Armchair Quarterback: Life after Sochi

On the flawed Canadian system of athletic funding and what I’ll remember from these games

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

This round of Olympics are done, and we should celebrate them, but what of the future? -Photo courtesy Abd allah Foteih/Flickr Commons

This round of the Olympics is done, and we should celebrate them, but what of the future? Abd allah Foteih/Flickr Commons

In the 2012-13 fiscal year of Own the Podium, “a not-for-profit organization [that] prioritizes and determines investment strategies to national sport organizations in an effort to deliver more Olympic and Paralympic medals for Canada,” according to its own website, the Canadian federal government injected $61.3 million into the program.

The program’s sole responsibility is, “to [financially] aid sports identified with the greatest medal potential.”

This means, basically, if Own the Podium and its partners believe we have a realistic chance at a medal in a particular event (no place for fourth place finishes here), that program receives more funding than its counterparts.

I believe this model is flawed and will create a system of self-perpetuating separation amongst not only our different sports, but also our athletes and is ultimately a poor method of funding Canadian sports and athletes because of this.

“Own the Podium represents a particularly narrow strategy based on and extraordinarily narrow definition of success,” according to Peter Donnelly, professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto and head of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies.

Donnelly’s report, “Own the Podium or rent it? Canada’s involvement in the global porting arms race,” published in 2010 just before Vancouver’s games would seem to agree with my assessment.

“Better planning and a broader definition of success … would link Canadian medals with the possibility of all Canadians being able to participate in the sport of their choice and with improvements of the health and wellbeing of the population.”

The study also puts forth the implication that the “win-at-all-costs attitude” promoted by the Own the Podium-style process of funding is what led us to the Ben Johnson situation in 1988 in Seoul, where the desire for medals and records led to the downfall of a great athlete who felt he needed an edge to keep up with everyone else on performance-enhancing substances.

After all, when your sport’s funding is tied directly to your likelihood of a global top-three finish, the morality of whether to cheat or not may get blurry for some athletes who truly care about their sport.

If you don’t have a chance to be one of the best three in the world, your sport itself suffers and so do all the prospective athletes that come after you, right?

But in any case, despite my reservations about the way they get funding and my worry about Canadian sport in general as we go forward because of it, my disappointment in some of the judging and the decision on where the last games were held, for right now I will be happy with Canada’s most recent Olympic performance.

We came in third in terms of gold medals earned and fourth in total medal count, after all – and apparently that’s all that matters to some people.

Personally, though, I’ll focus on the heart of the games rather than the final totals and how the count was one shy of what we garnered in Vancouver.

I’m going to remember Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frédéric celebrating together.

I’m going to remember Gilmore Junio giving up his spot to teammate Denny Morrison, who then went on to win a Silver medal, because he thought he had a better shot.

And I’m going to remember the people who celebrated their friend Sarah Burke after they were told this wasn’t the place for that.

That’s what the Olympics are about for me.

It’ll never be about a medal count, no matter if that is how they get their funding.

One Response

  1. Coleman Molnar Feb. 26, 2014