The Canadian sports authorities who coined the slogan “Own the Podium” are discovering that’s its easier for them to talk the talk than it is for our elite athletes to walk the walk, jump, ski, skate, or slide. The Americans have the right idea: why bother to own the podium when you can just rent it 20, 30 or perhaps 40 times as needed.
We are just past the halfway mark at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and the unfortunate “Own the Podium” slogan has proven to be a massive flop. The United States has almost three times the number of medals our athletes have collected. And Korea has now edged ahead of us with outstanding performances by their speed skaters. Even tiny Norway with only a sixth of our population leads us in both gold and total medal tallies.
When a nation of less than 5-million from which draw its elite athletes is ahead of a nation of 33.5-million, it’s probably time to reassess our approach to international sports. Either this country cares about excelling in sport competitions against the best in the world or it does not. And if it does not, then it should quit applying to host events such as the Olympics. And they certainly should choose less grandiose slogans for their development programs than “Own the Podium.”
Leading up to the Vancouver Olympics, many Canadians, including this writer, assumed the slogan heralded a welcome change to Canada’s traditional attitude towards international competitions. That is, that we were striving for excellent, world-topping performances rather than just being there. And the Own the Podium slogan would have sounded great had our authorities been able to field a team that was capable of backing it up. Instead the slogan acts as just one more bruise to our national pride.
Notice that I’ve criticized the slogan, not the program it represents. Strong programs to develop elite athletes should be an integral part of every modern nation’s foreign policy. Success in one area of international endeavor inevitably leads to success elsewhere—success breeds success. And there are many worse ways to spend taxpayers’ money.
Don’t misunderstand my reason for feeling disappointed or my level of disappointment. I’m actually enjoying the Games very much, I always do. But just once I’d like to see our country go all out to achieve its goals. Leave the big-promises-with-underwhelming-support to Grits and go for the gold.
Here are some figures from an article in last November’s National Post:
“Not only does [former Olympic athlete, Roger] Jackson say that OTP [Own the Podium] requires an annual $22-million in replacement funding to bring the winter sports budget up to $33-million (summer sports get $34-million), he and [former Olympic athlete, Alex]Baumann are asking for another $60-million per year, to be divided among four regional summer and winter sports institutes which are to be established in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver now that Toronto has won the right to stage the 2015 Pan-American Games.”
And so far our federal government is balking at any increase to its relatively paltry contribution. This is disappointing, to say the least, when the three major English-speaking nations with cultures similar to ours out-spend us. Australia spends about double what we have spent recently, and their winter sports program is modest so most of that money goes to summer sports programs. The United Kingdom is spending some $300-million a year to prepare their team for the 2012 Summer Olympics. That’s more than Canada’s federal government spends on all sports initiatives.
And, apparently, the United States spends more than this. It’s difficult to calculate since their funding is less centralized with little or no funding directly from Washington.
Could Australia, the UK and the United States have it wrong? Perhaps funding international sports at the highest levels should not be a government priority. Let’s put our effort behind public funding of crappy television shows and movies— more votes to be got there, eh?
Canada is a rich country that takes great pride in hitting above its weight in international affairs, for goodness sake. We squandered $1-billion on a gun registry that we’ve since decided to scrap, surely we can afford a first rate international sports programs. We have the talent pool, let’s develop it.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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