CANADA REPORT

Poor Sport

We spend millions on culture while our amateur athletes go begging

JOHN MACFARLANE March 1 1971
CANADA REPORT

Poor Sport

We spend millions on culture while our amateur athletes go begging

JOHN MACFARLANE March 1 1971

Poor Sport

CANADA REPORT

We spend millions on culture while our amateur athletes go begging

JOHN MACFARLANE

BRUCE KIDD tells the story of a boy from the Maritimes with good prospects as a runner. He had talent but, as he told Kidd one day at a track meet, he couldn’t train in the winter: there were no indoor tracks where he lived and he’d be arrested, he said, if he ran in the streets. Later on he stopped competing and eventually he gave up running altogether. Without facilities, coaching and financial support he just couldn’t keep pace. Scratch one Canadian athlete.

Scratch thousands. The Maritimes, it’s true, are particularly inhospitable (not one of the 158 athletes representing Canada in the 1970 Commonwealth Games came from the Atlantic provinces), but Canada, let’s face it, is a rather alien place for the athlete no matter where he lives. As a people we assign very little importance to sport. We not only deny many of our best athletes the satisfaction of developing their talent; in our preference for watching games rather than playing them (fewer than 250,000 of us participate in any kind of amateur sport), we have become a nation of candidates for Vic Tanny.*

Mens sana in corpore sano — a sound mind in a sound body. It’s one of the oldest ideals of western civilization, but somehow, for us, it has lost its currency. We Canadians give high priority to sound minds: providing schools and teachers to build them has taxed our cities to the breaking point. And we believe in culture. Through the Canada Council (which will spend $32.5 million in 1970-71) and various provincial agencies (most of the provinces now have departments of cultural affairs or cultural development), we patronize the arts to the tune of about $50 million a year. The money provides operating subsidies for such companies as the National Ballet, the Canadian Opera Company, the Neptune Theatre, the Stratford Festival, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Vancouver Playhouse, to name only the largest, and

grants from $4,000 to $7,000 to artists, writers, actors and academics (in 1970 there were 2,804 recipients). If the artist in Canada is not as well cared for as some of us might wish, neither does he bear much resemblance anymore to the old romantic stereotype: hungry, scruffy, huddled by a stove in a barren garret.

Such hyperbole would more accurately describe the plight of the Canadian athlete. It’s

difficult to say precisely how little money we spend on physical culture because, apart from the paucity of statistical information about sport in Canada (no one knows even how many hockey arenas we have), it’s almost impossible to sort out what is and what isn’t an honest-to-goodness expenditure on sport. Much of it is hidden in educational costs (building and equipping

school gymnasiums, and so on) and there are some horrendous administrative anomalies (in Ontario, for instance, the Youth and Recreation Branch of the Department of Education is responsible for athletic development, but the Department of the Provincial Secretary, through the Commissioner of Athletics, dispenses athletic equipment and the Department of Agriculture finances facilities).

Since 1961 the Fitness and Amateur Sport branch of the Department of National Health and Welfare has been authorized to spend five million dollars a year on grants to sports associations, scholarships (this year 20 students received $1,000 each, 37 nonstudents received $2,000 each), a federal - provincial cost-sharing program (discontinued last year), research and sponsorship of the Canada Games. (In no year, however, has the department spent five million dollars; from 1961 to 1968 it spent only $15,587,013.) The provinces spend about $5,945,000, but where, generally speaking, federal funds are channeled into competitive sport, the provinces concentrate on public recreation. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that spend more on sport than culture. Only British Columbia and Nova Scotia give the same amount of money to each. The other provinces all spend more on culture than sport. * * The total in federal and provincial expenditures on sport: about $11 million. Peanuts!

“For people in sport to complain that the arts are getting too much money,” says playwright Mavor Moore, “is like the Eskimos claiming that the Indians are

*Dr. Roy Shepherd of the University of Toronto estimates the cost of our poor fitness, based on the incidence of cardiovascular disease and the consequent medical expenditures and lost productivity, at $1.7 billion a year.

