Saturday, April 23, 2005 - Information
Snap election threatens sport funding

Source: Globe and Mail

Canada's Olympic and amateur sports community could see federal funding cut by half if an early election pre-empts passage of the budget, the Minister of State for sport, Stephen Owen, warns.

Owen said in an interview yesterday that the funding floor of $140-million for Sport Canada, promised in the government's budget, could be knocked back to $70-million, and that an $87-million top-up in federal support for the Vancouver Olympics of 2010 also is at risk.

The Canadian Olympic Committee's Own the Podium initiative to make Canada the top medal winner at the Vancouver Winter Olympics would be compromised, plans to aid summer sports similarly could be halted and winter sport federations might find themselves without the resources for their final preparations for the Turin Olympics, only 10 months away, said Anne Merklinger, the director-general of the Canadian Canoeing Association and a member of the Sport Matters collective, which lobbied the government for the increase.

"If we pass the budget, they're secured," Owen said. "If we don't, we start over again at $70-million."

Sport Canada had been working on a budget of $120-million this year. That figure was comprised of the old floor amount of $70-million and $50-million in various short-term programs that were due to expire. The latest budget promised that money as part of the permanent funding and an increase of $20-million in new money for a total of $140-million.

"We're looking at new highs and long-term stability for sport," Owen said. "If the budget is passed before the House rises in June, that's fine, but if an election is forced before then, it's a problem."

Merklinger said: "All the sport organizations are concerned about the budget situation. We all were excited when we saw a long-term commitment to sport, but now everything's on hold.

"For us [sport bodies], we can't take the next steps in terms of hiring coaches and making preparations for our athletes. In the worst case, it doesn't get passed, a new government comes in that's not comfortable with what's been proposed, we revert to $70-million and we're worse off than before."

Chris Rudge, the chief executive officer of the COC, said programs such as Own the Podium, with a goal of 35 medals in 2010, "can't afford to lose another day" with the budget hanging in the balance. The federal government was to supply $55-million of the $110-million budget.

He said the COC and the Vancouver organizing committee, known as VANOC, would defend Own the Podium with some type of funding bridge. It would be like taking a mortgage on the podium in order to own it.

"We already have, from the B.C. government, $5-million for summer sports and $5-million for winter sports, and shortly VANOC will be getting some money from its sponsors, Bell Canada, Hudson's Bay and Royal Bank of Canada," Rudge said. "If people are all of good will, we could start rolling some of that money into OTP and backload the government money when it comes in."

Paul Henderson, a campaigner for athlete funding, was angry at the prospect of Sport Canada funding being halved.

"Canadian Olympic hopefuls are reduced to the level of the homeless, standing on street corners with their tin cups," said Henderson, recently returned from his Olympic duties inspecting candidate cities for the Games of 2012. He spread his rage to Prime Minister Paul Martin, "who was finance minister in 1996 when sport funding was slashed before to about 5 per cent of what is spent in France and the United Kingdom."

Rudge said if the budget paper is on the table at the time of an election, a new government could have the option of implementing it, amending it or setting a new budget.

"The Liberals, if they come back, would likely carry it on," Rudge said. "The Conservatives, if they're true to their word on sport from the last campaign, said they'd put even more money into sport. The problem is there's a long education process with a new minister and staff."

The Conservative policy on sport in the 2004 election called for promotion of amateur sport and physical fitness as part of health-care strategy. One per cent of federal health-care funding was to be devoted to funding physical activity.

The New Democratic Party platform called for dedicating some of the recent increases in Sport Canada funding to give more sport access to women, aboriginals and disabled people. The NDP also wanted money dedicated to community sport complexes serving youth and seniors and a restoration of the broad-based ParticipAction program.

The Bloc Québécois called for more funding to athletes, especially on the development side, investment in sport infrastructure in Quebec after years of focusing on Western Canada and a francophone-friendly national sport system.

Source: By JAMES CHRISTIE
Saturday, April 23, 2005 Updated at 1:00 AM EST
From Saturday's Globe and Mail


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