Will the Pan American Games return to Colombia once the money has been found? PRESIDENCIA COLOMBIA

Colombia's president, Gustavo Petro, stated in a press conference that the $8 million is available to proceed with the bank transfer and try to regain the venue in Barranquilla, which was lost last week due to repeated violations, despite extensions being granted.

President Petro has expressed confidence that he will be able to reclaim Barranquilla as the venue for the Pan American Games, after Panam Sports withdrew from the bidding process last week, citing breaches of contract. The payment of the first of the two instalments of $4 was the last straw that exhausted the patience of the Pan American Sports Organisation (Panam Sports), headed by Chilean Neven Ilic. 

The much-criticised Colombian president was speaking at a press conference after a meeting on Tuesday at the Casa de Nariño, the headquarters of the national government, with the mayor of Barranquilla, Alejandro Char, the governor of the department of Atlántico, Eduardo Verano, the president of the Colombian Olympic Committee, Ciro Solano; the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Álvaro Leyva, and Sports, Astrid Rodríguez, to coordinate a plan to recover the venue for the Games. 

Speaking to the media in the capital, Bogotá, he claimed to have the $8 million ready to bring the Pan American Games back to Barranquilla and Colombia, fulfilling the signed contract. "We have drawn up a plan to recover the Pan American and Caribbean Games. What we want to announce is that the eight million dollars for the concession of the rights to the Pan American Games are ready and can be transferred at any time if the other party to the agreement deems it necessary," expressed the President of the South American country. 

In the face of relentless criticism from the public and opposition politicians, he stated that all necessary diplomatic means would be used to recover the venue. He has authorised Minister Alvaro Leyva to contact presidents and foreign ministers to seek political support so that the Caribbean city can regain what it had won on paper but lost due to the inefficiency of Colombia's political bureaucracy.

The Colombian president hopes that the decision to withdraw the venue will not be approved at the Panam Sports Assembly to be held in February. For this reason, he will try to use the power of lobbying and diplomatic persuasion, in addition to now showing enthusiasm for the Games (something that has not happened since he took over the presidency of Colombia). 

To demonstrate the commitment he made after losing the venue, President Petro will make a brief stopover on his trip to Antarctica to pass through Chile and visit President Gabriel Boric, to seek support. He will then meet with Neven Ilic, the president of Panam Sports.

According to Petro, in his meeting with Ilic, he will try to "clear up the misunderstandings and give the assurances that Colombia must hold the Games." He claims that it was not bad intentions, but bureaucratic problems caused by inexperienced officials led to the non-payment of the necessary and promised guarantees to host the biggest sporting event after the Olympics.

It is worth noting that the goodwill now expressed by President Petro marks a significant change from the recent events. Following the announcement in August 2021 that Barranquilla would host the 20th Pan American Games, Colombia consistently failed to meet its economic commitments. The first half of the payment was due by mid-2022 (deadline 30 June), but it was not made and extensions were requested.

In August 2023, Panam Sports sent a letter to the Colombian Olympic Committee (COC), the government of the department of Atlántico (capital Barranquilla) and President Gustavo Petro, threatening to withdraw the venue from Barranquilla. The authorities managed to save the Games for a while and obtained a new deadline extension. 

The new deadline was granted on 30 August 2023, when Panam Sports granted another two-month extension until 29 October 2023, which Colombia once again failed to meet. Seven days before the deadline, Panam Sports asked for another extension, which was granted with the promise that the money would be available. In fact, Minister Rodríguez signed the official document stating that she had the full amount (US$8 million), but did not make the payment despite the ultimatum given.

These numerous violations and unfulfilled promises by Colombia, a president who showed no interest in hosting the Panam Games in his country, and various disagreements exhausted the patience of Panam Sports, who withdrew the Games from Barranquilla. 

President Petro seems to have risked too much by not fulfilling his commitments for more than a year and a half, promising things he would not deliver, and signing documents he would not honour. Now, in a press conference, he is trying to salvage his presidential reputation, which is at an all-time low. He is blaming officials for long-standing problems in a desperate attempt to regain what he has lost on his own. 

The goodwill of Panam Sports will determine whether the president, who has been playing with fire since taking office, will get burned or whether he will manage to save himself and, above all, avoid what would be the biggest embarrassment for Colombia in recent years by losing the venue for non-compliance. 

It would be a new sporting embarrassment 40 years after a similar situation (albeit in addition to the prevailing insecurity during a difficult period marked by violence linked to drug trafficking) led to the country losing the right to host the 1986 FIFA World Cup.