UAlberta, Bolivia team up to win with 2018 South American Games

University expertise in sports and facilities management tapped for international event.


In 2018, the ODESUR South American Games will return to their country of origin—to be hosted in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia—and the University of Alberta is lending expertise to make them a success.

The South American Games are a major undertaking that will place Cochabamba in the global spotlight and boost the profile of South America’s sports movement. With one of North America’s most successful and established faculties of physical education and recreation, the U of A is offering leading expertise to support Bolivia in bringing this event to the world stage.

Attracting the games to Cochabamba was no small effort. The city was successful in its bid to host the games largely due to strong personal support from Bolivian president Evo Morales, whose vision was to have the Games come back to their birthplace and to showcase Cochabamba and Bolivia internationally.

Now, as the city prepares for the games, officials are striving to ensure that the event will succeed as both a major engagement for the world of sport and a celebration of historical significance. Officials in Cochabamba reached out for international assistance in 2015, seeking advice and expertise related to sports management, facilities management, large event planning and sports for community development.

The U of A responded to the call. The Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, in partnership with University of Alberta International (UAI), reached out to the Canadian Embassy in Peru (which is also the embassy for Bolivia). Soon afterward, in August 2015, the university and the Bolivia Ministry of Sport signed a memorandum of understanding.

"We understand the pressures experienced by a host of international games. We are able to share our experiences with the games organizers so they can proactively plan for a successful event," explains Cheryl Harwardt, director of operations for the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.

"Cochabamba had never hosted large international games previously,” notes Harwardt. “The expertise available in Edmonton through the U of A and our partners in the city and the province in hosting games, and in construction and management of facilities, makes us an ideal resource for our Bolivian partners."

Early last November, the Canadian delegation travelled to Cochabamba. Members included Lloyd Bentz, CEO of Alberta Sports Connection, and Nicole Poirier, director of civic events and partnerships from the City of Edmonton, as well as several representatives from the U of A in addition to Harwardt. John Barry, co-ordinator of capital projects, and associate professor Tara-Leigh McHugh represented the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. Pat Jansen, associate vice-president of planning and project delivery with Facilities and Operations, and Vanessa Strickland, capacity building initiatives co-ordinator with UAI, also made the trip.

A shared passion for sport

The Canadian delegation hosted a series of intensive courses on relevant topics, attended by representatives from the Bolivia Ministry of Sport and other agencies. Topics included planning, design and management of sports and recreation facilities, as well as sports for community development. The delegation also had the chance to meet with Leonilda Zurita, one of President Morales’ closest advisers, to discuss sports participation by Indigenous, female and youth populations.

"From the outset we were inspired by the unique opportunity to work with a country to influence their sport and community development at a high level,” Harwardt says. “The trip to Bolivia confirmed the passion for sport in that country. The inspiration continues as a result of this passion."

The Canadian team visited existing sport facilities in Cochabamba, evaluating and providing advice regarding the condition and capacity of the infrastructure.

Following the trip, the U of A sent a final report to the Bolivia Ministry of Sport in December 2015 to provide recommendations based on what they heard and saw during their time in Bolivia. The U of A will also be working on developing a curriculum for a new sports management program at a Bolivian university and for a new high-performance sports centre. The effort is one piece of a partnership that also involves a co-funding collaborative agreement for graduate studies in many other disciplines.

The U of A plans to continue offering short courses as needed, and a delegation from Bolivia is expected to visit Alberta to tour facilities and participate in capacity-building programming in Canada.

Britta Baron, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international) at the U of A, is enthusiastic about the outcomes for partners on both sides of the effort.

“The collaboration between the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and high-level partners in Bolivia holds great promise for the faculty, for the university and for the province,” she notes. “We are promoting Alberta's expertise in an area that is of great political importance to our partners and their nation-building strategies. Enhanced engagement in sports at all levels can be a major contributor to improved public health and better integration of native populations into society, and is even an important source for prosperity and political stability in a country such as Bolivia. The University of Alberta, and more broadly the province of Alberta, are thus agents of positive change for one of the poorer countries in Latin America. This is what ‘global citizenship’ is all about.”