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Olympic athletes hampered by lack of funds

Canadian Snowsports Association aims to improve 2010 profile



Canada’s team for the Torino Olympic Games won’t officially be announced until late January. But already major sponsors are using TV ads and other media to let people know about Canadian competitors going to the 2006 Winter Olympics, which run Feb. 10-26.

And when the teams are announced, said Eric Michalko, of the Canadian Olympic Committee, it will likely be celebrated in three cities across Canada.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Games, which will be held in Whistler and Vancouver, are also planning their own celebrations.

And Whistler Blackcomb plans to ramp up support once the 2006 Games are underway.

Still, compared to the public relations campaigns in the U.S. to raise the profile of Olympic athletes and celebrate the nation’s participation in the Olympics, Canada’s efforts are quite modest.

For example the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association organizes a U.S. Ski Team Day. On that day ski resorts across the country use USSA promotional tools, advertising materials, and team logos to draw supporters to the mountains. Then $1U.S. from each lift ticket sold on Feb.11 th , the first day of the Torino Olympics, goes to the organization.

There is also a "10 Weeks to Torino" campaign, which will see a series of major events in the U.S. covering all snow sports from Alpine to Nordic to draw attention to both the athletes and the sponsors.

Michalko said the focus in Canada is different.

"For us it is about taking the resources we have and using them the most effective way that we can to achieve our goals right now, which are a top three finish in Turin in 2006 and owning the podium in 2010," he said.

There are limited funds and for Canadian sport associations it is more important to target those for athletes and officials rather than spending a lot of money on public relations.

And unlike the U.S., where an established umbrella organization exists to promote all snow-sport activities, in Canada it is really up to each individual discipline to promote their sport and their athletes.

"You have to understand we are a lot different than the U.S. in the fact that sport organizations in Canada are very small with limited resources, whereas the U.S. has these big umbrella organizations like the USSA," said Chris Dornan, of Cross Country Canada, adding that the organization has done significant amounts of public relations for its athletes over the last three months.

There is also the challenge, added Dornon, that most athletes spend a great deal of time travelling, training and competing.

"(We do) a lot in the summer and fall, (but) once they are training and competing they don’t have time to travel the country for public appearances," he said. "They live out of their suitcases in Europe."

It’s pretty well the same story for the Canadian Snowboard Federation – resources are focused on the athletes.

"We are still at a point where we are looking for resources to help athletes," said CEO Tom McIllfaterick.

High profile events such as the Nokia Snowboard World Cup in Whistler last week definitely help raise the profile of athletes, he said, and it’s great for athletes to have supporters cheering them on.

But change may be in the air when it comes to increasing the public profile of national athletes thanks to the Canadian Snowsports Association. It is a federation of nine ski and snowboard disciplines, whose mandate is the development of elite amateur athletes and the pursuit of excellence at national and international level competitions for all disciplines.

Managing director David Pym said the organization is looking at developing plans to reach out to the public for support for Olympic-bound athletes. It won’t be in time for Torino 2006, but it should be for 2010.

"Until recently each discipline, Alpine, Nordic, Freestyle and so on, did its own thing," said Pym.

"The Canadian Snowsports Association was merely really a figurehead organization. I am changing that but it won’t be changed in time for Torino.

"We already have plans in the works about how we are going to (raise awareness) as an association towards 2010 – how we are going to involve the public. Some of that will involve VANOC and other things will be done in conjunction with the Canadian Olympic Committee.

"We have done a very poor job, in my opinion, of raising the profile and interest in our sports. That is part of the reason I have been retained as managing director of the Canadian Snowsports Association, to start working on those types of plans."

To date most of the focus has been on creating a good relationship between the CSSA and VANOC, said Pym.

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