Reimagining a meeting venue for sporting events

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Centrally located in downtown Ottawa along the Rideau Canal, and with sweeping views of iconic Parliament Hill, the Shaw Centre is a world-class venue offering 17,837 square metres (192,000 square feet) of usable meeting space over four levels. Since opening in 2011, it has hosted more than 3,400 events meetings, conferences, trade shows, exhibitions and fairs in its modern and stylish spaces. But in 2020, the Shaw Centre proved that they could successfully adapt to any situation when they hosted a major sporting event for the first time—a wrestling tournament.

A space transformed

United World Wrestling chose Ottawa as its host city for the 2020 Pan-American Olympic Qualification Tournament and Senior Pan-American Championships, which took place in March. The original plan was to hold the events at TD Place Stadium at Lansdowne, but the Ontario Hockey League schedule prevented that from being feasible. The Shaw Centre stepped up to the plate, collaborating with Ottawa Tourism, the Westin Hotel, and Wrestling Canada. Their team transformed part of the meeting venue’s largest space, Canada Hall, into a wrestling arena complete with bleachers for spectators, while the Parliament Foyer, a pre-function space, became a warm-up area.

A confluence of positives

Catering staff at the Shaw Centre ably provided meals that met the challenging and varied dietary requirements of athletes. And the Westin Hotel, which is connected to the Shaw Centre, served as host hotel for participating athletes and coaching staff. Frequently, hotels are located far from the competition venues at major sporting events, so Wrestling Canada organizers found this setup to be extremely convenient. Plus, both the hotel and the Shaw Centre are located within walking distance of many Ottawa attractions, such as Parliament Hill, national museums, as well the ByWard Market area’s many restaurants, shops and nightlife options.

Pivoting with ease and grace

The declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic meant some plans had to change after the wrestling event was already underway. Staff at the Shaw Centre acted quickly to pivot to new health and safety protocols, including increased cleaning frequencies and adjustments to the delivery of food services. Wrestling Canada staff and event participants were pleased and impressed with the graceful and effective way that the venue dealt with these unprecedented challenges.

Looking ahead

This event was a truly unique experience for the Shaw Centre, and one that they are eager to repeat, now that they know what is possible. With such a large and flexible space, it’s easy to imagine archery, boxing, gymnastics, martial arts, table tennis, fencing, or other indoor sport competitions taking place at the Shaw Centre in the future. And with the Wrestling Canada experience under their belts, the venue’s team is ready and waiting to make it happen.

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