*’Provincial expenditures on sport (in boldface) and culture: BC ($750,000 — $750,000), Alberta ($668,000

— $1,250,000), Saskatchewan ($411,000 — $325,000), Manitoba ($375,000

— $1.6 million), Ontario ($400,000 — $2.7 million), Quebec ($2.6 million

— $13 million), New Brunswick ($300,000 — $90,000), Nova Scotia ($170,000 — $170,000), Prince Edward Island ($71,858 — $193,000), Newfoundland ($200,000 — $800,000).

getting too many social services.” True enough, but you can’t blame the sports people for bleeding a little. The difference between $11 million and $50 million is the difference between fielding a strong Olympic team and just fielding an Olympic team. Lloyd Percival, director of the Fitness Institute in Toronto, says Canada has dropped to somewhere around the 25th position among the 120 nations in Olympic competition. And John Munro, Minister of National Health and Welfare, says the rate at which we’re losing athletes seeking better coaching and stronger competition — he calls it “the brawn drain” — has reached crisis proportions. Part of the $39 million we’re not spending on sport would build arenas, swimming pools and indoor tracks. Part of that $39 million would train and pay the salaries of coaches and managers. And part of that $39 million would simply stimulate participation. Incredible as it may seem, children in underdeveloped countries such as India score higher in fitness tests than Canadian children!

Last March McGill University wound up the 1969 fiscal year with a six million dollar deficit and decided, as part of a general cutback, to drop intercollegiate sports. It says a great deal about Canadian apathy toward sport, particularly among intellectuals, that to save a mere $223,000 one of the oldest universities in the country could—just like that — do away with competitive sport. In one of two major reports commissioned within the last two years by the Department of National Health and Welfare, P. S. Ross and Partners conclude that “the greatest percentage of the population ... is not motivated toward participating to any degree in physically demanding activities.” That appears to be true even of young people. In a recent study, 66% of the students in a Toronto high school said that they had a high interest in sport, but only 41% of that group actually participated in school sports (and

"Sport is culture because it creates beauty. . . for those who usually have the least opportunity to feast upon it"

then, some of them admitted, only because in some grades it was compulsory).

What accounts for the mixture of contempt and just plain indifference that so many Canadians feel toward sport? Well, partly it’s the result of the unimaginative and overly regimented physical education in our schools. (The Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, for instance, stipulates that an athlete’s hair may not be longer in the back than one inch below the base of the skull and sideburns must stop at the earlobe.) Partly it’s what the recent report of the Task Force on Sport for Canadians (the second of the two studies commissioned by Health and Welfare) described as the old aristocratic attitude. “Participation in sport,” says the report, “is not accorded the same acceptance as participation in a charitable or fraternal organization . . . even though the benefits accorded the community may be quite as great.” And partly it’s the

extent to which we have allowed our attitudes toward sport to be tainted by commercialism.

Vince Lombardi, the late coach of the Green Bay Packers, is famous for the epithet: winning isn’t the only thing, it’s everything. That’s commercial sport. But there is another concept of sport, far more exhilarating and infinitely more enlightened, that Lombardi never knew. René Maheu, director-general of UNESCO, describes it this way: “Sport is an order of chivalry, a code of ethics and aesthetics, recruiting its members from all classes and all peoples. Sport is a truce: in an era of antagonisms and conflicts, it is the respite of the gods in which fair competition ends in respect and friendship. Sport is education, the truest kind of education — that of character. Sport is culture because it creates beauty and, above all, for those who usually have the least opportunity to feast upon it.” Unfortunately, Lombardi’s view of sport has

had more adherents in Canada than Maheu’s.

But that can change and, to give credit where it’s due, the federal government seems prepared to help. A year ago John Munro, who has taken sport more seriously than previous health ministers (although he participates only to the extent of occasionally riding a bike), unveiled a Proposed Sports Policy For Canadians. Much of it he has already implemented. In September the government opened a sports administrative centre in Ottawa, giving nine sports associations office space, supplies, secretarial help and $12,000 a year to employ an executive director. In October the government launched the Canada Fitness Award Program, a national test to encourage health and fitness among Canadian youth. In December the government began awarding grants - in - aid to promising young athletes — the equivalent of Canada Council grants, but much less generous. The government also has set up the National Coaches Association and the Canadian Academy For Sports Medicine. Still in gestation is Sports Canada Communication, which will put together a committee of men the government describes as “forces in Canadian communications” to promote amateur sport. The government hasn’t committed itself yet on the most expensive of Munro’s proposals, the creation of a Canada Olympics, which would be held every second year, alternating with the Canada Games. And the fate of the most important of Munro’s proposals — to make private donations to amateur sport tax deductible, as private donations to culture are now — is in the busy hands of Finance Minister Edgar Benson, who gave it his blessing in his White Paper On Taxation.

It’s only a beginning. But in an age when governments are running hard to keep pace with public opinion, it’s ironic that Ottawa, in its appreciation of sport as a constituent of culture, is a lap ahead of most of us. □