Panam Sports President Neven Ilic praises the work undertaken to stage Cali 2021 ©Agencia.Xpress Media

Panam Sports President Neven Ilic has hailed the ability of organisers to stage the first-ever Junior Pan American Games here in Cali in face the of the COVID-19 pandemic and a fresh wave of cancellations.

Cali 2021 implemented strict countermeasures to guard against COVID-19 outbreaks whereby national delegations, media and fans were kept within a bubble environment and had to take coronavirus tests every four days, with vaccination for over-18s also mandatory.

"This has not been easy," Ilic said.

"We all know that we are in a pandemic, and that we have lived through two years of uncertainty.

"But I want to highlight what the Government of Colombia, the Government of the Valle del Cauca, the Mayor of Cali and ourselves as a team have accomplished.

"We were all aware that we wanted to make this effort, that we did not want to stop our hard work and that this was going to be important for the athletes of our continent.

"As the President of Panam Sports, I am proud that we have dared and that these Games have been a success."

While Cali 2021 was taking place in Colombia, another large-scale multi-sport event - the Winter Universiade in Lucerne in Switzerland, scheduled for December 11 to 21 - was cancelled because of travel restrictions introduced in response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Cali 2021 was able to reach its conclusion and a total of 220 athletes qualified for the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games by winning gold medals.

"We are very happy above all because of the feedback we have received from the athletes themselves," said Ilic.

Gold medallists from the Junior Pan American Games in Cali qualify to compete at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games ©Getty Images
Gold medallists from the Junior Pan American Games in Cali qualify to compete at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games ©Getty Images

"They have expressed to us that this is a new opportunity that has opened for them, that they are competing with their peers who could be the best at Santiago 2023, something that is difficult to assume at these ages.

"Sometimes that process of making the national teams takes many years of effort, but here the doors are opening for many of them.

"The Games have been held at a high level and the facilities are world class.

"Competitors have performed outstandingly.

"Several Pan American and even junior world records have been set, and that makes me very happy.

"This party is taking place under the concept that we wanted for the young athletes of the Americas."

Approximately 3,800 athletes from all 41 Panam Sports countries and territories competed at the Games.

The event was intended to offer support to athletes between the ages of 18 and 23 who are too old for youth competitions and often not good enough to be selected for senior tournaments.

Such athletes can slip through the cracks and not receive the help they need from their National Olympic Committees, it was feared.

As a qualification event for the Pan American Games, it offers a clearer pathway of progression and can keep a career on track.

Panam Sports secretary general Ivar Sisniega told insidethegames earlier this month that interested bidders have already emerged for the 2025 edition of the Junior Pan American Games.