Saturday, September 7, 2013

Where Do You Come Down On This!

The news which broke a few days ago that "Own The Podium" (one of Canada's high performance funding agencies) was at least considering skewing its funding towards winter sports and away from summer sports hit me like a Kevin Martin takeout. I was shocked when I heard that and somewhat skeptical re. the validity of the story. It's just non-Canadian to do that sort of thing! We tend to think in universal terms. When I went to OTP's web site to see its mission statement;

  • To contend for number one in 2014 Olympic Winter Games (total medals) 
  • Place in the top three in the gold medal count at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
  • Place in the top 12 nations in medal count at the 2012 Olympic Games
  • Place in the top eight in the gold medal count at the 2012 Paralympic Games

Then it was reported that at least one national (winter) sport governing body had stated that it endorsed the policy while all the others, when contacted, declined comment. No, I'm not curious as to whether that national sport governing body was the Canadian Curling Association as I'd be shocked if it was.

When contacted by the CBC, curling's own Anne Merklinger, CEO of OTP dispelled the story saying that it had no such plan or policy.

Whomever started the rumor based it upon the notion that sports with successful track records deserve to be rewarded by increased funding while those that find themselves traveling in the opposite direction will have to try to do more with less seemed to want something of a debate on this issue. Clearly for Canada, success on the international stage is much more pronounced in the winter than in the summer as OTP's mission statement seemed to verify. That's just a fact. Nonetheless, the funding/success conundrum is a curious one. A case could be made that the sports that are struggling to "make it to the podium" need the funding to do just that.

South of the 39th parallel, the national women's curling programme currently receives more funding than the comparable men's programme. Why? Simple, recent international success. The U.S. national women's curling teams have a better international track record. Is that increased funding a reward for that success or incentive for the men to, in the vernacular, get the lead out (or a little of each)?

As at least some of you know, my coaching career started at the University of Waterloo in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON. It took ten years to win the OUAA Championship and when we did finally succeed, we did it in stereo (m&w). And those championships came in my last year as Varsity Coach as I had already accepted the position of National Development Coach with the Canadian Curling Association in Calgary, AB.

Along that trail I met coaches from post secondary institutions in Ontario who did not get nearly the level of funding my programme received. In just about every case the story I got was that funding was tied to success. If the programme produced championships, increased funding followed in kind. It was not at all unusual for the scholastic athletes to bear the entire financial burden with the coach in a volunteer capacity. In my case the UW varsity curling programme was well funded. When at one point, in frustration, I tried to resign my position as Varsity Coach due to lack of competitive success, the UW Athletic Director refused to accept my resignation stating that it's not about winning, it's about developing athletes. He said I was doing that rather well in his opinion. He taught me a valuable lesson as a result of that meeting. You can't control the outcome, only the journey toward it.

A few months ago I encouraged all of you to read "The Gold Mine Effect". I hope you did that. For those new readers. please get a copy. It will change the way you see yourself as "coach", the way you see your "athletes" and how you conduct your training programmes.  And, germane to the topic of this post, it blows away the notion that to have a successful athletics programme, one requires a state-of-the-art facility. The track club in Jamaica that produces world class sprinters doesn't even have a track. The athletes train on a grass field! But what those athletes do have are "role models" and a coach (known in Anker Andersen's book as a "guru") who besides never having been a sprinter, isn't afraid to think "outside-the-box"!

While we're on the topic of funding, in the U.S., there's no public funding for Olympic training programmes. The United States Olympic Committee must, by law, conduct its own fundraising. In other words, it's corporate America & private citizens who fund U.S. Olympic programmes. There are those in Canada who feel our Olympic athletes and the Canadian Olympic Committee should follow the American example and fund their training programmes, stop relying on government handouts and get off their backsides and fund their own training programmes. To be fair, there are many Canadian corporations who fund high performance training as well as many citizens who make donations to help our Olympians get the training required. I just now watched a CBC video of Canadian Olympic hopefuls who are presently engaged in unique ways of generating funds to help pay the day-to-day bills and still train.

Waiting for success as the watermark to funding seems to be the ultimate "Catch 22" in athletics. If a programme had success, the argument could be made that it then doesn't require funding (although who could turn any dollars down?).

The title of this post is "Where Do You Come Down On This". I know for a fact that I have readers from various provinces and territories in Canada and from many countries around the curling world. I really want to hear from you on this! I'm delighted that you've taken the time to read this post but I want/need your comment! How does it work in your province/territory/country and where do you come down on this issue? You can comment directly on this blog site or you can send me your thoughts via email ( but I'd much rather you respond below so others can see your opinion(s). Comments on this site are always anonymous! If you know that there are those in your circle of friends who have thoughts on this matter, please make them aware of this blog site so they can weigh in.

I know what some of you are thinking as you read this post. "Heh Bill, how do you feel on this?" For now, I'm employing author's prerogative and remaining neutral although, if you read carefully between the lines ...

