By Andrew Mitchell
While Canada’s winter sport organizations are celebrating their highest level of government support and funding in decades, largely through the Own the Podium 2010 initiative, summer sports organizations are complaining that they’ve been left behind — just 18 months out from the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, China.
Chris Rudge, president and CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, made his frustration clear this week.
According to Rudge, sport funding for summer sports has been more or less frozen under the Conservative government, with no funding increases since the overall Sport Canada budget effectively doubled in 2005 under the Liberal Government. Given the short-term success of Own the Podium 2010 for Canadian athletes in Torino — a program fully funded through the 2007 federal budget — he says the lack of summer sports funding will show in 2008.
“We thought (the federal government) would have seen the results in Torino, and how even a little money in the short-term can have a major impact on results, and then look ahead to the challenge of Beijing,” he said. “That didn’t happen. As a consequence, I think our athletes are going to have a tough time in Beijing. We have some good programs that do fairly well, but these Games are going to be tough. The Chinese will be out in huge numbers, and I haven’t seen any other nations stepping back at all. Canada is the only nation that’s standing still.”
Last summer the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada and 28 summer sports released Road to Excellence, a framework plan to improve Canada’s performance in the Summer Games. The goal of the program was to finish in the top-16 of nations in 2008 and the top-12 in 2012 at the Olympics in London. On the Paralympic side, the goal is to place in the top-five of nations at each event.
The cost is in the neighbourhood of $30 million a year for the next five years, with Canada placing more emphasis and funding on sports where our athletes are medal contenders. Chosen sports would receive more funding for athletes and coaches, as well as enhanced technical support.
According to Rudge, Canada tries to fund too many sports equally while the successful Australian program currently focuses on less than 10 summer Olympic sports and distributes funding based on international performance.
The COC also recently recruited two-time gold medal swimmer Alex Baumann back from the Australia Institute of Sport to serve as the executive director for the Road to Excellence.