High level funding

The provinces are yet again wrestling with Paul Martin for whatever money they can get. With a renewed interest in Canadian defence and security, social programs such as amateur sport are getting benched for another season.

Canadians have always defined themselves by historical sporting moments such as Paul Henderson’s winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series or Silken Laumann’s Olympic performance mere weeks after a life-threatening rowing injury. The shame Canadians felt when the Sydney medal count did not meet expectations will not be forgotten. Our athletes are our heroes and our Canadian identity rises and falls with them.

Yet as another Olympics approaches, has there been anything done to ensure we rise to the challenge this time and produce a worthy Canadian team?

Since funding from the government and provinces is by necessity limited, we should make every penny count by spending it on high-performance amateur athletes. These athletes are by definition the top one percentile of athletes, in other words, those who have a shot at the podium.

Many would argue the money should be spent on grassroots development such as little league baseball and new youth soccer facilities. It’s true that kids are not only our greatest resource but also our future heroes. Still, by the time the money trickles down from Sport Canada through national governing bodies, the provincial governing bodies and finally to the league, it might only buy a pair of gym socks for each young athlete. This is not nearly enough to produce quality champions.

Today’s young athletes don’t need money, they don’t need a mega sportsplex and they don’t need two sets of uniforms. Canada has produced some amazing hockey players that skated on their hometown pond with newspapers tied to their shins and a frozen cow pie for a puck. No, our athletes need quality role models and the dream they might one day carry the flag for the Canadian Olympic team.

It’s not opportunity that keeps children out of sport, it’s motivation. Hundreds rushed to join their local track team after Donovan Bailey broke the 100m World Record. Even triathlon is exploding after Simon Whitfield’s gold medal performance in Sydney.

High-performance amateur athletes preparing for Olympic competition already bear a heavy weight on their shoulders. They are expected to compete against the best in the world and teach Canadian youth the values of fair play and sportsmanship. Is it really fair to add the burden of a job or three just so they can also afford to eat?

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