Indianapolis — Organizers of the tenth Pan American Games, to be held here in August 1987, are not exactly bilingual, at least not yet. ``S'i s'i'' is about the extent of anyone's Spanish vocabulary. When the games get underway, however, the Hoosier capital could possess the linguistic flavor of a Southwest border town. By then many involved in putting on these ``Olympics'' of the Western Hemisphere are expected to be speaking ``courteous, rudimentary Spanish,'' according to Bruce Dworshak, group vice-president of communications for the local organizing committee.
Spanish lessons will be started soon for the core staff, which is practically doing a hat dance in anticipation of the big event.
``The enthusiasm for the games here, and particularly for their international aspect, is tremendous,'' says Mark Miles, chief operating officer of the organizing committee, which calls itself PAX/Indianapolis (the initials stand for Pan American Games X). ``We've received a pile of unsolicited letters from people offering their bilingual skills. They are starved for the chance to use them.''
Plans are already being generated to roll out a huge welcome mat for Latin American visitors, be they athletes, officials, or spectators. ``We want to appoint a local volunteer ambassador for each participating country, someone with a knowledge of the politics and culture,'' explains Miles. He also talks of having international signs around the city, Spanish subtitles on TV, and bilingual phone operators, waiters, and police personnel during the Aug. 7-23 competition dates.
Should all this come about, US-Latin sports relations could be advanced and memories of the famed Bobby Knight-San Juan incident, in which the Indiana University coach was practically jailed at the '79 games, partially erased from memory.
Getting the Pan Am Games was quite a coup for this city, whose mayor, William Hudnut III, likes to call it ``the amateur sports capital of the country.''
The boast grows out of Indianapolis's recent history of hosting major national and international competitions at a sparkling array of facilities, including the 61,000-seat Hoosier Dome and 18,000-seat Market Square Arena. About the only thing missing is an Olympic-type village, but the city is trying to facilitate the construction of a complex that will provide the revived downtown with much needed market-rate housing after the games.
The games rotate among three zones, and the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) initially awarded the games to Santiago, Chile in 1981, with Quito, Ecuador the designated backup.
Both communities eventually withdrew when grave doubts arose regarding their ability to host the games. That threw open the door for any country, regardless of zone, to step forward.
The United States, through the US Olympic Committee, was only too happy to throw Indianapolis's name in the ring. The USOC had been delighted with the city's efforts in putting on the 1982 National Sports Festival, which attracted large crowds and tapped the community's tremendous spirit of volunteerism.
Cuba, which had never hosted the games, was also interested in filling the void. But last December PASO gave the nod to Indianapolis as the replacement site, thereby making it only the second US city so chosen. Chicago enjoyed the honor in 1959.
Since their inception in 1951, these quadrennial games, which are held the year before the Olympics, have grown in size perhaps more than prestige. Some 5,000 athletes from 36 countries are expected to participate in Indianapolis, but traditionally this has been Uncle Sam's show.
In Caracas, Venezuela two years ago, the United States won more gold medals than practically all the other countries combined. The same story will likely be repeated in Indianapolis, where Cuba and Canada will provide the most significant competition.
American athletes hardly need the home field advantage, but Pan Am officials couldn't resist shipping the games to the US. ``They had to be impressed with the outstanding success of the Los Angeles Olympics last summer,'' says Sandy Knapp, executive director of the Indiana Sports Corporation, a non-profit group responsible for bringing major sporting events to central Indiana. ``It's pretty clear that the Pan Am Games could achieve a high degree of visibility in this country, and in the process, elevate the status of the games.''
``All plans are designed to ensure that this is an important national event,'' says Miles. ``In promoting it, we intend to establish the games as the Olympics for this half of the world.
``The 1988 Olympics will be in Seoul [South Korea], which is fairly remote and more difficult for Americans to get a feel for. That the Pan Am Games will be here in the States should, for example, significantly change the attitude of the networks.''