do.

Ottawa is one of those places where people are very accepting and understanding and is well equipped to understand the requirements and needs to be able to host events like this.

Robert Kawamoto, Assistant Director for Major Events and Sport, Ottawa Tourism

We want to be aligned with an organisation that has an event that has those same beliefs. We want to be able to work together collaboratively to host an event like that with all good intentions and bring something positive to our community for our youth and for our athletes and represent the sport properly. Ottawa is very welcoming that way and respectful, and that’s what we look for when we talk to these different organisations when they bring an event here to our city.

The Bingham Cup for example is an international event and it was one of the best events held in this city. From all different aspects – from an economic impact, from a social impact, from a tourism impact, it was a huge winner across every area.

What would you like to achieve going forward?

What we want to do is we want to host as many major sporting events in the future as possible that fit our community from an economic and social impact perspective. Economics are important, don’t get me wrong, but there’s also a social impact which is very valuable and very important to our city and our stakeholders in our community.

With that, we want to be known as a city that can host or be a specialist in hosting diverse and inclusive events from anywhere around the world, and for event organisers and athletes to become inspired when they have their event in Ottawa.

This feature forms part of SportsPro’s Live Events Week, a week of coverage exploring how promoters and host destinations are bringing events to life, as well as how venue operators and their suppliers are navigating newfound economic pressures. Click here to access more exclusive content and sign up to the SportsPro Daily newsletter here to receive daily insights direct to your inbox.

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