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THE 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES : Analysis : What the Pan Am Organizers Lacked: Time and a World View

August 24, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — As rain began falling during the Pan American Games championship baseball game Saturday, the grounds crew, consisting of volunteers from the local organizing committee, PAX-I, hurried onto the field with the tarpaulin. But after covering most of the infield, the volunteers ran out of muscle, and tarp, leaving home plate and the third-base line vulnerable to the rain.

As has happened so often during the Pan American Games, PAX-I came up a little short.

When the Games began 17 days ago, there was a feeling that the organizing committee was ready, but that the city might be overwhelmed. In fact, the opposite proved true.

Once known only for the 500-mile race, Indianapolis has proved there is life here after May. With relentless jackhammers blasting away during the day and rock and blues bands playing until all hours of the night, there is no way anyone ever again will call this place Naptown.

But while the pace inevitably has quickened, the people here never seem too hurried to give directions to a lost visitor. Many of them even tried to do it in Spanish. Why not? Menus were printed in Spanish, the music in hotel lobbies was Spanish, signs directing people to key locations, such as restrooms, were in Spanish.

There is a lack of cynicism here that enabled the people to embrace the Pan American Games as if they were newly discovered relatives visiting from another country. The people didn't always know the right things to say, but their intentions were good.

They also were enthusiastic ticket-buyers. While the organizing committee (PAX-I) had a goal to sell $7 million in tickets, it appears as if the figure will surpass $8.7 million. About 80% of the ticket buyers have been from the Indianapolis area.

Credit for that also should go to PAX-I because it sold the public on some sports that are hardly of the backyard variety, such as taekwondo, team handball and synchronized swimming.

Credit also should go to PAX-I for giving those who bought tickets as good a show as possible. While the competition was not always good--the United States, as usual, had an overwhelming advantage in the medal standings--the competitions were.

"That is the most important area, that the athletes were able to come together and compete," said Anita DeFrantz, an International Olympic Committee member from Los Angeles who was raised in Indianapolis. "That's what it's all about."

But the Pan American Games, like the Olympic Games, are more than just a sporting event. They require meticulous management, international diplomatic skills, time and money, none of which PAX-I had in abundance.

The last two, time and money, might have solved the management problems.

More cooperation also would have helped from the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), which can claim organization only as part of its title.

But ultimately, the responsibility for the Games' numerous glitches rests with PAX-I.

There were problems in housing, transportation, language services and security.

To be sure, the first three were nuisances. In all fairness, the shortage of housing for athletes and officials was as much PASO's fault as PAX-I's. But the fourth area, security, could have resulted in a catastrophe. That it didn't can be attributed as much as anything else to good fortune.

It is unfortunate that in today's world it is necessary to have an overt show of force at international gatherings of this magnitude. But PAX-I's security forces, consisting of local and state law-enforcement agencies, didn't realize that until it almost was too late.

During the early days of this event, the security's relative invisibility was in pleasant contrast to the 1983 Pan American Games at Caracas, Venezuela, where submachine gun-toting soldiers patrolled the city. But an ugly incident at the boxing competition here, where several Cuban athletes charged into the stands and brawled with members of a group demonstrating against Cuban President Fidel Castro, proved that Caracas had it right.

If one of the athletes had been seriously injured in the melee, it would have been a cold day in Havana before U.S. and Cuban athletes came together again in friendly competition. It also could have endangered American athletes traveling to Cuba for the 1991 Pan American Games.

Some of these problems might have been averted if PAX-I had been given more time. While cities usually have at least five years to prepare for the Pan American Games, Indianapolis had only 2 1/2 years after Chile, then Ecuador, decided they could not finance the Games, which had been awarded to them.

Asked if, considering the difficulties here, another U.S. city will ever want the Pan American Games, DeFrantz said, "Yes, but they'll insist on having at least four years to plan."

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