Winter Games needs cash infusion to make 2023 event successful

Renfrew – The organizing committee for the 2023 Ontario Winter Games being held at several locations across the Ottawa Valley is now faced with another huge hurdle to make it to the starting line this coming February and what the committee needs is a major infusion of cash on top of the existing $1.4 million already approved.

Reeve Peter Emon did his best to put a positive spin on the games when he made his report to Renfrew town council last week and although the committee has some serious challenges ahead, Reeve Emon said they can be overcome just as previous roadblocks were dealt with.

As chair of the games, he said when close to 2,200 young athletes and their families arrive in the Valley, the positive steps and hard work done by all those involved will help make the games a success.

He said the working committee are all community volunteers who are devoting countless hours to help put a positive light on Renfrew County and all those who live here, for the rest of the province to see.

Part of that development was the introduction of Diane Drouin, who was the manager of Canada 150 in Ottawa and who brings a wealth of knowledge for the committee to learn from.

“Diane has extensive experience working with hundreds of volunteers and she knows firsthand the challenges of staging large volunteer-driven events,” he said. “She offered advice in many areas, including planning and the need to add more volunteers than you need in case of emergency. She also offered strategies on retention as a way of offering opportunities to learn.

“She managed over 3,000 volunteers for Canada 150 for the City of Ottawa, so we’re taking these points to heart,” he said.

The number of volunteers needed to stage an event covering the large geographical layout of the county is an enormous undertaking. Events will be held in several locations including Arnprior, Renfrew, Pembroke, Barry’s Bay and Petawawa.

When the committee first sent out a call for volunteers, the response was underwhelming with only a few hundred adding their names to the list. A second, more specific call was made and the return doubled the original number thereby making it over 500.

Volunteerism and organization for these types of events often works on momentum with a clear schedule of what needs to be done and by when. However, the original dates of the games were in February and March of 2022.

COVID-19 forced the postponement of the games until 2023 and now Reeve Emon and his committee must not only confirm the availability of those volunteers, but he has to find innovative ways to keep them motivated.

On top of that, he and his committee realized they needed additional volunteers based on his observations following his attendance at the Ontario Summer Games in Mississauga.

“When I attended the games this past July, I learned a great deal,” he said. “They had 450 volunteers signed to help the 3,000 athletes as well as complete their own tasks. Of those 450 volunteers, half of them were assigned medical tasks and nothing else. That is an area we will need to shore up.”

He noted the summer games included speeches that were far too long, with far too many being made. In some cases, the politicians who delivered a speech made the content more about themselves rather than the athletes who were the primary reason the games are held.

One constant message he heard was the length of a typical day being too long. This will be a challenge for the Renfrew County games with some venues being a two-hour drive one way to attend an event. The days ended up being too long due to an excessive number of speeches and most of them went on far too long.

One area that encouraged him to see expanded is the sale of Renfrew County 2023 Games merchandise and swag.

“The sale of merchandise was steady and that is an area where money could be made to assist in the need for additional dollars on top of our existing $1.4 million budget.

Reeve Emon concluded his presentation by coming back to the issue of more money to successfully host the games. He said the committee initially estimated $1.4 million in revenue but predicts it will need more to fund the games.

“We’re in the process of chasing sponsorship money,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of us out in the community in the next little while at various events talking to service clubs and councils about that.”

He said the committee wants a legacy project so the games will be seen not only as a showcase of Renfrew County, but a legacy would be a lasting reminder of the importance of these types of events.

“The committee would like to see a sport fund for the underserved,” he said. “They have a goal of making sports accessible to all Renfrew County residents by removing financial barriers, creating sports programs and improving existing sporting infrastructure.

‘We’re currently working out the details on that,” he said. “It’s going to be an ongoing project which will be set up at arm's length from the (OWG) organization starting next August after the games are over.”

The Ontario Winter Games will feature 2,200 athletes competing in 23 sports at venues across the county. It is scheduled to take place the weekends of February 2-5 and February 9-12.

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader