The Canadian Paralympic Committee has come along way in getting recognition for its athletes.
But the organization still needs to focus on spending its funding dollars on training coaches and athletes in preparation for events rather than “icing on the cake” initiatives like a “money for medals” program.
That’s why there will be no “money for medals” for Canada’s Parlaympic athletes, said a top CPC official.
Last month the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) announced that it would award $20,000 for every gold medal, $15,000 for every silver, and $10,000 for every bronze medal won by Canadian athletes at Olympic Games.
But the organization that represents Canada’s athletes with physical disabilities, the Canadian Paralympic Organization (CPC), does not have the funding to match such a program.
“It is simply a matter of budgeting and how much money we have,” said Brian MacPherson, director general at the CPC.
“If we had had this program in place for the Athens 2004 Games, for example, it would have cost us $2.5 million. And if we had a program for Winter Games it would be half a million dollars.”
Much of the COC money is coming from legacy funds flowing from the 1988 Calgary Olympics. It also gets substantial money from corporate partners.
Neither of those funding streams is open to the CPC.
“(The COC) brings in literally $5 to $10 million a year on marketing revenues and the Paralympic brand just isn’t in the marketplace to that level and we just can’t command those types of dollars, otherwise we could look at this type of program,” said MacPherson.
The CPC is aiming at coming in the top three at the 2010 Winter Games medal count. It was fifth at the 2006 Torino Winter Games and sixth at the Salt Lake Games in 2002.
Currently CPC polling shows that about 23 per cent of Canadians are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with Paralympic sport. Five years ago a similar poll showed that figure to be only three per cent.
“So we have come a long way,” said MacPherson.
“But in the world of brands and being relevant to the public, who are the consumers and the taxpayers, polling people tells us that we have to get to 40 per cent — that is a tipping point.
“The ideal is to be where the Olympic brand is and it is at about 70 per cent.
“We have to build ourselves into the public’s mind, then into their hearts and then into their wallets.”
“(The money for medals program) is a worthwhile program at the right time and place — that is when we have enough dollars in place for building athletes and if that was not suffering then we could put the icing on the cake and have a money for medals program.
“But we wouldn’t implement it if there were still large gaps in developing the athletes.”
Paralympian Stacy Kohut, a long-time trailblazer for parity in Canadian sports funding, is very disappointed.
“We go to great lengths in this country to make sure that our Paralympians are viewed and perceived as equal and so it does seem a little bit like a slap in the face and a step backward to not keep the parity going with this program also.”
He suggested that Paralympians, who often win multiple medals, be capped at payment for just one medal. He would like to see the CPC partner with the private sector to get a money-for-medals program up and running.
“I’m sure if you were to just take a common poll on the street corner and ask 10 citizens of this country what they think they would all say it is not fair,” said Kohut.
Paralympic alpine skier Matthew Hallat admitted he was hopeful that he and his teammates would have access to the money when he first heard about the program. But reality soon set in.
“At the moment (the CPC) only has so many dollars and from that perspective I would rather see it fund the (training) programs because without those programs… we don’t have a chance to become medal contenders,” he said from Colorado where he is training and competing.
His hope now is that there will be a legacy from the 2010 Games so that Paralympians in 2014 and 2018 might have access to a money-for-medals program.
Despite the appearance of unfairness Hallat said he has never had so much financial support. He has his own personal sponsor, McElhanney Consulting Services, and receives more now from official organizations than ever before.
“To complain about not getting that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, well we just can’t do it because it is just so good for us,” he said
“It is the best that it has ever been.”