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Federal money on the way to sports programs

Minister Stephen Owen believes sport will be an economic engine for B.C.

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With the passing of the 2005 federal budget, the federal government made good on its promise to contribute $55 million to the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Own The Podium program over the next five years – on top of increased funding for sports, athletes, and development and participation programs.

"That money is on the way, $11 million of guaranteed funding this year and for the next five years, and… we’re looking at business to put up another $11 million a year," said Stephen Owen, Member of Parliament for the Vancouver-Quadra Riding and the Minister of Western Economic Diversification and Minister of State for Sport.

Owen was in Whistler last week to attend the B.C. Wood 2005 Global Buyers Mission, an event held to showcase provincially produced wood products to international buyers from around the world. The list of buyers included groups from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Germany, Italy, France, England and the U.S.

In total, federal funding for sports is $143 million this year, or almost double the budget from five years earlier. The $11 million the minister was referring to was for the 2010 Own The Podium Program, which was created with the goal of Canada finishing first, with 35 medals, at the 2010 Winter Games, as well as third among all winter sports nations in Torino in 2006.

Overall, it’s the biggest sports budget to date in Canada, and according to Owen it reflects the cultural, health and economic goals of all Canadians.

"Sport is one of those things that links to every other element of government," explained Owen. The development of the Olympics and using the Games to promote Canadian products is a priority for the industry minister; the potential to use sports to promote healthy living is a priority for the health minister; and the potential to use sports to bolster local economies, schools and culture is a priority for the minister of social development and minister of Indian affairs and northern development. Sport has also been embraced as a key element of Canada’s international development agency.

The Global Buyers Mission, Owen added, is one example of how hosting the Olympics has drawn more attention to the province and its products.

"We know in B.C. that the forest products industry is really boom and bust… because it’s dependent on world commodity prices and there are really thin margins. It doesn’t take much of an adjustment to go from a profit to a loss, and that hurts our companies," said Owen.

"What this buyers mission does is to showcase value-added products that have larger profit margins, so we’re not caught in industry price changes. It also helps us to develop a stronger labour force."

In the years leading up to the 2010 Olympics and through the Games themselves, Canada and B.C. will have the attention of the world, which in turn creates opportunities to showcase B.C. companies and products.

Already projections of the economic impact have increased from $6 billion-$7 billion during the bid process to more than $8 billion. All Canada has to do is to host a great Winter Games, said Owen, and it’s "win-win."

At the same time, government has recognized the need to improve Canadian results at sporting events, including the Summer and Winter Games and the Paralympics. According to Owen, having positive results in sports creates more athletes and events, which in turn has a trickle down effect on education, the economy and health – as well as the way Canada is perceived in the world. That’s why it’s important to give Olympic athletes the funding, equipment and resources they need to succeed.

"We have heard that (Own the Podium) funding will already have an impact in Torino, and there are similar programs on the way for the Summer Games in 2008 and 2012, and for the Paralympics," said Owen.

Of course it helps that Canada, despite declining Olympic results, still does pretty well on an international scale.

"At Athens…we had 170 athletes finish in the top-12 in the world," said Owen. "They’re not on the podium but at that stage they’re a millisecond, a millimetre from second or third place… and we’re stronger in winter sports than we are in the summer… development and technical support for athletes now can make up the difference between being on and off the podium.

"You can really feel it (in Whistler)," Owen added. "The psychology of it is really starting to spread, and we have athletes believing they can win."

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