Elizabeth Coutlee, a 51-year-old from Merritt, B.C., has travelled widely to play softball.
In 2009, she played with women from Vancouver on a team in Sydney, Australia, at the World Masters Games, a multisport Olympics-style event aimed at amateur competitors, age 30 and older. In 2013, Ms. Coutlee played on an indigenous team called the North American Native Sisters at the World Masters Games in Turin, Italy.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Ms. Coutlee said of the experiences. “All the athletes, from all over the world.”
This week, Ms. Coutlee is playing softball closer to home, in Vancouver at the Americas Masters Games, which began on the weekend and continue through to next Sunday.
It is the first time the Masters Games have been staged as a regional event in the Americas. Ms. Coutlee is one of about 5,000 athletes, from more than 50 countries, participating in 24 sports. The $3.5-million event is about competition and camaraderie – but for Vancouver, such events are an opportunity to bolster the city’s tourism industry.
The Americas Masters Games are part of the strategy behind Sport Hosting Vancouver, a new group that was assembled to draw more sporting events to the city. Sport Hosting Vancouver is a partnership between the city, a hotels’ association, B.C. Pavilion Corp., Tourism Vancouver and the University of British Columbia – investing about $3-million over two years, with $1-million coming from the city. The goal is to parlay success hosting such events as the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games and part of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 into more events and additional economic activity.
“Sports are a powerful way to do that,” said Ty Speer, CEO of Tourism Vancouver.
Mr. Speer previously worked as an executive for the London 2012 Olympics, as well as for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and in Glasgow in 2014. Mr. Speer said Vancouver’s sports-tourism strategy is about small and manageable events.
“We’re not about overextending ourselves,” he said.
The city and the province provided about one-third of $3.5-million it costs to stage the Americas Masters Games. Roughly the same amount is expected to come from entry fees: Participants pay $215 to take part in a sport. Sport BC and various provincial sport organizations are putting on the games.
Events take place all over the city. There is beach volleyball at Kitsilano Beach. Karate is happening at the convention centre downtown. Five-on-five basketball takes place at gyms at UBC.
The City of Vancouver initially predicted about 7,500 Masters Games participants. Rob Newman, CEO of Sport BC, said the 5,000 athletes set to attend this week is a strong number for an inaugural event and he expects it to break even. Half the attendees are from outside B.C.
“It’s going to be really fun,” said Mr. Newman. “It’s not just competition. There’s the social side, too.”
The World Masters Games was founded in the mid-1990s and first staged in Toronto. Edmonton hosted the games in 2005 and drew about 20,000 people. Recent hosts Sydney and Turin were former Olympics’ hosts, like Vancouver.
The Masters Games are backed by the International Masters Games Association, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, down the street from the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. Former IOC member Kai Holm is president of the IMGA.
“It’s a festival,” said Mr. Holm of the Masters Games.
The first regional event, the European Masters Games, was staged in Malmo, Sweden, in 2008. The IMGA approached the City of Vancouver about putting on the first Americas Masters Games. (The second Winter World Masters Games was in Quebec City in early 2015 and drew 1,500.)
The median age of participants is 49 and athletes often travel with family, making it a holiday. There are varying levels of competition. Ms. Coutlee, the softball player, will play in the women’s recreational division, 40 and older. The Masters Games aims to provide an Olympics-like sheen: There are opening and closing ceremonies, and medal ceremonies, taking place in Vancouver at Jack Poole Plaza, adjacent to the convention centre.
When the event was announced for Vancouver, in December, 2014, Mayor Gregor Robertson said it “builds on Vancouver’s reputation as a great host city for major sporting events.”Report Typo/Error
Follow David Ebner on Twitter: @davidebner