CALGARY – Canada’s motto for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, is to “maintain the gain” from the 2010 Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
The organizations responsible for making that happen laud both the federal government and corporate community for keeping the financial pumped primed for athletes as the Sochi Games appear on the horizon.
Bal Gosal, Canada’s Minister of State for Sport, and Own the Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger, both emerged from a bobsled clad in skintight suits Thursday to trumpet the almost $40 million going to Canada’s winter athletes in 2012-13.
“We have more money in the year going into the Olympic and Paralympic Games than ever before,” Merklinger said.
That’s $31 million in direct funding to 11 winter sport organizations, plus another $6.9 million to athletes via the athletes assistance program this winter.
“We maintained all the sports’ funding in the 2012 budget,” Gosal said. “I can say proudly that sport funding was kept intact.
“When we look at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, how the whole nation came together, sport is something that unites communities, that brings the nation together and the pride we feel when we see our athletes performing at the world-stage level.”
OTP distributes those taxpayer dollars based on a sport’s ability to win Olympic and Paralympic medals.
Thursday’s event staged on the finishing dock of Canada’s Olympic Park’s sliding track came a day after the Canadian Olympic Committee’s announcement in Toronto of an eight-year sponsorship deal with Canadian Tire.
OTP oversees the competitive aspects of an athlete’s life between Olympic and Paralympic Games. The COC looks after their needs on the ground at Games and prepares them for the Games environment.
The COC launched an aggressive corporate sponsorship campaign following the 2012 Summer Games in London, vowing to inject $100 million into Olympic sport over the next four years. The COC also directs $5 million annually to OTP.
Chris Overholt, the COC’s chief executive officer, joined Gosal and Merklinger on the dock after their whirlwind trip down the sliding track and indicated another sponsorship announcement with BMW is forthcoming.
“I can tell you safely and unequivocally, we’re in as strong a financial position, the Canadian Olympic Committee is, with its partners Own The Podium is, as we’ve ever been in this country,” Overholt said. “That’s all fostered out of the great performance in Vancouver.”
Canada won 26 medals in 2010 to finish third in overall medals won, but topped the gold-medal count with 14, which was a record for any country at a single Winter Games.
Canada’s Paralympians won 19 medals, including 10 gold, which achieved the goal of a top-three finish in gold medals won.
The stated objectives for 2014 are the same as they were for 2010 — win the overall medal count at the Olympics and finish in the top three in gold medals at the Paralympics.
That costs money, says Merklinger.
“We know we’re up against other nations investing a tremendous amount of financial resources into their high-performance sport programs,” she said.
“We’re holding our own and certainly the support from the government of Canada, COC, CPC is significant and has really enabled us to maintain the investment approach with all the targeted national sport organizations. Without that, we’d be behind the eight-ball. There’s no doubt about that.”
Merklinger pointed out the federal government’s direct funding of winter sport federations will be $10 million higher in the four years leading into Sochi than it was for Vancouver.
The financial picture isn’t completely rosy. Some teams have lost sponsors since the 2010 Games.
Visa has discontinued its title sponsorship of Canada’s bobsled and skeleton teams, for example, and Canada Post stepped away as a title sponsor of the Canadian freestyle team.
Overholt says Canadian Tire’s deal is multi-levelled and includes support of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Hockey Canada and the national soccer, snowboard, ski and figure skating federations.
He hopes to convince other corporations to follow suit and financially back teams as part of a deal with the COC.
“Our job is to represent 52 national sport federations and we do that with our Olympic brand of course, but we should do that at every possibility when we’re in those boardrooms where they can’t get in and make sure we’re advocating for them too,” Overholt acknowledged.
“We’ve tried to do that every step of the way. Not everybody takes our advice and not everybody has as much money as they’d like to do the things they imagine to do. It’s encouraging to see companies in this country make the integrated investments they have.”
Para-nordic skier Mark Arendz of Springton, P.E.I., says the money matters greatly to all athletes on their road to Sochi.
Expensive modifications to his custom-made rifle and off-season training camps in far-flung places helped the 22-year-old win his first World Cup gold medal of the season in biathlon earlier this month.
“It just makes it so much easier for the athletes in the programs to focus on their training and become the best in the world,” Arendz said.