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Kanye West has been awarded more than a dozen Grammy Awards, sold millions of albums and married into America’s reality TV royalty. But, for some Canadians, the rapper’s resumé is missing one key word to qualify him as a headliner for the Pan Am Games’ closing ceremony — Canadian.
The organizers’ decision to include the “international superstar” may be a strategic move to boast Toronto’s ability to attract a global name to what many initially seemed to consider a lacklustre event.
In less than two days, more than 47,000 people signed a petition demanding a local artist replace West.
“Why was a local artist or group not chosen and supported, just as our local athletes are throughout the games?” asks Change.org user XYZ, who started the petition. He’d prefer the likes of Drake, Feist or K’naan to grace the stage instead.
Some of the thousands who’ve signed the petition also suggested that Kanye West’s past controversies and apparent arrogance didn’t align with Canadian or Pan Am values.
They recalled the time West suggested Beck should hand over his album of the year Grammy Award to Beyoncé to “respect artistry,” and when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, also to defend Beyoncé’s musical talents.
They called West “not deserving,” “antithetical” to the Games’ spirit and “the epitome of a poor sport.”
But Setlur, for one, finds the outrage over West’s nationality unfounded.
“These are the Pan American Games,” he says. “Not the Pan Canadian Games.” He also argues that the trio of headliners represents a cross-section of the Americas.
Two counter-petitions started amid the outrage seem to agree, asking people to stop complaining about the talented artist’s upcoming performance. So far, about 400 people have signed the two petitions.
The New York Times published a piece in early July accusing locals of being “indifferent” to the games. Some Torontonians expressed their outrage over traffic changes and HOV lane rules. And relatively few people purchased tickets to the upcoming events.
Many simply tuned out the Games, says Setlur. “Everybody knows the Olympics is the major event and anything other than that is second tier.”
Richard Powers, a senior lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the president of Commonwealth Games Canada, also noted that the Games began amid a barrage of negativity.
Team Canada continued to lead the gold medal count Saturday with 45 first-place finishes. That number is holding the team’s top spot on the medal table, despite having five medals fewer than its main rival, the U.S.
Earlier this week, organizers announced more than 900,000 tickets had been sold and said they expect to sell another 100,000 minimum. Before the games, only about 800,000 had been purchased.
The Games will want to build on that momentum in the closing ceremony, says Cheri L. Bradish, who teaches sport marketing at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.
The organizers selected “a global sports entertainment icon” like West to help thank the athletes for their performance, volunteers for their participation, as well as everyone else involved, she says.
It also sends a clear message.
Already, the NBA All Star game will take place in the city in February. Perhaps next is a possible bid for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games.
Canada is already “positioned really well” as a global sport nation, Bradish says.
For both the athletes, many of whom will go on to compete in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the city, the Pan Am Games “are all steps towards the Olympic Games,” Powers says.
“They’ve really shown that Toronto can handle an international event like this.”