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Bob Graham made London a sports tourism player

JIM KERNAGHAN, Free Press Sports Columnist   2003-05-14 02:48:05  

Bob Graham is the guy who stickhandles the length of the ice, then passes off for a tap-in.

Graham, 53, will be stepping down in six weeks after pretty well defining his position as Tourism London sports manager. But since he's still in harness, the professional recreation man is still selling London as an event site.

Some big stuff is afoot, he says.

Skate Canada called about a national team exhibition Sept. 12-13. There's also the national junior championships at Western Fair Dec. 8-12. There's pro golf's Skins Game potential. He's involved in getting the bid team ready this week for a shot at the 2007 world junior hockey championships.

There's potential for the world masters rowing championships. Basketball Canada has called about the regionals for the Americas leading to the world championships.

There's hockey and more hockey. There's the Special Olympics . . . .

"It's really starting to fly," Graham said before taking off today for Moncton, N.B., where Sport Moncton seeks his advice on their own program. "We're at the stage where people are testing London (for bigger things)."

The point is, the highly professional Graham is departing at a time when much of the ground work has been done in a field that has become the fastest-growing area of tourism.

Surveys by the travel industry and Statistics Canada show sports tourism accounts for $1.3 billion, or four per cent of total tourism spending by Canadians and visitors from abroad. Much of that relates to organizers touting business as an additional sports benefit alongside character-building, fitness and long-term health care.

The Canadian Sports Tourism Alliance was formed just three years ago -- with Graham the founding president -- as a non-profit niche of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

London's first major toe in the sports business waters, the 2001 Canada Games, touched on the potential.

Tourism London figures mention $63.48 million in economic activity. While that can be open to interpretation --dollars spent from within the community on sports can be dollars not spent on other things -- the action generated gives some credence to sports tourism's growth prospects.

It's big and it's getting bigger. Tourism London chief John Winston and Graham saw it coming. That's why the quest for events of any stature are sought.

Now equipped with the John Labatt Centre, TD Waterhouse Stadium, the Western Fair ice complex and upgrades to so many arenas and fields, the city is positioned to handle some pretty big stuff.

As for Graham, after 30 years in the business, he's not likely to ride off into the sunset. The guy who has been around since the PUC days of fading facilities has learned a lot since London took a course of refurbishing sports facilities. People pay consultants well for that kind of background.

Thunder Bay came calling the moment Graham's job hit the job ads and there are other sports avenues that tend to make freelancers well-employed.

"I'm going to relax over the summer. And after a vacation in Nova Scotia, I'm going to be around," he said.

Watching London scoring new events but maybe even contributing an assist or two.


Former Knight and Minnesota North Star Dino Ciccarelli, feeling he would be uncomfortable, declined an invitation from the Minnesota Wild to make the "Let's Play Hockey'' pregame announcement for Game 5 of the Wild-Anaheim Mighty Ducks playoff in St. Paul. . . . University sports lost a good friend when ailing former Londoner Jeff Dickins of the Hamilton Spectator passed away last weekend at the age of 49. . . . Ever the optimist, John Kuhn, the driving force behind the London Werewolves, is hoping for big things for the new London Monarchs. Kuhn is now director of corporate sales and new business development for the Saint Paul Saints of the Northern League.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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