Money, medals putting pressure on Canadian high-performance sport culture

Hundreds of Canadian athletes, active and retired, are cataloguing the ways in which the national high-performance system has failed them.

Athletes overseen by Gymnastics Canada, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, Rugby Canada, Rowing Canada and Artistic Swimming Canada have called in recent months for changes ranging from the ouster of leaders and coaches to the handling of bullying and harassment complaints to the opaque decisions made around athlete selection for teams.

A recent acceleration of athlete unrest prompted Canadian Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to call an emergency roundtable and the announcement of $16 million in the federal budget in safe-sport money.

Since St-Onge was appointed sports minister in October, she said there have been reports of maltreatment, sexual abuse or misuse of funds levelled at least eight national sport organizations (NSOs) and expected more. St-Onge called it a crisis.

How did it get to this?

Canada has posted record-setting medal hauls in recent Winter and Summer Olympic Games, but given the recent barrage of athlete discord, what’s the price of that? What’s causing an erosion of trust between athletes and those who manage them?

“Athletes will tell you again and again that they’re not competing for themselves, for their coaches. They’re also competing for the funding of their sports, the future of their sports,” University of Toronto sport and public policy professor emeritus Bruce Kidd said.

“That’s a pretty heavy burden.”

Some fingers are pointed at Own the Podium, which was established in 2005 after Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., won the bid for the 2010 Winter Games with the goal of getting athletes on the podium at a home Games.

OTP makes funding recommendations based on medal potential, as well as providing technical expertise to national sport organizations.

The NSOs own their high-performance program. It’s not OTP’s high-performance program.— Own the Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger

The organization currently directs…

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