I always welcome comments but this time it's really important that you do!!!!!


  1. Personally I find this a double edged sword. Clearly if you only fund successful programs, then you will dissuade Canadians from trying new sports. Similarly if you only fund sports that are struggling, then you risk killing a program that could have longevity.

    I was talking to a track coach a little while back, and he was frustrated by the fact that Canada only ever sends 1 athlete to Decathalon (at the Olympics) even if we have 2 or 3 performing at e Olympiv level. This is clearly a funding issue, and something we should correct.

    I suspect that a popular sport, one that draws an audience, should be expected to raise a bigger portion of its funding corporately. That might be a well to stretch to public dollar and help develop a broader range of Canadian sports.

  2. Quebec seems to do its funding on the basis of success (or so people say), although when JM Menard won Canada, there was not a directly linked increase of funding. Instead, a well thought out 4 year development plan produced increased funding. Certainly success at the Canadian Winter Games is a big political deal, but other levels of success do not seem to make much difference.

    Sadly, there are many who think winning the Brier is the only important thing and all other sectors fall by the wayside, and there continue to be clubs who do not wish to contribute to provincial coffers, hiding the true number of members and barely surviving themselves.

    When funding from the members is limited and success is limited are we surprised?

  3. Government v. private funding. As one below the 39th latitude from a state with no international players but big growth from a TV-activated "That looks fun to do!" population, competitive support funding is entirely up to the local clubs and players. To provide more money to our "betters" from other states, our national governing body took away last year the only money that ever flowed our way: the small travel stipends for those going to Olympic qualifing national tournaments. Call me jaded and dissillussioned, but realistically, my national body has been only giving "its" Olympic TV and other sponsors' money to those already on its high performance staff or player roster since last year. Nothing for anyone who is not since last year already ranked 1 or 2 and then only for events leading to Olympics, Youth Olympics or Paralympics. So.... if locals or up and coming players want funding, they must raise it and control it locally and forget national funding until they have won big at national level.

    Funding before winning v. funding after winning. In the USA now just a few juniors who have not won big but are promising to the HP staff get national funding. There is a death battle going on now at our national board about how much power the HP staff should have as well as why it is allowed to have virtually total secrecy on funding amounts and decisions. Top athletes getting funding now dare not say anything for fear of losing their funding. It is not a happy scene. The antithesis of "Good game!"

    Meanwhile, many "national" efforts to grow and improve the sport down here and take advantage of the 2014 Games are languishing. No national funding for all up and coming competitive curlers to have even a half day clinic with top coaches, no updated training for certified instructors while all existing ones have been told your credentials are dead and must be renewed with as yet unpublished materials! Funding needs to be a combination of some to the top players to help with travel and some to improve the depth of field by getting the best coaches out there ... just like your Jamaica runner example instead of a cabal of "officials" with their heads buried at headquarters cherrypicking their favorites like an emperor or empress ordering about the jesters du jour.

  4. One of the main reasons Canada medalled so well in Vancouver was because of the investment made in the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. Potential olympians got first-hand exposure from those games that made many consider taking up sports that we only saw once every four years. The facilities created for the games then facilitated that participation. Yes, we are a winter nation, but we were not getting that many more medals in the Winter Games than we were in the Summer Games before the Calgary Olympics (adjusting for boycotts). So it seems to have come about because of a combination of facilities and exposure.

    Yes, we have always had some standout athletes, both summer and winter, but they have often had to leave the country to reach an elite level. I think of Olympic Épée fencer Sherraine Schalm as a typical example. She came out of a town of 10,000 in Southern Alberta (Brooks) to compete at the world cup level and medal there. She had to train in France, Hungary, and Italy to reach that pinnacle, much like curlers come from all over the world to compete and/or train in Canada. Once you get even one athlete or team succeeding internationally in a sport, you can start a virtuous cycle. It's one of the reasons I favour continued funding for athletes in sports that are not as popular.

    I think your emphasized quote is key: you cannot control the outcome through funding, only the journey. If someone or some team with talent is on a journey and could use a hand up to reach the next level, we should consider funding them in some amount. Will they medal in the future? Who knows, but we will likely get better people out the other end, which benefits our society. Do we need top-notch dedicated facilities? Even basic facilities can help develop grassroots participation, but the very best will go where they have to go to compete at the next level if it is important to them.

    So, in short, I believe in developing people and their potential. It's the same reason we fund public education through tax dollars. I do not believe in the "rich get richer" model of funding, nor do I believe in providing no funding to elite athletes. It's a sticky balancing act, I grant you, but I would start with these principles and then make judgments along the way.

    By the way, all these arguments apply to funding of the arts as well.

  5. I think you need to do both. That is, fund a given sport broadly so that the chance exists for a dedicated, driven team or individual to get going. Then when a team, individual or program shows success you need to give them extra funding to defray the costs associated with competing at a very high level.

    "shows success" does not necessarily mean winning medals. it seems possible to define success separate from winning medals.