11th cut to athlete funding

Canadian government cash for elite athletes has stagnated over a decade

Canadian cash

Money…Canadian government athlete funding out of step with inflation

FUNDING for elite athletes continues to be cut in real terms in Canada even as new public-private cash is set to flow to potential future stars.

With the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Ontario, in July and the Parapan American in August, 2015 has been declared a “year of sport” in Canada and athletes achieved a record haul of medals during between July 10 and 26.

But the taxpayer-funded budget to support the competing athletes has now remained static for 11 years even as the total inflation for the period is 21.03 per cent since 2004.1

Tomorrow has questioned the figures annually and confirmed funding of the “Athlete Assistance Program” (AAP) is set at $28 million. But actual spend has declined year on year.

Canada’s budget document, published in April, outlines spending beyond the next federal election, expected in October, including a new fund for finding future athletes. The budget makes no mention of the AAP.

AthletesCAN,2 representing national team athletes, said they welcomed the government’s commitment to funding, but acknowledge the cut in real terms to funding.

The 2015-16 federal budget – titled “Economic Action Plan 2015”3 states the government provides more than “$190 million in grants and contributions to support sport development and sport excellence” and for the hosting of the Canada Games. They also invested $500 million for the Toronto games.

The government pledged a new fund, to start in 2016-2017, of $5 million each year for four years to be matched by private sector funding to develop “future Olympians and Paralympians”. A spokesman for the department of Canadian heritage, which includes Sport Canada, confirmed this is not for current competing athletes.

The AAP in 2013-2014 had a budget of $28 million, increased by a million from the previous year after diverting internal department cash.

But actual spending is down over the past three years:

  • 2013-14:  $26,345,000
  • 2012-13:  $27,364,917
  • 2011-12:  $26,886,3074

Ashley LaBrie, interim executive director of AthletesCAN, told Tomorrow it had been 11 years since the last AAP increase and this was still a “priority”.

She said: “We will work closely with both the COC [Canadian Olympic Committee] Athletes’ Commission and CPC Athletes’ Council to ensure the athlete voice is heard during the consultation process.

“I did speak to the [government] minister’s office and they indicated that administration and allocation of the additional funding – $20 million over four years – has not been determined at this point and that they would be holding a consultation process with NSOs [national sport organisations], MSOs [multi-sport organisations] and athletes to determine where the gaps were in funding.

“Specifically however, it was recommended that these dollars would go towards coaching, training environment, and sport medicine/science and would be targeted towards athletes 4-8 years outside podium performances on the international stage. If this is the case, it would address a group of athletes who is underfunded – the next generation of high performance leaders.”

AthletesCAN’s president, Josh Vander Vies, also “applauded” the “commitment to sport” in the federal budget.

He added: “Our dedicated national team athlete leaders are honoured to have worn the maple leaf while competing across the world. We believe that sport is an integral part of Canadian culture, and we look forward to consulting with the Government of Canada to ensure that this funding is used effectively.”

Government media spokesman Len Westerberg, in an email statement, focussed on the extra funding for future stars when questioned on the static AAP budget.

He told Tomorrow: “The budget of the AAP is close to $28 million annually in direct monthly support to Canada’s top able-bodied and para-athletes.

“The $20 million announced in Economic Action Plan 2015 is in addition to the AAP funding. In Economic Action Plan 2015, the Government of Canada will be investing up to an additional $20 million, over the next four years and to be matched by the private sector, to support the next generation of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, to ensure they continue to have what they need to push for the podium today and in the future.

“Next Generation refers to athletes who are 5-8 years away from a podium performance and are working toward future Olympic and Paralympic success.

“This funding will begin in 2016-2017 and will be used to support additional coaches, improve the daily training regimes of athletes, and invest in sport science and sport medicine services for Next Generation athletes. Options for an appropriate funding mechanism and structure for the disbursement of Next Generation funds are being developed.”

“Certain provisions” of the budget received royal assent on June 23, 2015.5

Sport and reconciliation

Tomorrow also challenged the government on sports development and support for indigenous athletes, as called for in a report by the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The report, examining the legacy of Canada’s residential schools system that imprisoned, abused and killed indigenous children over several decades, made specific recommendations for supporting indigenous sport.

The recommendations include:

88. We call upon all levels of government to take action to ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and growth, and continued support for the North American Indigenous Games, including funding to host the games and for provincial and territorial team preparation and travel.


90. We call upon the federal government to ensure that national sports policies, programs, and initiatives are inclusive of Aboriginal peoples, including, but not limited to, establishing:

i. In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, stable funding for, and access to, community sports programs that reflect the diverse cultures and traditional sporting activities of Aboriginal peoples.

ii. An elite athlete development program for Aboriginal athletes.6

The government of Canada told Tomorrow it was “analyzing the recommendations” (sic) and cited past funding of events for indigenous athletes.

Len Westerberg for the department of Canadian heritage said: “It should be noted that the Government of Canada has supported Aboriginal sport in Canada in different ways since 2006, including the participation of approximately 7,000 Canadian Aboriginal youth in the North American Indigenous Games of 2008 (Cowichan BC) and 2014 (Regina, SK) and the hosting of these Games in Canada with an investment of over $7 million in funding combined.

“In addition, a portion of the annual funding for Federal-Provincial/Territorial bilateral agreements (approximately $5 million) is used to increase the capacity of Aboriginal sport bodies and the participation in sport of Aboriginal peoples across Canada.

“Sport Canada has also provided for the development of an Aboriginal Long Term Participant Development Resources that are culturally accessible and has supported fourteen national sport organizations to increase sport participation and physical literacy that target Aboriginal peoples.”

He also said funding to the Canada Games Council and Coaching Association of Canada had developing support for indigenous coaches.

Does the government fund sport sufficiently? How should it meet the obligations set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

  1.  Tomorrow used the Bank of Canada inflation calculator to determine this figure.
  2. http://www.athletescan.com/.
  3. See page 304 of the Economic Action Plan 2015.
  4. The government’s first response to the press query used terms such as “close to” or “over” for figures. Only when pressed did they offer these specifics. Past funding trends, according to government, can be found on their website.
  5. Parliamentary bill details.
  6.  Page 10 of the “Calls to Action”. The report and documents can be found at the TRC website.

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