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Harper leads athletes in pre-Pan Am Games cheer

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses for a group photo as he visits with Canadian athletes at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games athletes' village in Toronto on Friday, July, 10 2015. Chris Young/The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Canadian athletes got some support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper a few hours before Friday night’s Pan Am Games opening ceremony.

Wearing a black tracksuit with “Canada” emblazoned on the back, Harper stopped by the athletes village in Toronto.

The prime minister shook hands with several athletes then led the group in a “Go Canada” cheer.

Later this evening, Harper is set to join thousands of spectators at the Rogers Centre — temporarily renamed the Pan Am Ceremonies Venue — for the sold-out opening ceremony.

READ MORE: Updates from the Pan Am opening ceremony

The ceremony is also being broadcast on screens at Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall.

READ MORE: Canada to field country’s largest Pan Am Games team ever

Though the Games officially begin today, some competitions started as early as Tuesday.

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Earlier Friday, the head of the Games organizing committee said if the event goes well, it could set the stage for the city to make another Olympic bid.

“If we do a good job, we’ll have the option of having Olympics; if we don’t do a good job and if the city doesn’t respond, we will not have that option,” David Peterson said Friday.

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Except for a large stadium, all of the facilities would be in place for an Olympic Games in the next 10 or 20 years, Peterson added.

“The timelines on these things are very long,” he told a news conference.

He said an Olympic bid is not the focus now, but if the Pan Am Games go well, a future leadership group could use them as the basis for another pitch for the Olympics.

READ MORE: Pan Am Games could lead to Toronto Olympic bid

“It takes and awful lot of political will, an awful lot of leadership and corporate and public co-operation.”

The former Ontario premier called the Toronto Pan Am Games “the best-organized multi-sport games ever,” with all the facilities including the athletes village set to go.

“I expect the Games are going to unfold extremely well.”

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About 800,000 out of 1.4 million tickets for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games have been sold and Peterson said he expects Pan Am sales will hit 90 per cent.

He also said he’s not concerned about some of the negative comments being made about the Games as “it’s always the way” for this kind of event.

“There is no games in the world that haven’t had critics and cynics leading up to the opening day — it is totally predictable,” Peterson said. “What you’re seeing right now on the opening day, you’re seeing the positive buzz washing over all of that, you’re seeing it reflected in positive ticket sales, in the enthusiasm and in the energy.”

READ MORE: Ready or not, the Pan Am Games are here

Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said the Games are a big positive for the province.

“When you look at it overall, you’re looking at what is 26,000 jobs, according to economists, that are created by this kind of an event, and $3.7 billion of economic advantage that will accrue to Ontario and Canada as a result of this,” he said. “We have every reason to be optimistic.”

Duguid added that despite reports of hotels not having as many rooms booked ahead of the Games as expected, the multi-sport event is expected to benefit a number of sectors, including the restaurant and hotel industry.

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