January 23, 2005

Canada to 'Own the Podium?'

Earlier I mentioned that the COC had set a goal of finishing first in the medal table in 2010. Well, this Saturday, Canada officially unveiled its plan for 2010, called "Own the Podium." The story was widely reported in the media (for example this story in the Toronto Star), but without much critical thought.

To me, "Own the Podium" looks pretty good. I think that the mainstream media may have missed an important point here, though. As noted in the offical release, the program sets Canada's priorities for medal potential, so that flat ice sports have the highest priority, snow sports have second priority, and everything else (shooting, sliding, and jumping) has a lower priority. What that's probably going to mean, in practice, is that some of the lower-priority sports are going to see a funding cut. In essence, Canada is going to give up on ski jumping and some other winter sports, and this obviously isn't going to sit well with everybody. I predict that we'll see some outrage in the press in the next twelve months, as the consequences become clear.

Some have commented that there might be cuts on the horizon for summer sports, too, in order to afford "Own the Podium." But I don't expect that's the case. Actually, that's not quite right. I expect that the exact same approach is going to be applied to summer sports; those sports where we think we can win medals can expect to see more money, and those sports where we don't are going to see big cuts. Again, we can expect to see lots of negative press about this when the papers realize that this is a dramatic change in philosophy.

From my point of view, it was also interesting to see the summary of the conversion analysis by Cathy Priestner-Allinger. Even though she used a different definition of "medal hopefuls," her results for the 2002 winter Olympics weren't much different from mine for the 2004 summer Olympics. So it's probably not just bad luck — Canada is consistently poor at converting world-class international performers into Olympic medallists. Priestner-Allinger has some ideas about why that's the case, which are now going to be used to drive the plan.

There's nothing like having a solid quantitative analysis to back up your strategy!


Anonymous said...

The Own the Podium initiative is not designed to cause funding cuts to any sports. It is true that money will be targetted toward the sports with the best potential for medals in 2010, however the money being allocated is new government money meant specifically for excellence in sport.

A similar initiative is underway as we speak for summer sports and paralympic sports. You can expect a report in April or May, though of course exact funding amounts won't be known until later.

So what does this all really mean for sports? Well, the Sport Canada base funding for each sport will not change. However, over the past two years each sport has received a pot of "excellence" money to help prepare their athletes for Athens (some more than others but all received a certain amount). Some sports will no longer see any excellence money, some will see significantly more. Is this a funding cut? Technically no, practically yes.

I think that if we have indeed decided that we want more medals at the Olympic games that this is probably the road to go. We are not going to get the kind of funding commitments necessary to make every sport a medal contender, so lets help the ones that are close. It is my hope that once we have shown that increased funding can result in more medals then their will be a commitment made to develop more sports to the international level.

The interesting/exciting/scary thing for me is that part of the process of allocating funding is going to involve setting hard medal targets for 2008, 2010, and 2012. The sports will set these targets themselves based on their additional funding - and will have no excuses if they do not achieve results. This is exciting to me because the entire country will no going into 2008 what the sports expect of themselves, interesting because I wonder how this will affect their athlete's state of mind, and scary because if the whole Olympic team underachieves, well, you thought the media was cruel last summer?

Steve Giles

Amateur said...

It's a subtle point, but I think the changes in funding will be somewhat more profound than you have presented here. The "excellence" money that you referred to comes from two sources; Sport Canada (the federal government) and the COC (a not-for-profit). Under the new initiative, the excellence money from both sources is pooled. Therefore, a sport that sees its excellence funding dry up will essentially be unable to support its national team programs at any level.

I should emphasize that I am not disagreeing with or criticizing this strategy. But many Canadians will.