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Memory Lane: That time Sudbury earned praise for hosting the 1988 World Juniors but lost $1.1M doing it

Share your memories of the 1988 World Junior Track and Field Championships 


It was a really big show. One thousand and twenty-four athletes from 123 countries competed in Sudbury in the summer of 1988 when the city hosted the World Junior Track and Field Championships at Laurentian University's sports stadium.

Sudbury.com invites readers to share your memories and photographs. Were you a volunteer? Did you perform in the opening or closing ceremonies? Maybe you met an athlete from the Soviet Union or Australia? Do you attend one of the many special events?

Memories must be accompanied by your name to be included in the May 18 Memory Lane article. 

World Juniors II, held from July 26 to 31, 1988, was organized under the auspices of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) and the Canadian Track and Field Association. The organizing board of directors were members of the city's Who's Who and included the mayor and the university president. Twenty-seven subcommittees were chaired by business and community leaders who were eager to promote their much-maligned city. 

In addition to government funders, there were many corporate and local sponsors – just not enough –  and generously donated services. Thousands of people volunteered at sports events and the World Juniors Arts Festival, which opened July 22 with Glass Tiger in concert at Sudbury Arena.

Organizers planned a grand celebration of sports and culture that included an opening ceremony with young performers followed by fireworks. Canadian actor Don Harron, aka Charlie Farquharson, dressed in a white tuxedo, was the master of ceremonies. Lincoln Alexander, lieutenant governor of Ontario, declared the championships open.

Crowds of 15,000 filled the stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies. Ticket sales for sporting events raised $429,000 – $49,000 more than expected.

Forty-eight Canadians participated but they did not win any medals. The Soviet Union took home the most medals (22) and East Germany won the most gold (11).

The Toronto Star ran a front page story headlined, "Sudbury deserves a gold medal for staging games."

But the media attention, positive publicity, goodwill and fun times were quickly forgotten a few weeks later when organizers reported a $1.1-million deficit.

The budget for the World Juniors was $4,800,350. Actual expenditures as reported by the accounting firm Thorne, Ernst & Whinney were $5,183.457. Revenues were about $600,000 less than expected.

Part of the debt was the result of poor attendance at the ambitious arts festival – 24 acts over 10 days. The festival lost $547,000. 

On some nights there were four events going on the same time. Featured acts included World Drums, 250 of the world's greatest percussionists that were a bit hit at Vancouver's Expo 86, Montreal's O Vertigo Danse, The Nylons, comedian and impersonator André Philippe-Gagnon, opera singer Mary-Lou Fallis, and renowned jazz pianist Gene DiNovi.

Local entertainers included Sudbury Youth Orchestra, Sudbury Symphony Orchestra, the Allan Walsh Quartet. and classic guitarist Philip Candelaria.

"Too little audience for too many events," is how one organizer put it. 

Other financial challenges cited were costs related to the upgrading of the Laurentian stadium and the bill for providing "world-class" broadcast facilities.

Sudbury council asked for an independent audit of the finances and eventually approved money to cover most of the debt with some creditors receiving only partial payments.

Critics complained the deficit was the result of mismanagement and magical thinking. 

Supporters of Sudbury's World Juniors have pointed to an estimated $8-million contribution to the local economy, upgrades to the university's track and field facility, and unmeasurable good publicity and international media coverage.

Sudbury's bid to the IAAF, made in 1986, beat out Cali, Colombia. Cali is scheduled to host the 2022 event.

The first World Junior Championships in Athletics was held in 1986 in Athens, Greece. Moncton, N.B., hosted the World Juniors in 2010. 

Share your memories in the comments below or email them to editor@sudbury.com or vgilhula@gmail.com.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. She covered the World Juniors in 1988 for Northern Ontario Business. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.  

Sources:
The Sudbury Star, Junior Deficit, What Went Wrong? April 1, 1989
Sudbury Invests Heavily in ImageNorthern Ontario Business, September 1988.