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IOC takes an interest in Canadian sports

New funding may be available to athletes



Everyone from Prime Minister Paul Martin to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is wading into the debate over funding for Canada’s Olympic athletes, following one of Canada’s lowest medal tallies in recent years.

In Athens, Canadian athletes brought home an even dozen medals, adding a couple of medals in the closing days of the Games. When all was said and done Canada was ranked 19th with three gold medals, six silvers and three bronze medals – two fewer medals than we earned in 2000. In overall rankings, we’ve slipped from 11 th in 1996 to 18 th in 2000, before dropping three more positions at Athens.

In some cases, funding wasn’t the problem. Of the 34 Canadian athletes or crews ranked in the top-five in the world going into the Olympics, only nine won medals at the Games.

In addition, according the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), Canadian athletes achieved their highest success rate ever with 79 per cent of athletes placing in the top 12 in their respective events. Some 58 per cent of athletes were in the top-eight.

Still, medals are what matters.

On Sunday, the day of the closing ceremonies, the COC released a list of suggestions to turn those top-12 finishes into podiums. Among their recommendations was a call to increase Athlete Assistance Program funding for carded athletes to a minimum of $20,000 a year from the $13,300 (approximately $1,100 a month). They also recommended hiring international sport experts to provide guidance and make recommendations, increasing the number of athletes in sports where Canada has the greatest probability of success, creating an independent agency to administer sport in Canada, establishing national sport training institutes with sport science and medical expertise, and providing national team coaches with appropriate salaries and incentives for performance.

At a news conference, COC executive director Mark Lowry said it wasn’t realistic for Canada to field Olympians in all 28 Summer Olympic disciplines, and that Winter Olympic disciplines were deserving of new funding as well, despite a higher success rate. He said that the COC had to prioritize where to put their funding in the future, and that some of that would have to go into coaching.

"We have a coaching situation that is deplorable, unacceptable," he said at a post-Olympic press conference. "This relates directly to athlete performance."

On Monday, the day after the closing ceremonies, Jacques Rogge said that he would visit Canada to talk to the Vancouver 2010 organizing committee and the federal government about amateur sports funding.

"It’s very high on my agenda," he said, "Government funding will be needed."