Island sports fans were expecting to see the likes of Greek basketball superstar and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bayern Munich’s Canadian soccer prodigy Alphonso Davies perform live in international events this year. Not bad for a mid-market like Greater Victoria, which has always punched above its weight in sports. But the pandemic denied all that as it ended sport as we know it in 2020.
With vaccines looming, there is, however, budding optimism for a sports rebirth next year. That is evidenced by the plans to bring 2,500 athletes to town, along with their families and supporters, for the 2021 B.C. 55+ Games from Sept. 14-18.
“We need something positive like this,” said Keith Wells, executive director of the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission.
“We are starting fresh. It’s a reset.”
The B.C. 55+ Games are held annually.
The 2020 Games, scheduled for Richmond, were cancelled due to COVID-19. The 2019 Games were hosted by Kelowna and the 2022 Games are scheduled for Abbotsford. “We are not burying our heads in the sand. We are confident that by mid-September of next year that we will be able to do this and make it work safely with health top of mind,” said Wells.
“It will be worthwhile for the region and the hotel and restaurant industries and also shops. It will be an abbreviated Games in that they usually have 30 sports and 3,500 athletes.”
The 2021 Victoria Games will still feature 25 sports. About 500 volunteers will be needed. Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Langford have committed venues.
It is in line with other, much larger, sporting events planned for 2021. There is every indication, even if it’s scaled back in terms of pomp and spectators, that Tokyo organizers are fully intending to go ahead with the delayed 2020 Plus One Olympic Games next summer. The nearly 75 Island-based Olympians and Paralympians expected to compete in Tokyo are training under that assumption.
The Over-55 athletes are not in that elite class. It will be a different breed of athlete descending on the Island next year.
“There is no doubt the FIBA [men’s basketball] Olympic qualifier will be the most attention-grabbing sports event hosted in town next year. The 55+ Games are more about life-long sport and well-being — it’s about sport for life,” said Wells.
“The biggest thing the B.C. 55+ Games officials hear is that they have never been held here and participants keep asking ‘when are we going to the capital?’ ”
Michael O’Connor, a lawyer and noted sports builder inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame, has been named president of the 2021 Greater Victoria 55+ B.C. Games organizing committee. He was vice-chair of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games and has been vice-president of the Canadian Rugby Union, president of the B.C. Rugby Union and was chairman of Canada’s first World Cup rugby team.
“You can’t start next June to prepare for an event of this size coming in September. It has to start now,” said O’Connor.
“And Victoria needs something positive to look forward to in this difficult time. This will not only highlight the city, which was previously known as the jewel of Canada, but also promote healthy and active lifestyles and sport for life.”