Sports Funding Untouched in Federal Budget

The federal budget handed down by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was praised last night by the Canadian Olympic Committee and sport administrators for leaving high-performance sport unscathed and affirming a $450-million federal grant for sport facilities at the Toronto-centred Pan American Games in 2015.

It’s a good budget. We’re very pleased,” said Chris Overholt, the COC’s chief executive officer from the Montreal Olympic pool where he was taking in the Olympic and Paralympic swim trials for the London Games. The Olympics open in a little less than four months. It’s the first Games after Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“What’s typical of governments post-Olympics is that there’s less money for sport. But Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper has gone just the opposite direction. They believe a strong country is a healthier country. I applaud the leadership of the Prime Minister, and Mr. Flaherty and Mr. [Bal] Gosal [Minister of State for Sport],” Overholt said.

It was a tough, non-election-year budget. While $115-million it to be cut from the CBC’s budget by 2015, and the federal workforce will shrink by almost 20,000, there was no indication of a reduction in Sport Canada’s funds. According to the feds’ website for the Heritage ministry, the government spent more than $171-million in supporting sports organizations and hosting programs in 2010-11 and almost $26-million via its basic athlete assistance program.

“The Government recognizes the role that participation in sport plays in promoting more active lifestyles and healthier, stronger communities,” the budget document said. It said the government ensured Canadian athletes “are provided the support needed to reach the podium at every opportunity possible.”

The feds also increased support to Special Olympics Canada for athletes with an intellectual disability; invested in fitness activities through the ParticipACTION movement and the Quebec-based Grand défi Pierre Lavoie.

Own the Podium, a type of sport-finishing school designed to convert athletes from World Cup and championship medal-winners to Olympic medalists, distributed almost $117-million in federal money to winter sport in the five years leading up to the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Own the Podium provides medal-potential athletes with additional resources, training camps, specialized coaching, nutrition, therapy, high-tech development and high-performance programs to help them achieve podium success, Anne Merklinger, OTP’s chief executive officer said in a statement.

Simon Whitfield of Victoria, a two-time Olympic athlete in triathlon, noted a 50-per-cent increase in Canada’s Summer Olympic medal count from Athens to Beijing.

“We simply could not have achieved what we did without the tremendous financial support from the Government of Canada’s investment in Own the Podium,” Whitfield said.

At the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canadian athletes collected an historic 14 Olympic gold medals, and placed in the top-three of the overall Paralympic medal count with 10 gold.

Own the Podium now invests $36-million annually in summer athletes, as Canadians strive to make the top 12 countries on the London Olympic medal list this summer and top eight at the London Paralympics.

Meanwhile, the $20-million of annual funding for winter sport programs has already made Canada the nation to beat at the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Canadian performances on the snow and ice this winter have elevated the nation’s ranking to No. 1 with 35 medals – including 17 gold – in world championship competition this season, Merklinger’s statement said.

“The support… sends a strong message that the government believes in our athletes and coaches, and their performances on the world stage matter to Canadians,” she said.