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Sports parades are logistical nightmares

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Saturday, June 22, 2019 – Page S3

TORONTO -- Certain groups do parades well. The military, for instance.

One thing I miss about the Soviet Union is the parades. There was nothing like watching a series of ICBMs roll by to remind you who your enemies were and, by extension, your friends. Simpler times.

Sports teams don't do parades well. After this week's parade meltdown in Toronto, they ought to never do a parade again.

It's time to bid farewell to the tradition. In any way but with a parade.

Sports parades are shambolic affairs by definition. You can't start truly planning one until you've won something. Having won something, you have only a few days to put it on because the players all want to go home.

There's no time for the usual logistics.

You can't foresee the weather, which can be a killer under the wrong circumstances.

You have no idea how many people will show up. Often, far too many.

Most important, it is in the nature of human beings that when you get thousands and thousands of them together in a haphazard fashion, something terrible will happen. That's why normally this sort of gathering is referred to as a riot.

The city of Toronto throwing a party for the Toronto Raptors was a nice idea. The party itself, less so. It turned into a clammy, claustrophobic, hours-long trap for the "lucky" ones who got into Nathan Phillips Square. It took the buses carrying the team five hours to make a 15-minute drive. And, of course, a couple of people were shot and a panic was set off while the presentations were finally under way.

It's very possible the cool nerves and quick intervention of the event's emcee, Raptors play-by-play man Matt Devlin, prevented a genuine disaster.

Over the past couple of days, in our Canadian way, we've wrestled with the question "Who's to blame?" and decided no one is. Or everyone is. Which is another way of saying no one is. They were out of practice and they'll be better next time.

How about skipping that part. Is that possible? How about not doing it at all.

The military does a good parade because they are planned well in advance and everyone involved has access to weapons. Thus, the tendency toward order.

Sports are not orderly. That's why we hem in the people watching them with gates and boards and large signs letting them know how long they'll spend in jail if they cross over. Owing to the emotions elicited by live competition, a sports crowd requires containing.

The best exceptionally large sports gathering I've ever attended was the Fan Fest in Berlin during the 2006 World Cup. It stretched along a vast thoroughfare bordered at one end by the Brandenburg Gate.

A million people would routinely show up to watch games on large screens scattered along the way. It was fun and peaceful.

There was beer and plenty of shade and forests nearby where people could relieve themselves in a pinch.

What made this thing work was that, in order to enter the site, you were funnelled in slowly between long columns of riot police. Hundreds of them, in full gear with dogs and trucks with shielding and the whole bit. The Germans put on an impressive show in this regard. There was a thorough bag check by private security and a grim looking over.

The clear message - "Enjoy yourself. If you decide not to be enjoyable, we'll be right over here. Waiting to stick the boot in."

That worked.

A sports parade, by contrast, may hold the same numbers, but without any of the structure or feeling of being supervised.

That encourages chaos. Also, it's pretty poor thinking to invite 40 or 50 thousand people over to your place without first figuring out how you will water them or where they will go to the bathroom. Although it's June, Monday was not especially hot. Had it been, this would have gone much worse.

Really, the Toronto Raptors parade didn't go poorly (although it did). It was instead a small miracle it didn't become a total debacle. The team and the city got lucky.

Since a proper parade requires months of planning, a sports parade can never be proper. God forbid the Leafs finally win something and they try this again. The response may be even larger and the result even more disorderly.

The right response to this week's near miss is not to go deeper into the idea. It's to end the practice.

There are a hundred smarter ways you can celebrate a winning team. Hold a free concert. Open up the arena and invite people in for a pep rally. Have the players stand atop a tall building and shout down at the rest of us. Anything that involves being stationary in a controllable space with a defined perimeter.

Fill that space with water stations and port-a-potties, remove the confusion of a procession, make sure the thing starts on time and doesn't go on too long.

Limit the crowd. Not everyone gets to go to everything. Being there for the branded celebration of a professional sports franchise is not a civil right. Those cheated of the memory will find a way to go on.

People with expertise are paid good money to figure this stuff out. So do that.

What you don't do is create a fiasco, then stand back shrugging your shoulders and say, "How could we have known that a porch party for a million people wouldn't go down like clockwork?" That sort of thinking is the real issue here. We are all infected with a disease particular to Canada wherein the afflicted person believes everything will always work out. How? No clue. But it's Canada. Things work out.

Not always. Sometimes things done with best intentions go horribly awry. And afterward, we're all stunned - "But this is Canada. People don't pass out, get shot or need to be humped over barriers before they expire at a party. We have our image to think of."

That may in the end be the best incentive to end sports parades altogether. If the general point of a parade is projecting competence, it's not a smart idea to put on ones that showcase rather the opposite.

Associated Graphic

Without time to work out the logistics, sports parades such as the one on Monday to celebrate the Raptors' Finals win are often debacles.


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