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Pique n' Your Interest

Surviving the Games

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After a rough first week it appears that our Canadian athletes will be coming home from Athens with a few medals after all – probably fewer than the 2000 Olympics, but more than Eritrea, Cameroon and Kazakhstan combined. Stick that in your opium pipes and smoke it, Azerbaijan!

As usual the debate is raging in Canada about our low medal tally and the state of sport and athlete funding. Money equals medals in the modern Olympiad, and we’re spending the bare minimum to get by.

So what are we prepared to do about it – Do we want to win, or should it be enough to merely participate? And if our goal is to be competitive, how much money are we talking about? And should Canadian taxpayers foot the bill?

G.D. Maxwell, Pique’s columnist extraordinary, waded into the debate at a staff retreat last Saturday night sitting firmly on the "no" side.

He explained why his tax dollars wold be better spent on things like education, health care and potholes than helping a handful of Canadian athletes follow their Olympic dreams – why should athletes who are naturally gifted expect support when everyone else is left to fend on their own?

Whether an athlete wins gold or gets eliminated in the first round doesn’t affect his life in any way, he said, so why should he have to pay for it?

And if Canada’s national pride hinges on the gameday performances of a few exceptional athletes, then we’re in deep trouble to begin with.

I’m paraphrasing of course – I’d been knocking back beers all day – but that was the gist of his argument.

He was right of course. On paper it makes little sense for the average Canadian to care about the Olympics, much less demand that a portion of their tax dollars go towards Olympic athletes. Win or lose, our lives really don’t change all that much. At the end of the day, does a momentary boost to our national pride justify the costs?

Right now we spend about $90 million a year on our national sports programs. Sport gurus like Dick Pound would like to see that funding increased to $150 million, which is more on par with the successful Australian program. While that additional funding may seem like a drop in the bucket for Canada – we compensated B.C chicken farmers $60 million following the outbreak of Avian Flu this spring – in this age of social service cutbacks and Medicare worries it’s still a lot of money. Someone will always argue, and rightly, that every penny spent on sports is a penny taken away from child care, from seniors, from doctors and nurses, from schools and from paying down our debts.

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