Construction for the 2019 Pan American Games is way behind schedule. But that's a secondary problem.
The quadrennial event in Lima, Peru, has no sponsors, no marketing and is relying on a $1.2 billion budget financed by the national government.
"This is the biggest challenge I have today — the sponsors," Neven Ilic, the president of the Pan American Sports Organization, told The Associated Press. "Now we have to go to the market to find sponsors."
Peru is organizing the largest sports event in its history — in the wake of the worst flooding in recent memory.
Flooding earlier this year in the north of the country, and in Lima, killed more than 100 and displaced thousands. President Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki has put reconstruction costs at up to $9 billion, raising questions about the propriety of big spending on a two-week sports event.
Supporters like Kuczysnki say the country can afford both, while critics point out that last year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro generated as much bad news as good.
Nine months after the games ended, Rio organizers still owe creditors about $30 million. Many venues are abandoned, searching for events and money for maintenance.
"Peru has accepted being the host of the Pan American Games," Kuczysnki told reporters. "It would be a real tragedy not to keep our pledge and dedicate all the needed resources to the reconstruction, and to the Pan American Games."
Elected last month as president of the regional sports body PASO, Ilic has been lobbying in Lima for several weeks to get everyone behind the project. Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda said the games should be cancelled when the floods hit in March. Since then, he's said they should go ahead.
"We know everything about all the problems they have, but today I think they are ready," said Ilic, a Chilean and grandson of Croatian immigrants. He termed the construction schedule "tight, very short" and said all venue and related construction needed to start in September.
The biggest project is an athletes' village composed of seven 20-story towers. A metro line is also just 15 percent completed. The country's comptroller said last month that 40 percent should be done at this stage.
Ilic said he'll look to some of the IOC's big sponsors like Coca-Cola as potential clients.
"First, we have to have a good proposal to present," he said.
Seeking expertise, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with Britain to line up British companies to help deliver security, construction, and event management.
Ilic has promised "no white elephants."
"We have asked them to please build (venues) in accordance with your reality, your culture," Ilic said. "They don't have big stadiums, big construction."
The continental championships open July 26, 2019, and will attract 7,000 athletes from Alaska to Argentina. For many it's a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The last two Pan Am Games were in Toronto in 2015, and Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011. Rio hosted the 2007 edition, which it used to lobby for the Olympics.
Rolando Arellano, the president of Lima-based Arellano Marketing, said most Peruvians were unaware the games were coming, and few "know what that means."
He said the commitment to the Pan Am Games has put the government in a bind.
"If the government spends on this, they can be seen as insensitive to other problems," Arellano told AP. "But if they don't, they will lose their image. Either way, they are not in a very comfortable position."
The Peruvian capital is also host in September to the International Olympic Committee, which will meet to pick either Paris or Los Angeles as the venue for the 2024 Olympics. There was also pressure to cancel that event.
These meetings take place with scandal hovering over Peru's national Olympic committee.
Jose Quinones was disqualified last year by a Peruvian government body as president of the local Olympic committee with reports suggesting he misappropriated $3.3 million. Peru is to elect a new president in June.
Fransicso Boza, the secretary general of the Peruvian Olympic Committee, is also being investigated by a prosecutor on corruption charges. He was Peru's flagbearer in the Rio Olympics and an Olympic silver medalist in shooting in the 1984 Olympics.
"Peru has seen a lot of progress in the last 15 years, so we must show off our development," Arellano said. "This puts Lima and Peru in the international news. That could be a big win. Of course, you are not sure you are going to gain only goodwill."
Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in Lima contributed to this report.
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