Should taxpayers be subsidizing Olympians?

August 15, 2008mike_brownmed
Marty York
Metro News

So the question, essentially, is whether Ontarian Mike Brown would not have fallen 9/100ths of a second short of a bronze medal at the Olympics had he received more funding for training before splashing into the pool in Beijing.

The answer, essentially, is:

Who knows?

Jane Roos believes she does. The founder of a decade-old charity devoted to raising funds for Canada’s Olympians – check — Roos knows what our athletes have done behind the scenes to simultaneously make ends meet and pursue their dreams. She knows how they train. And strain. And drain their brains.

And she insists that, under the circumstances, they’re faring well in China. Medals or not.

“Considering their lack of financial support,” she says, “they’re doing great.

“Take Mike Brown. He finished fourth (in the 200-metre breaststroke). Many of us couldn’t finish fourth in anything on our street, let alone in world-class swimming. Mike sent me an e-mail right after the race. He basically told me he was proud and sad at the same time. But there’s no way he should be sad.”

And he wouldn’t be, Roos reckons, if he’d received more money for pre-Olympic training.

“I think a more elite training system would have enabled Mike to win a medal,” Roos says.

“Very few of our athletes can train as, say, the Americans do. In Canada, athletes get some funding from the government, about $1,500 a year. And then our organization raises enough to give athletes $12,000 a year. We’ve raised $7-million for them in 10 years. We’re proud of that, but it’s not enough. Nobody wants to hear our athletes complain, but they’re unable to legitimately compete against the Americans, who get millions and millions from private corporations. Canadian corporations say in expensive commercials they take care of our athletes, but do they?

“Our corporations can do much better. So could our government.”

Canadians such as Toronto businessman Jeff Frketich argue against tax dollars for Olympians.

“Why care about how many medals Canada wins?” he asked in an e-mail he sent me yesterday.

“Lack of funding hampers our athletes. So should we spend hundreds of millions so we can win a medal in field hockey? Badminton? Synchronized diving? Please. We have some real problems in this country that need the money.”

Roos agrees, but only partly.

“We have problems, yes,” she says, “but Canada has enough resources to address them and also help our athletes. We need excellence on a world stage. We get depressed when we don’t win medals and we need to focus on making dreams come true.”

The debate, of course, shall continue.