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National track meet expected to boost Township’s economy

Spin offs are expected from becoming a sports tourism centre
A student competed at the recent B.C. High School Track and Field Championships, one of the large events hosted locally at the McLeod Athletic Park. (Langley Advance Times files)

Bringing one of the biggest track and field competitions in Canada to Langley will have impacts far beyond the medals handed out on the podiums, say organizers and local politicians.

It’s part of a decades-long process that has seen Langley Township position itself as a sports tourism destination, aimed at bringing in big events and economic spin offs.

Getting the Bell Canada Track and Field Championships here was a marathon, not a sprint.

Although the Township has been expanding its sports fields and its track facilities for years, the seed for the current event was planted in 2014 and 2015 when McLeod Athletic Park hosted the Canadian Youth Track and Field championships, said Brent Dolfo, chair of the Bell Canada host committee.

It’s also been regularly hosting the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships, the most recent of which just wrapped up last week.

“We began to dream of what would it take to hold the national championships here in Langley,” Dolfo recalled.

The Langley Mustangs, the track club Dolfo has been affiliated with for years, connected to the business community, and with the Township’s Parks department.

For an event of this size, you need to be in lockstep with the local municipality, Dolfo said.

“The council was very enthusiastic,” he said.

By early 2017, that dream was becoming a reality, as the Township was shortlisted along with five other communities. It would win the right to host the games for two years by the end of 2017, but its facilities would need some upgrades. Many were already scheduled or were repairs, such as to the grandstand’s aging roof, but others were needed to bring the facilities up to the standard of a national event.

READ ALSO: Langley short-listed for elite meet

What would become a $5 million project included a brand-new track surface, a four lane 60-metre warm-up track, an additional long jump pit, an expanded high jump fan, a new shot put area, an additional pole vault area, extra security fencing and gating, and a new designated spectator areas for the field events, along with more parking.

The organizational ability of the host club and the Township’s facilities won Langley Township the bid, beating out major cities like Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton.

And then COVID scuttled plans for two years.

READ MORE: McLeod Athletic Park still closed as $5 million upgrades near completion

“Even last year, there was no national championships,” Dolfo said.

So this year and next, the Township will finally host the event, which attracts top athletes seeking to qualify for the Olympics.

With big names like Andre De Grasse and Damian Warner, a significant number of spectators are expected. The stands and new temporary seating can accommodate up to 4,000 fans a day, said Dolfo.

This is by far the biggest track event Langley has ever hosted, and it may be the springboard to hosting even more high-level meets in the coming years.

Township Mayor Jack Froese said having the facilities allows for more than one big event.

“It attracts more events,” he said, noting that Vancouver is considering another Winter Olympics bid because it already has the facilities from 2010.

Then there are spin offs from sports tourism, which come in two ways.

First, there’s the direct spending as people buy gas and food and fill up local hotels during the events themselves. That can also spin out into future events, even in different sports, as the Township has the Langley Events Centre with its rink, basketball courts, and gymnastics facilities, along with plenty of softball and soccer fields.

Beyond sports, it’s a chance to show off Langley.

“It exposes people that normally wouldn’t come here,” said Froese.

That could draw people back for Langley’s agritourism, its vineyard and wineries, and its historical sites around Fort Langley.

The Township is hoping to capitalize on the event, and will be studying its impact.

“Economic Investment and Development will be completing an economic impact assessment at the completion of the track and field event,” said Valerie Gafka, senior manager of Economic Investment, “and for numerous other sporting events in 2022, and once final data & information is available, we aim to communicate it to the public and media.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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