Canadian Paralympians are asking why they don't receive money for medals while Olympians do

·6 min read
Canadian Paralympian Mark Arendz celebrates his gold in the biathlon middle distance standing event at the Beijing Olympics, one of 10 medals he has won in his Paralympic career. (Getty Images for International P - image credit)
Canadian Paralympian Mark Arendz celebrates his gold in the biathlon middle distance standing event at the Beijing Olympics, one of 10 medals he has won in his Paralympic career. (Getty Images for International P - image credit)

Another Summer and Winter Games cycle is coming to a close, with some extraordinary sporting moments provided by Canadian Olympians and Paralympians.

There is one glaring difference between the two, however.

Canadian Olympic athletes who won medals in either Tokyo or Beijing are being financially rewarded for their efforts — $20,000 for a gold, $15,000 for a silver and $10,000 for a bronze.

Canadian Paralympians who reached the podium in those same Games won't receive a single dollar. And it's been that way since the country's medal bonus program began 25 years ago.

"Why? What is the hold-up?" Josh Dueck, a two-time Paralympian and Canada's chef de mission in Beijing, said. "I'm very disappointed this is not resolved. I'm at a bit of a loss.

"The time has come and the time has passed. It needs to be resolved. It's not about the money, it's about equality and being recognized at the same level."

Getty Images for lululemon
Getty Images for lululemon

Marketing partnerships

The bonus program, called the Athlete Excellence Fund, is entirely funded through the Canadian Olympic Committee, which is separate from the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Each organization governs everything to do with their respective Games.

"The COC is almost entirely privately funded, most of which comes through our marketing partnerships. Those funds are reinvested in the system in various ways including the COC AEF," the COC said in a statement to CBC Sports.

For its part, the CPC says if everything goes as planned this will be the last Games cycle Canadian Paralympians leave empty-handed.

"It's such an obvious gap and it's time to get this done," Karen O'Neill, the CPC's CEO, said. "As much as we can say change is slow and steady, there's got to be some action. It's a priority."

Not getting money for my gold in Tokyo sucked. I believe that I worked equally as hard as any Olympian did to get mine. - Canadian Paralympian Nate Riech

Some other countries, such as the U.S. and Australia, already pay their Olympians and Paralympians equally. Tokyo marked the first time this happened.

Canadian Paralympic track star Nate Riech won gold in his first Games in the 1,500 metres T38 at the Tokyo Paralympics in August.

"Not getting money for my gold in Tokyo sucked. I believe that I worked equally as hard as any Olympian did to get mine," Riech told CBC Sports.

"It sends a message that Paralympic medals are not worth the same as Olympic medals. When people debate this, I've found they always leave out the recovery process from our injury or impairment; I believe my injury is when my journey to gold began."

Associated Press
Associated Press

Chantal Petitclerc raised issue in Senate

Dueck, a three-time Paralympic medallist, is considered a pioneer in the sit skiing world, having completed the first-ever backflip in sit ski. Aside from his theatrical antics on the hill, Dueck has been an ardent supporter and advocate for the Paralympic movement.

After he won gold and silver at the Sochi Paralympics in 2014, he started thinking about why Canadians competing in the Paralympics weren't being paid for their medals when the Olympians were. Canadian athletes won 25 medals in Sochi (15 gold, 10 silver and five bronze) while Paralympians won 16 (7-2-7).

Dueck says those 16 medals would have paid out $240,000, less than what the men's hockey team — comprised of a roster of professional hockey players making millions of dollars in the NHL — would have been eligible for.

Paralympic athlete voices are getting louder each passing day that there isn't equity in financial rewards.

Chantal Peticlerc, one of Canada's most greatest Paralympians with 14 gold and 21 medals won in her career, would have made $375,000 for all of her podium performances at the five Paralympics in which she competed.

Now a Canadian senator, Petitclerc recently gave a speech in the House, asking why in 2022 Canadian Paralympians aren't financially rewarded for their athletic achievements.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

CPC receives $5M annual from federal government

"Bottom line is why is this not done yet? There is no reason in a country like Canada that this still remains unresolved," Petitclerc said. "As you know competing athletes may not be loud about it because they have sponsors, they don't want to sound negative. I am just frustrated because I don't really think a lot has been done to fix this."

O'Neill says the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver had a huge impact on awareness in Canada, and in 2013, the federal government committed $5 million per year to the CPC.

She said the CPC prioritized using those funds to improve the infrastructure needed for para athletes to train and compete.

"What we had to do at the time, if we did this and paid our athletes for medals it would be tough for us to invest in the system," she said. "That's why we said we looked at investing in the system so that quality coaching, participation in competition and fielding the team would be the priority."

"It was such a limited infrastructure, we were trying to make the best decisions for our athletes," O'Neill said.

What we had to do at the time, if we did this and paid our athletes for medals it would be tough for us to invest in the system. - Karen O'Neill, CEO of Canadian Paralympic Committee

O'Neill said the CPC is in a better position now and hopes to have something in place in time for the next Paralympics, in Paris in 2024.

"We hear the message loud and clear," she said. "As recently as the last two months both the CPC board of directors and the CPC Foundation BoD said it's time.

"We'd like to make a commitment to make this happen. And we want it to be sustainable."

O'Neill said next steps include engaging their stakeholders, sponsors and all Canadians to step up and start funding Paralympians on the same level the country supports Olympians.

"Our appeal is going to be to our corporate sponsors and to our donors because it should be a cross-section of all of the Canadian support," O'Neill said.

"Beyond the money, it really is that recognition of world-class performances. It's a chance for all Canadians to help build up this next part of our campaign. Put people on notice."

After years of frustration, Dueck is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I've heard with confidence that this will be resolved by Paris," he said. "But until I see it in writing, what else can I tell you right now?"