Business Rallies Behind Athletes

Diane Francis, Financial Postthumb_canfund_tsx_nov5-2007_pop
Published: 11/6/07

Yesterday, a unique charity called Patrons of Sport rang the opening bell for the TSX and handed out $1-million donated by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk to a few dozen Olympic-bound athletes.

Patrons hopes to appeal to more Canadians and companies to give donations so it can “adopt” promising, world-class athletes for future Olympics and world championships.

“Governments hand out about $140-million a year to our elite athletes,” said Melnyk in an interview with me. “Britain spends more on its sailing team than that. The American system is a blank cheque for their athletes.”

“Some of our elite athletes cannot afford a coach. This is not a Third World country and Canadians and our corporations love to be proud of our Olympic wins and this is an opportunity to get involved,” he said.

Patrons of Sport is a registered charity and operates in a unique way, said executive director and founder Jane Roos in a telephone interview yesterday.

“Here in Canada, we have a carding system and athletes at the top level get $1,500 a month but it doesn’t go that far because a lot of them have to pay for their own travel, equipment and coaching,” she said. “In the U.S., corporations say, ‘If you’re wearing our flag and representing our country we want you to compete and will give you what you need’. ”

Patrons of Sport entertains applications from elite athletes, evaluates them, puts them on a waiting list and then will find the money. Melnyk will be spearheading this drive, along with others. As money comes in, it will be handed out immediately to those on the waiting list. Hopes are to raise at least $5-million this year.

Roos’ organization, Canada Athletes Now Fund, launched the Patrons campaign with Melnyk’s $1-million. Hopes are to attract several large donors to boost the giving directly to athletes in future.

She has raised $6-million in the past 10 years and founded the group after a serious auto accident ended her athletic career. Her organization funded 244 out of the 266 Canadian athletes who competed in Athens, including 11 of the 12 medallists.
“The majority of athletes live on $15,000 or so a year and we will give them an additional $12,000 directly,” she said.
(Roos’ fund won recognition at the Torino Winter Olympics for its contribution.)

The first Patrons’ cheques were handed out yesterday and Jake Wetzel was one of the recipients. He is a three-time world champion rower and Olympic silver medallist.

And his career has been a struggle of school scholarships and family support. He holds a masters in finance from Oxford University and the 30-year-old Saskatoon native just won the World Championship in Germany this summer.
“I was on the U.S. rowing team, then Oxford University’s,” he said. “But there’s no way I would have gotten this far without my family. Many Canadian athletes just don’t continue because they can’t.

“The lack of financial support is why Canada hasn’t achieved what it can on the world stage. Everybody considers us a winter sport nation but we have the talent in all sports. This is a way for people and companies to support those who wear our flag at these events.”