Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gotta walk the walk

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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  1. I have a feeling things will change the moment we have our asses handed to us on a more regular basis in hockey.

    The day China, with its billions of people decides it can take us on and win, they will.With their massive population base and endless supply of government money, they could field a perennial winner in just about any sport they decide to take a bead on.

    ..and we won't be able to do a damn thing about it.

    This may be as good as it gets, and that is sad.We are a winter nation, for God's sake.Can't we find more athletes that can excel in winter sports on a more regular basis?

    Apparently not.This has gone on for far too many years to consider it a fluke. With the failure of the 'Own the podium' program, we just may see less Federal money being put into sports.

    Hockey may end up being the only beneficiary (at least financially) of our repeated failures at international sporting games.

  2. I have been an advocate for increased funding to sport in the past, and I love seeing Canadians win things. After watching how pathetic our alpine ski team has been, I don't want to give them tax dollars anymore. They suck. There have been one or two decent runs, but many are like 2 seconds off the pace at the first marker before crashing soon thereafter. What the hell did they spend their money on?

    I'm now at the point where I have loved some of the moments of these games and I am thankful we have hosted them, but I don't want tax dollars to pay for Olympic athletes in the future. If we have a deficit and need to make tough choices, this choice doesn't seem so tough. I just started a poll on my site, and thus far 68% of respondents want to spend less or shift existing funding to youth sports.

  3. Canadians can't do well at the olympics because it is politically correct to not love your country and to not sacrifice for it anymore. The Americans, Germans, Norweigians, Koreans don't seem to have a problem though. (real conservative)