Owning More Than the Podium: An Examination of the Policy Network Surrounding Canada's Most Recent Olympic Athlete Funding Program

Article excerpt

The XXIth Olympic Winter Games will open in Vancouver, British Columbia, on February 12, 2010, and Canada will, for the third time, play host to an Olympic Games. Canadian athletes will also embark on a quest to avoid a third embarrassment. In Canada's two previous roles as host, 1976 in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary, Canadian athletes had the dubious distinction of being the only host country whose athletes failed to win a gold medal. This time around, those in the Canadian sport system are not only hoping to avoid an undesirable 'hat-trick,' but also looking to capture first place in the medal standings.

Shortly after the XXIth Winter Games were awarded to Vancouver in the summer of 2003, the wheels were set in motion to implement a strategy for Canadian winter athletes to finish atop the medal standings. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) coordinated a meeting and subsequent independent task force that would develop a report proposing a strategy for achieving sporting success. Own the Podium--2010, as the program which emerged from the meetings and subsequent reports would come to be known, called for a more systematic approach to achieving medal-winning results, and just as importantly, dramatic increases in elite sport funding. (1)

The Own the Podium program is not the first of its kind; however, it does provide a unique opportunity for insight into the Canadian sport system and how federal government sport policy is developed. This paper will set out to briefly analyze the Own the Podium program, the process through which it became federal policy, and how it relates to recent developments in the Canadian sport system. The conclusions derived from this analysis will also shed light on what implications the development and implementation of Own the Podium will have on future sport policy directions and policy processes.

Game Plan '76 and Best Ever '88 were athlete-funding programs specifically developed for improving the results of Canadian athletes at the Montreal and Calgary Olympics respectively. While Canada fared better in both instances than it had in Munich in 1972 and Sarajevo in 1984, the athletes failed to reach the explicit goals of each of the programs. Over time, the failure of both programs has been criticized for the short time period between funding being made available and the commencement of the Games, the sharing of funds between too broad a group of athletes, too small an amount of fund ing being made available, neglecting athlete recruitment, and a failure to recognise the importance of research, technology and coaching support. (2)

On February 2 and 3, 2004, a meeting took place between representatives from each of the winter National Sport Organizations (NSOs), the COC, the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA), the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC), 2010 LegaciesNow, and Sport Canada, the federal government branch primarily responsible for sport in Canada. This two-day meeting in Calgary was the first organized step towards developing a new funding strategy for Canada's athletes participating at an Olympic Games on home soil. As would be revealed on September 10, 2004, in the resulting Task Force report, the meeting produced one collective goal -Canada achieving first place in the overall medal standing, as opposed to numerous individual goals for each of the stakeholders in attendance.

With all winter NSOs and the relevant funding partners deciding that the most important objective for 2010 was victory in the medal standings, and not each sport being well represented, collaboration and a willingness to make sacrifices for the greater interest of 'Team Canada' were, for the first time, evident within the elite sporting community. The cooperative nature of the February meeting and the resultant identification of a communal goal led to the COC establishing a Task Force. …