Thousands of Canadians were elated on July 2, 2003, when International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, announced that the 2010 Winter Olympics would be hosted by the cities of Vancouver and Whistler. By the same token, many Canadians were saddened when the city of Toronto lost to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. As for me, from the standpoint of a former Canadian rack and Field team member who has represented Canada on the world stage, I didn’t lose a bit of sleep over Toronto’s loss. Neither did I cheer the Vancouver-Whistler victory. When one analyzes the struggles that Canada’s budding and elite athletes face while comparing it to Canada’s politicians, athletic organizations, and most big businesses that sit on large piles of money, no Canadian city has earned the right to host any Olympic, Pan-American, or International amateur sports events.
In April 1999 while I attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, I received an email from Athletics Canada. They informed me that I was pre-selected to represent Canada in the 100 metres, the 200 metres, and the 4x100 metre relay at the World University Games, that were to be held in Palma-de-Mallorca, Spain the summer of the same year. One could imagine how excited I was. I remember screaming out the loudest cheer that could be probably heard blocks away, running a victory lap around the block, and being on the phone with my parents in Montreal to give them the news.
After all, I trained myself to death, going through hamstring injuries on a yearly basis, coming home late at night from track practice to then have to start my homework at 7PM while I was in high school (8PM in the winter because I had a one-hour commute on public transport to the Montreal’s only indoor track facility at the time). I would sometimes finish my homework as late as1 AM. My social life on weekends was non-existent. The previous year I had run a personal best of 20.89 seconds in the 200 metres, which was the second fastest time in Canada at that time behind Olympian Bruni Surin. For once, my achievements were finally recognized.
In my excitement I continued to read the email: Please be available between the dates of…blah blah blah…and most importantly, please come up with $1100 to pay for your flight from Montreal to Palma. For the sake of keeping this essay under 100000 words, I’ll omit the long set of expletives that flew from my mouth over the next hour. I reread the email three more times, hoping that I misread it. Unfortunately I did not. I, a full-time university student on partial scholarship, who was not allowed to work for cash under NCAA regulations, had to come up with $1100 within a month or forfeit my opportunity to participate on the world stage.
I questioned some of my peers on a Canadian track and field internet forum about the issue. Some of the replies, some of them from Athletics Canada employees, were that I should apply for loans at certain organizations to help me. I replied to them, asking why there isn’t a committee within Athletics Canada taking care of this issue. Let’s be realistic, their reps were getting a free trip to Spain after all. One would think that it was their responsibility to ensure that all selected athletes get all of the funding. I was about to take my final exams within a few days and wouldn’t have the time to stress myself over this. Not surprisingly, no one could answer me. I got to go eventually, but only because a family friend—a pensioner—paid for me.
This was how things were for me back in 1999, and I didn’t get much more in terms of financial support after, either through the government or sponsors. When I graduated, I had to get a full-time job as an insurance salesman in order to survive. My story is typical of what thousands of Canada’s athletes go through each year. And based on what I’ve read recently in the news (1)Canada’s top athletes and up-and-comers are still struggling as I once have.
The atmosphere always changes when it is an Olympic year. One cannot turn on the television, listen to the radio, or open a newspaper without being hit with an Olympic-themed commercial. The common theme is: We support Canada’s Athletes. Interestingly, most of the same companies are absent the three other non-Olympic years when the athletes are killing themselves to get selected to a Canadian team. This hypocritical attitude that Canada’s business community has towards amateur sport only strengthens the fact that when the 2010 Olympics come to Vancouver, the only winners will be Canadian businesses and the Canadian government who’ll profit from tourist-inflated dollars and sales tax dollars respectively. The biggest losers will be Canada’s athletes, who will highly unlikely get their fair share of the profits, no matter how well they perform. It is a very sad reality, but Canada’s athletes are nothing more than modern-day slaves to the benefit of Canada’s business community, its athletic organizations, and its government.
The facts presented above represent a history of Canada’s failed commitment to its athletes. It is unacceptable that Canada is classified as an economic superpower, but lags far behind most third-world countries when it comes to showing commitment to the development of its athletes from elementary school and onwards. It is not acceptable for Canada to ignore its young promising athletes in their developmental stage, yet, only support them financially when they’re at the world stage.As for Canada winning the Vancouver-Olympic bid, that was nothing earned and completely undeserved. The real champions in the big picture are the athletes, including their families, coaches, and peers that have supported and nurtured them from the beginning, most of whom will not get much in return. To all of Canada’s athletes, whether they make the Olympic team or not, whether they make it to the podium or not, every one of them will get a thumbs-up from me. As for Canada's CEO’s and its politicians that will see their personal bank accounts fatten as a result of these games, you definitely have earned a huge thumbs-down.
Russell Brooks is a former Canadian Track Team member and is the author of the action/thriller, Pandora's Succession.