Colombia will not host the 2027 Pan American Games, which were to be held in Barranquilla, due to non-payments to the organizers. This is explained in a communiqué issued by Panam Sports, the international organization that brings together the national Olympic committees of the Americas, which explains the repeated non-compliance with the dates established for the payments of the organization rights, totaling eight million dollars.
Currently, the Pan American Games are the international sports competition that gathers the most athletes after the Olympic Games. Between competitors, officials, press, and logistical support personnel, there are more than ten thousand attendees, hence the importance of Colombia being able to host them.
This scandal has given rise to all kinds of accusations between different Colombian rulers, who hold each other responsible for the fact, although the truth is that these breaches are historical and began in 2022, during the presidency of Ivan Duque and have been maintained with Gustavo Petro at the helm of the country.
“Irrevocable” decision by Panam Sports
The news broke yesterday, January 3, when Panam Sports published a statement announcing “that its Executive Committee has unanimously decided to withdraw the venue of the XX Pan American Games from the city of Barranquilla, Colombia”. In the text, the international sports organization explained that “the resolution has been taken after the innumerable breaches of the current contract”.
Panam Sports also points out that “last October 19 at a meeting in Santiago de Chile and after receiving an official letter from the Colombian authorities dated October 25, Barranquilla requested an extension of the deadlines in order to comply with the contract. The proposal was accepted by Panam Sports, having a new date of December 30, 2023 and January 30, 2024. However, given the lack of response after the new deadline, the Executive Committee of Panam Sports on January 3, 2024, has made an irrevocable decision to withdraw the right to be the host city of the continental event in 2027.”
With this decision, Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, gains strength as an alternative to host the sports competition, as the city is already preparing the 2025 Pan American Junior Games.
Colombia did “even the impossible”
Once the decision of the international sports body was known, the government of Colombia gave the order to its Ministry of Sports to do “even the impossible” to retain the games in Barranquilla, something that is already impossible, given the official notification.
Alejandro Char, mayor of the city, who has been acting as mayor since January 1, explained this in statements to the press in which he offered a hopeful and conciliatory tone concerning the national government. “I saw at this moment all the interest of the National Government in wanting to move this forward,” Char said before a sea of microphones.
Colombian options, however, are nil. Since 2022, under the government of Ivan Duque, the first payment deadline to move forward with the process was missed. And in October 2023, already during the presidency of Gustavo Petro, they had reached an agreement to make the payment of US$ 8 million in two installments: US$ 4 million on December 30, 2023 and US$ 4 million on January 30, 2024, but the payment committed for the first date was not fulfilled.
Mayor Char affirmed that the money is available, but described this payment default as “an impasse in the Public Treasury”. Thus, the local mayor also said that President Petro was communicating directly with the Chilean government and President Boric, with whom the Colombian head of state has good personal relations, “to solve this”. The mention of the president of Chile is focused on the fact that one of the headquarters of Panam Sports is Santiago de Chile and the president of the entity, Neven Ilic, is of that nationality.
Explanations from the Minister of Sport
The last to give explanations was the Colombian Minister of Sports, Astrid Bibiana Rodriguez. The minister agreed that there was a two-part payment scheduled with Panam Sports, but that the first part, due on December 30, was not made.
“In December, as I told the president Neven Ilic, of Panam Sports, and the president of the Colombian Olympic Committee, we had difficulty in the ‘pack’ which is the allocation of money for payments. The pack did not reach us and there were two options: to leave the December payment in ‘accounts payable’, in which case payment would possibly be made in March, or to use the 2024 budget and pay in January”, Rodriguez explained.
The Minister reiterated her government’s commitment to sport, and expressed surprise at the fact that “Panam Sports sent a letter to the president of the Colombian Olympic Committee communicating their unilateral decision, contrary to what was agreed with this Ministry, to terminate the contract and cancel the holding of the Pan American Games in Barranquilla”.
Astrid Rodriguez also gave her assurance that the Colombian government intended to pay the whole eight million during this month of January, taking into account, she said, that the Governor’s Office of Atlántico and the Mayor’s Office of Barranquilla do not have resources at this moment “because they were closing the year 2023”.
History repeats itself
This is the third time that Colombia has lost the hosting of a major international sporting event. First it was its refusal to host the 1986 World Cup, which ended up being held in Mexico, and then the loss of the 2021 Copa America, which ended up being hosted by Brazil, after the government found that it did not meet the conditions required to host the event. This was evidenced by the riots that took place outside the Barranquilla stadium, in a match between the local team Junior and the Argentine River Plate, which ended with the police firing tear gas and the suspension of the match in full view of the whole world.
The country had been working for years to host the 1986 World Cup. However, during the presidency of the liberal Julio Cesar Turbay (1978-1982) the first difficulties were noted, and it was under the conservative president Belisario Betancur that Colombia officially renounced the event.
“We have many things to do and there is no time to attend to the extravagances of FIFA and its partners…. The golden rule according to which the World Cup should serve Colombia, and not Colombia the World Cup multinational, was not fulfilled,” said President Betancur in his public address.
Something similar happened in 2021, when the America’s Cup scheduled for 2020 had to be postponed due to the confinement and harsher effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In that year, under the presidency of Ivan Duque from the right-wing Democratic Center party, it became evident that the required security measures were not in place. What happened in Barranquilla was the straw that broke the Conmebol’s back.