By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - As Toronto prepared to say goodbye to the Pan American Games on Sunday, the Canadian Olympic chief officially kicked off a campaign to convince the city to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Basking in the glow of a hugely successful Pan Am Games, a bullish Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) president Marcel Aubut presented an enthusiastic sales pitch ahead of the closing ceremonies saying that it was Toronto's time.
"It is time to make it crystal clear. I am officially declaring that I will use the full power of my office to lead and advocate for Toronto's candidacy to hold the 2024 Olympic Games," Aubut said during the Pan Am Games closing press conference. "This is it."
"My view and the view of my board is that the Pan Am Games paved the way for an Olympic bid.
"I think it is time that Toronto, the fourth biggest city in North America, shows to the world that they are also a global city."
But getting Toronto mayor John Tory and a cautious city council excited about bringing another multi-billion dollar sporting event to the region will be a tough sell.
A Toronto economic development committee last year unanimously rejected the idea of another Olympic bid.
Canada's financial hub has failed in two recent bids for the Summer Games, losing to Atlanta for 1996 and Beijing for 2008.
Tory has seemed intrigued about the prospect of a 2024 bid but has not yet committed to throwing the city's hat into a crowded ring that already includes Paris, Rome, Boston, Budapest, Hungary and Hamburg, Germany.
The clock is ticking and Toronto will have to decide quickly to meet the Sept. 15 deadline set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for interested cities to submit a letter of intent.
"This is the right moment to talk about this," said Aubut. "We are going to work starting tomorrow to be on time for Sept. 15.
"The mayor of Toronto has expressed some interest over the last two weeks. I know the system. He will have to convince his colleagues ... but I am telling you this is going to start to be more intense because the timing for a candidacy for 2024 is now.
"There is nothing that can be done without the mayor of the city. You need a mayor to start the process."
With new infrastructure and facilities in place, Aubut is eager to strike while the Olympic iron is hot.
The Toronto Pan Ams has also fit nicely into the new IOC blueprint for bidding and hosting Games where sustainability, legacy and cost control trumps grand stadiums and facilities that turn into white elephants.
While Toronto appeared indifferent to the approaching Pan Am Games, once they arrived the city embraced the event with stunning support and filled stadiums and arenas to cheer on home athletes.
Toronto's unbridled enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to floundering support for the troubled Boston bid, making Canada's largest city an increasingly attractive alternative.
"Such is the momentum of what happened here in Toronto. This is the momentum that should help us," said Aubut. "The IOC likes when the people support the Games. They love it. I am not shy to say those Games (Toronto Pan Ams) became the People Games."
Aubut praised the Pan Am atmosphere and cited the 63,000 volunteer applicants, the one million tickets sold and Canadian demand for more broadcast coverage.
"This is a huge as an asset for Toronto when you are looking for the next step to bid for 2024," Aubut said.
(Editing by Larry Fine)