SPECIAL REPORT

Creating Heroes

IT TAKES MONEY TO MINT OLYMPIC GOLD

JOHN DALY December 2 1991
SPECIAL REPORT

Creating Heroes

IT TAKES MONEY TO MINT OLYMPIC GOLD

JOHN DALY December 2 1991

Creating Heroes

SPECIAL REPORT

IT TAKES MONEY TO MINT OLYMPIC GOLD

Pierre Lueders’s dream may one day make him famous—even wealthy. But for now, the 21-year-old Edmonton-born bobsledder and aspiring Olympian must rely on friends and family to keep his ambition alive. Leuders is a member of Canada’s four-man junior bobsled team, and he is determined to qualify as driver for the national team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. To achieve his goal, Lueders already trains full time at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park. But like hundreds of other junior athletes, he receives no monthly training allowance from Ottawa. As well, Bobsleigh Canada, which pays for coaches, sleds and travel for the bobsled teams, has slashed its budget by about 15 per cent since the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics—partly because of limited government funding, but also because the corporate sponsors from the Calgary period, Petro-Canada, Molson Breweries and Fuji

Photo Film Canada Inc., have withdrawn support. Lueders is clearly irked that Canadians expect top finishes from athletes who must struggle for funding. “If there is no money for developing athletes,” he said, “you can’t expect them to win medals.”

Lueders manages by living with friends in Calgary during winter training, and then moving into his parents’ house in Edmonton in the summer while working in construction. Similar financial obstacles confront most would-be Winter Olympians. Compared with the years leading up to the Calgary Games, Ottawa now contributes about the same level of overall funding to winter sports through various programs. But corporations, battered by recession and anticipating less promotional value from Albertville than they had from the Calgary Games, have cut back their sponsorships. Corporate support for Canada’s Winter Olympic sports has declined to $3.8 million this season from $4.3 million in 1987-1988.

This year, Ottawa’s funding arm, Sport Canada, will contribute about $8 million directly to

national winter sports associations, about the same amount as in 1987-1988. As well, in 1988, the government renewed its Best Ever Winter sports program with $32 million in funding. But as they look beyond the Albertville Games, sports officials anticipate that the government may cut its funding as part of its attempts to slash the federal deficit.

For most sports, however, one bright spot amid the financial gloom is provided by a handful of endowment funds created following the Calgary Winter Olympics. The largest fund, administered by the Calgary Olympic Development Association, wields an impressive $80-million nest egg—$30 million of that from the surplus from the 1988 Games, and the rest provided by Ottawa. Interest from that fund helps maintain Canada Olympic Park and other Games venues. Those facilities have helped the bobsledders and other teams to save on training and travel expenses.

Still, only figure skating has managed to avoid the belt-tightening endured by other sports. The Canadian Figure Skating Association has increased its budget to $6.9 million this season from $5.7 million in 1987-1988. Strong performances by three-time men’s world champion Kurt Browning and other skaters have helped win the association more money from Ottawa, which bases its funding partly on competitive performance, and from corporations. As well, the association collects enough fees from its 170,000 members to cover two-thirds of its budget. But for aspiring champions in less glamorous sports, like bobsledder Pierre Leuders, both the competitive and financial challenges are increasing.

JOHN DALY