Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Does It Even Matter?

It's Olympic time, so cue the standard hand wringing about whether Canada is doing enough to be competitive on the world stage. Our national pride at stake, where's the medals, what are we doing wrong?

First off, they're called GAMES for a reason. In the grand scheme of things, whether or not somebody wins a medal, is of little relevance to the state of world affairs. I don't think Canada's stature in the international community in anyway hinges on our medal total. If anything, Canada's reputation as a civil, nice society is somewhat enhanced by not performing well, the love able losers I suppose. Let other countries take four year old girls out of their homes to put them in programs (see Chinese gymnastics team), so they can secure gold, in some warped pursuit of glory.

I just don't care. I actually enjoy hearing about how certain Canadian athletes made it to Beijing, it's the journey, not the result. So, someone places 8th or misses the final, I think our mediocrity makes us appreciate the experience, rather than a fixation on winning at all costs. I'm not interested in hyper-nationalism, how someone performs at a game as a reflection of societal prowess.

Our athletes should have funding available to pursue their Olympic aspirations. Apart from that, I don't favor pouring obscene amounts of money into programs, as other countries do, tax dollars are better spent on things that actually matter. So, with that in mind a poll:


knb said...

stop emailing the CBC, complaining that Coronation Street has been pre-empted


Anonymous said...

I will extend this point further:

d) encourage Stephane Dion to put more money into the CBC through a surtax so we can watch the Olympics commercial free.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree. The Olympics and other sporting events are one of the most important sources of national pride and inspiration that have the ability to transcend throughout our entire, immense country.

Frankly fourth place is not all that inspiring. However, there's nothing like seeing a Canadian at the top of the podium with our national anthem blasting, the athlete hand on chest and singing along.

We don't need to send our children at the age of 4 to training camps. We just need to fund our athletes appropriate amounts.

Mark Dowling said...

Australia federal funding, 2001
Canada federal funding, 2005

Population of Australia - 21.4m 2008 est.
Population of Canada - 33.3m 2008 est. (50% more)

1 AUD = 0.92 CAD (2008)

Interestingly, of the 2001 Australian total funding, the Commonwealth of Australia only contributed 9% of the total, with the states and territories providing 41% and local government a whopping 49% for a total of $2bn AUD. Now some of that was non-recurring for Sydney, especially NSW who put in over $300m, but the local municipality number is striking and it's little wonder you see stories like this about participation at grass roots.

Here's my suggestion - let's spend the same at Federal level as the Aussies in actual dollars, not per capita dollars. We don't want to be, you know, profligate or anything...


Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Interesting that demand more and increase funding is currently ahead in the poll.

I do wish though that it was written as "increase funding and demand more of our athletes" and not the other way around, just for the semantics of it. What I REALLY hate is people who bitch and moan about our athletes not winning medals, and then bitch and moan when our athletes call for more funding. You can be upset by one, or upset by the other, BUT NOT BOTH SIMULTANEOUSLY.

I also wonder where Canadians would draw the line, and how many know how much we spend now. Right now, we spend about $1.20 per Canadian on Olympic athletes. Australia's around $7-$8 per Australian, and China (for obvious reasons) spent around $25 per citizen this year (around $30 if you count the costs of hosting)!

So what would Canadians consider extravagant? Is the current $1.20 each too much? Would people be willing to kick in a twoonie each a year to double our Olympic funding? Are people impressed by the $150 million that's been spread over 5 years for the "Own the Podium 2010" program for Vancouver? Would they still be impressed if they knew that Australia spends about $160 million EVERY YEAR (and they have 2/3 the population of Canada).

I really wonder how much Canadians know about what we spend compared to other nations, and if increased knowledge would make them want to spend more, or less.

Finally, Mark, where did you get the $140 million figure above? The G&M article I read just today said $40 million for this year, not $140 million, and surely it hasn't gone down $100 million in just three years.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Here's the Globe and Mail article from this morning.


"...four years ago, Richard Pound of the International Olympic Committee urged Canadian governments to spend a relatively modest $50-million annually on Olympic sport. Winter and summer sports combined are receiving a little over $40-million".

Steve V said...


See, I would argue spending 140 million is quite substantial for sport, as opposed to say MRI machines, or job retraining, or native drinking water, or a million other things. If the private sector wants to pony up money that's fine, but I frankly don't care what the Australians do, nor does their performance make me think any less or better of them. Others see it differently, but I'm fine with basic funding, beyond that, not really a priority.

Steve V said...


Fair point on the phrasing.

Anonymous said...

"See, I would argue spending 140 million is quite substantial for sport, as opposed to say MRI machines, or job retraining, or native drinking water, or a million other things."

I am one who believe that the downsizing of government that started with Chretien needs to end and the $140 million is a start. Not that it will all go to elite athletes. It may go to sport and wellness programs for seniors, Saturday programs for kids etc. It would be an expansion of federal jurisdiction on health. One thing to hit Clement over the head with, since the Harris government has destroyed after school sports programs in Ontario.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I wish I knew for sure how much Canada was spending. The first Globe article I read said $40 million. The editorial in the paper suggested closer to $100 million (both would be below the Aussies... well below per capita, but it's a significant difference and I'd be much more upset by the former than the later).

