Tourism Ottawa pushing for hosting more sports events

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Ottawa Tourism’s chief executive Michael Crockatt admitted that the last year had meant the organisation was no longer in the business of “being able to make predictions anymore�. Still, though, that hasn’t stopped Canada’s capital from doubling down on its rigorous approach to preparation when it comes to hosting events.

“We want to make sure that we are in a position to be as aggressive as we can be, working with sports organisations and their future events,� began Crockatt, “but also being as understanding as we can be about the limitations that they have and the limitations that are currently in place for international markets.

As 2021 nears its end, Ottawa has refused to let Covid-19 diminish its standing as a vibrant, hospitable city capable of hosting – and elevating – a variety of sporting events. In August, the capital staged the Canadian Sprint Canoe Kayak Championships at the picturesque Mooney’s Bay and will close out the year with the Everest Canadian Curling Club Championships at the renowned Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club.

Prior to the pandemic, Ottawa’s 2019 hosting slate alone ranged from the International Volleyball Federation’s (FIVB) Nations League to the Continental Para Badminton Championships. Going into 2022, there is a palpable sense the city wants to make up for lost time. Of note, the International Gay Rugby (IGR) Bingham Cup, the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s (LPGA) CP Women’s Open and the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships are among the highlights on an expanding calendar.

With the experience and infrastructure to reinforce its grand plans, the stage is set for Ottawa to further establish itself as a compelling destination to welcome sporting competitions, whether they are at the provincial, national or international level

Speaking during a recent SportsPro Insider Series event, Robert Kawamoto, Ottawa Tourism’s assistant director for major events and sport, laid out the capital’s approach for attracting events and how the city has been positioned as a destination ready to welcome everyone with open arms.

It’s easy for us to have a target list and decide we want to host this and we want to host that. But we really need to connect and engage with our community.

Know what you’re looking for

For Kawamoto, Ottawa’s approach is carried out from the bottom up, with a community spirit very much a guiding light in the decision-making process. It’s all very well jotting down a dream shortlist of sporting competitions, but there has to be clear justification for each potential event, including if it will provide a tangible impact.

“We start with grassroots really,� Kawamoto explains. “It’s easy for us to have a target list and decide we want to host this and we want to host that. But we really need to connect and engage with our community to find out what we’re capable of hosting or we’re interested in hosting, and what really is the meaning or the purpose behind an event that we’re going to bring to our community.

“It has to really fit not only our economic requirements, but more so the social impact. What are the benefits for an event coming into our community? How does it fit with all of the things that our community believes in and has some purpose to what the event is going to actually produce for our community during the event and post event.�

Ottawa wants its events to encourage community spirit and have a positive social impact

Understand the value

The bottom line will naturally play a significant role in deciding what events a destination wants to host – perhaps even more so going forward in light of the decimation of the sporting schedule in 2020.

Kawamoto acknowledges the importance of economic impact, but believes it shouldn’t be the sole topic of conversation when it comes to wider value. In Ottawa’s case, the province of Ontario has the largest Indigenous population in Canada and sport has proven an ideal way to celebrate the community and promote an active lifestyle.

“We’re hosting a Youth and a Masters Indigenous Games in the next two years,� says Kawamoto. “What became very clear in our discussions was the need for outreach to our local Indigenous communities. That in itself was valuable for engaging those athletes who are underserved. They’re not on the billboards or not on television. It’s about diversity and inclusion.�

Robert Kawamoto, Ottawa Tourism’s assistant director for major events and sport

Indeed, Ottawa Tourism plans to evolve in response to the greater societal emphasis being put on diversity and inclusion. Kawamoto believes sport has a vital part to play on that front.

“I think sport is an excellent vehicle to be able to bring to the forefront any ideas with how a community wants to present itself,� he continues. “Specifically, with the local communities in Ottawa, the Indigenous communities, there was a great connection there.

“Also, Ottawa Tourism is doing a lot of work with the Algonquin College [of Applied Arts and Technology] and working with Indigenous programmes and Indigenous businesses as well. So there’s this very important element within the Ottawa area with Indigenous connections and engagement in business and in sport. It’s very, very important to us.

Evidently, sport can provide the platform for destinations to tell the stories they believe people need to hear and will be proud to be a part of. Arguably, that is where the true values lies.

Build relationships

Last December, Ottawa was announced as host of the 2026 Wheelchair Basketball World Championships. At the time, Chantal Petitclerc, Canadian senator and honorary chair for Ottawa 2026, said the event would be “about so much more than sport�, promising an occasion to “unite the world, celebrate the resilience of the human spirit, and champion inclusion�.

Ottawa has made no secret of its desire for inclusivity and knows that commitment over the next decade will largely be dependent on the relationships it develops with sporting organisations. According to Kawamoto, the city puts its cards on the table at an early stage.

Ottawa will host the 2026 Wheelchair Basketball World Championships

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“It comes down to what are you trying to achieve? Other than the logistics of making the event happen, what is the story behind the event? What are the other things that are important?,� he says.

“It comes down to relationships, it comes down to having the right people around the table that genuinely and authentically care about hosting this event, and doing more than just what needs to be done on the logistical side, on the infrastructure side.

“It’s the personal things that people are engaged with. So having the right people around the table really draws out that conversation. That’s one thing I would recommend, you’ve got to have the right people, you’ve got to have people who care. These events need to be meaningful, purposeful.

“It’s about truly, genuinely having a partnership with someone, having those types of conversations that really will make a difference.�

Think about the legacy

The Bingham Cup will arrive in Ottawa next year for its 20th anniversary, bringing with it a moving backstory. The tournament was established in 2002 in memory of Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player and victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack who fought back against hijackers on board United Airlines Flight 93. As well as honouring Bingham’s memory, the event champions acceptance and accessibility in rugby.

For many, that legacy would be enough. But Ottawa wants to use the hosting opportunity to learn, while it also hopes the Bingham Cup will leave a lasting impression on the city long after the event has departed.

“It isn’t just a gay rugby tournament. It’s more than that now, it’s bigger than that now,� notes Kawamoto. “That is the future of major events and how organisers are. They have a platform now. [The Bingham Cup] is a very big event, it’s grown very, very large. And there’s a very strong voice with this event. So it’s a great platform to really talk about this, it’s really exciting.

“We’ll see what everything will look like next summer when it comes to Ottawa. I’m looking forward to many exciting things to come out of it, and a lot of learnings for other event organisers and how they run their events, and what they can consider are important and what stories to tell.

“Equality, diversity and inclusion are very important in our world right now. This tournament that’s coming next year is about that.�

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