Harper government should be lauded for success in Sochi

Andy Radia
·Politics Reporter

They won't be receiving any medals but the Harper government deserves some of the credit for our athletes' success in Sochi.

Not to take anything away from the athletes, but there's a surplus of literature out there which supports the theory that government funding equates to Olympic success.

"The countries that invest most in elite sport...are also the most successful nations in
summer/winter sports," noted a comprehensive 2012 study comparing 15 countries including Canada.

"There is a clear relationship between money 'in' and medals 'out.'"

Certainly, there are other driving factors including a country's per-capita GDP, its population, the rate of sports participation and its sports-culture.

But funding appears to be key. And, to that end, the Tories have delivered.

According to Sport Canada statistics, funding levels for Winter Olympic sports has more than doubled since the lead-up to the Torino Games in 2006; moreover, direct support to winter sport athletes has increased by over 120 per cent in the past decade.

And, on Tuesday — to the cheers of the Canadian Olympic Committee — the Tories' committed to an ongoing annual contribution of $23 million to amateur sport as part of Economic Action Plan 2014.

"The Harper Government demonstrated its leadership once again by making a strong and permanent commitment to High Performance sport," Marcel Aubut, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee said in a press release.

"By continuing to do whatever is necessary for our athletes, the Government showed its dedication to help them reach the podium, and underlined the unifying influence of sport."

[ Related: Ten highlights of Budget 2014 ]

Almost half of the government money has been — and will be — allotted to Own the Podium (OTP), a not-for-profit organization that provides "medal potential athletes" with world-class resources and high-performance programming.

Canada's Minister of State for Sport, Bal Gosal, says OTP is a big reason for Canada's success — so far — in Sochi.

"I can surely see that..with increased funding for the Own the Podium program is helping these athletes," he told Yahoo Canada News, in a telephone interview from Russia.

The challenge, moving forward, will be to keep up with other countries such as Russia, Australia, China and the U.K. who have also increased their funding for elite athletes.

According to a recent Postmedia News report, a House of Commons committee suggests that a way to do that is for government to be more active in facilitating private-sector investment in sport. One policy measure could be tax incentives for companies that sponsor Olympians.

Gosal says that the government is open to looking at that those sorts of things — once the budget is balanced in 2015.

[ Related: Calgary and Montreal relight Olympic cauldrons, but Vancouver’s stays dark ]

As of press time, Canada is doing pretty well in Sochi: We rank second in Gold medals and second in total medals.

Whether funding for prospective Olympians is the best use of taxpayer money is, perhaps, a debate for another day.

For now the Harper government should be basking in their Olympic glory.

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