I also do think we could spread the money more efficiently. While I'd love to send every Canadian who qualifies for an event to the Olympics (and I believe we probably SHOULD have a spot in the village for anyone who qualifies and pays their own way otherwise) I don't think we should necessarily fund as many athletes in as many sports as we do.

332 athletes in 25 sports seems like too many to be sent to the SUMMER Olympics for Canada. Australia does have more (433 in 26 sports) but obviously they focus on the Summer events. On a per capita basis, our team is bigger, I believe, than any other team besides the Aussies and the Kiwis (NZ has 182 athletes and only a population of 4.2 million, but again, a country that focuses on SUMMER events).

Compare us to France though, a non-Summer specific (though less winter focused than us) Western developed country. They have roughly twice as many people as we do. Their Summer Olympic team is 9 people smaller.

Or how about a per capita comparison to the U.S. and China, obviously the two biggest teams this year. The U.S. sent roughly one athlete for every 500,000 Americans. China "sent" one athlete for about every 200,000 Chinese.

Canada sent one athlete for every 100,000 Canadians. To the SUMMER Olympics.

I'm actually a proponent of more funding for our athletes. I'd like to see it double. However, I think we're probably sending too many athletes too, and I would like to see an increased emphasis on the Winter Games (where we should DOMINATE... top 3 every Olympiad) and a more FOCUSED effort in the Summer games (pick our spots and perform well in them).

It'll be interesting to see how the games of 2008 turn out in the end, and if our performance, combined with the upcoming Vancouver Games, might change how we do things.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...


I don't know if this accounts for some of the discrepancies in the Canadian numbers I've seen, but as for funding of "wellness programs for seniors, Saturday programs for kids etc" I can tell you for SURE that the Australian numbers floating around ($160-200 million) are NOT including those sorts of initiatives. In 2001-02 the governments of Australia (fed and prov) spent $2.1 billion on sports and recreation activities. (SOURCE).

The $160-200 million figure for Australia is only the elite level funding ($10.5 million from the AOC and $151 million from the Australian Sports Commission - same wiki page as above).

knb said...

Sorry, O/T

Have you seenthis Steve?

Anonymous said...


Good news for the Green Shift. Voters who parked their support for the Greens (6 per cent nationally) are now going to the Grits. In Ontario where the NDP needs to gain seats at the expense of the Grits, they are now running tied with the Greens.

Steve V said...

Thanks knb :) Mind if I post?

I was just in a minor fender bender (my fault), so you just made my day.

Anonymous said...

"In the 2006-07 financial year, the Australian Sports Commission spent $151 million to achieve excellence in high performance sport. This included $56 million funding for the Australian Institute of Sport."

The Sports Commission is also responsible funding clubs that teach cricket, rugby, soccer etc. If you look at the wiki page for the ASC, there is now a targeted campaign against obesity that will guarantee that the money are trickled down.

Still my response is this. A federal program to promote sport excellence will help enhance participation at the grassroots level.

knb said...

Steve, your the one who does this best that's why I sent it.

You're okay obviously. Sorry to hear you had an accident.

knb said...

mushroom, the NDP numbers seem way down to me, but I'll wait for Steve to go through the history.

Overall though, yea, I think good news and I think the Con's methods are not working.

dalestreet said...

Beyond the national pride aspect of seeing Canadian atheletes win medals at the Olympics and other sporting events is that it inspires and encourages the viewers to participate in sport. I would rather our governments spend money now on funding and facilities for sport and atheletes, to encourage an active and healthy population then them spend the same money later to keep an increasingly unfit and unhealthy population in treatment.

Steve V said...


What about if they invested that money directly into "participation" programs. Wouldn't that have the same effect, you're speaking about, maybe more?

dalestreet said...


I'm not really sure what you mean by a participation program. If you mean the scare tactic Participaction PSAs that are on TV at the moment, I'm not sure how effective they are or will be in inspiring kids to take up sport. They may be good at putting fear into parents, but that doesn't seem (to me at least) to be a good method. Kids take up and stay with sports because they, initially, dream of playing in the big leagues or competing in the Olympics, not because their frightened parents are forcing them.

It's the successes of our professional and elite amateur athletes on the national and world stages that inspire kids to take up the sports in the first place.

Steve V said...

"It's the successes of our professional and elite amateur athletes on the national and world stages that inspire kids to take up the sports in the first place."

I think you can achieve that with professional sports.

What I mean by participation is using that money to directly get people involved. Like that "hoop dome" in Toronto, which I think was funded by various government and private sector interests. That sort of thing, or using it for rebates on tennis lessons, karate, whatever, anything that gets kids active. In the end, it might achieve more than investing in the luge ;)

dalestreet said...


If it is left to professional sports only then it is limited to a few team sports, tennis and golf.

Cutting funding to elite athletes in swimming, athletics, etc. will set-up a situation where there will be little point in having Varsity track, swim, volleyball, badminton, wrestling, etc. programs at the High School and University levels. If everyone knows that they'll never be able to go to the World Championships or Commonwealth Games or Olympics because they'll never get any funding to get better.

Using the "professional only" or market logic, our governments might as well stop funding the arts as well. Why fund symphonies or dance companies when kids can get their artistic inspiration from music videos? Surely funding would be better spent on sponsoring "rock/rap competitions" or for rebates on the purchase of a guitar or some turntables, whatever, anything that gets kids making noise. In the end, it might achieve more than investing in the viola ;)