March 17, 2005

Following the Money, Part 1

Note: this post contains a factual error. Read the correction.

Well, it's been over a month since I posted anything with a graph in it, so it's about time I got back into some good old-fashioned numerical analysis. Today and tomorrow I'll try to provide some recent history on Canadian amateur sports funding.

Just before the Canadian federal budget was released, I reported that funding for amateur sports would be increased to $140M dollars a year. That increase was announced in the budget, and the $140M number was accurate, although it seems to be difficult to establish exactly what the previous baseline was. Some in the media have stated that the $140M is "locked in" until 2010, but of course the federal budget is approved by parliament on a yearly basis; at best you could call the long-term spending forecast a plan, but not a certainty.

A few days after the budget speech, the Minister of State for Sport announced that the government intends to allocate $55M of the $140M to the Own the Podium program. The Own the Podium program is a financial and strategic plan to get Canada to the top of the medal table at the 2010 Winter Olympics. I am on the record as a supporter but a doubter, which I suppose makes me as Canadian as the next guy. The other contributers were hoping for a $55M stake from the federal government, and apparently they were persuasive enough.

Figure 1

Figure 1 — Sport Canada funding, 1995-2003

Figure 1 — Sport Canada funding contributions, 1995-2003 (click to enlarge).

With all the political spin going on, many athletes are confused about what this really means. How much money is new money, and how will it be spent?

Finding out the answer to the first question is actually more difficult than you might think. Although the federal budgets of the last decade are all online, the Sport Canada budget is not usually broken out as a single line item. Furthermore, the budget never tells the whole story, since the government often makes mid-year announcements of additional funding for amateur sport.

Fortunately, we can find out in some detail what Sport Canada actually spent in any given fiscal year, because it's all online here. It's a bit of a mess, because the format and the accounting seem to change from year to year, but I've spent a few hours wading through all that for you.

Figure 1 shows the total contributions and grants distributed by Sport Canada for eight fiscal years, starting in 1995-96. I have divided the spending into eleven categories, represented by different colours on the graph:

  • Olympic Sports: contributions to the national sports federations (NSFs) for sports that are in the summer or winter Olympics, and contributions to a handful of multi-sport organizations (MSOs) that focus on high-performance athletes. I'll discuss the composition of this category in part 2 of this post.
  • Athlete Assistance Program (AAP): contributions directly to national team athletes, through living allowances and tuition grants.
  • Domestic Activities & Events: contributions to events and organizations with a national scope. This category is dominated by contributions to the Canada Games, at more than $4.5M per year.
  • International Events: contributions for bidding on and hosting international multi-sport events, like the Pan American Games, or international single-sport events, like the World Athletics Championships. More on the details below.
  • Sports Advocacy: contributions to organizations that represent a particular sports constituency. The lion's share goes to the Coaches Association of Canada ($2.4M per year) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport ($2.1M per year).
  • National Sports Centres: contributions to the operations of Canada's national and provincial high-performance training centres.
  • Non-Olympic Sports: contributions to the NSFs of sports that are not in the summer or winter Olympics. The biggest single recipient is Rugby Canada, followed by Water Ski Canada, Squash Canada, Racqetball Canada, and Football Canada.
  • Sport Science: contributions to research, sport science, and medicine, including anti-doping efforts.
  • Paralympic Sports: contributions to NSFs or MSOs for athletes with a disability.
  • Other Government: contributions to other government agencies.
  • Miscellaneous Small Projects: contributions to one-time events or projects, usually under $100K. An interesting aside in this category: in 2002-2003 Sport Canada contributed $100K to a group called Les Internationaux du Sport de Montréal. That firm has been implicated in the neverending Canadian sponsorship scandal.

So what does the graph tell us? First of all, International Events spending is highly variable and distorts the overall trend. The biggest fluctuations were due to two major events. The 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg consumed a total of $42M, peaking at $23M in 1997-98. The 2001 World Athletic Championships in Edmonton took $38M of Sport Canada money from 2000 to 2002.

If we ignore the International Events spending, we can see that funding for amateur sport bottomed out in 1997-98, and then showed a steady increase for five years. All categories have seen some benefit, but the biggest absolute increases have come in the AAP and the funding for Olympic sports. The biggest relative increase has been in funding for the national sport centres, which were only in their infancy at the beginning of this period.

The government has already committed to an increase to the AAP living allowance, and a huge chunk of funding to Olympic sports — winter Olympic sports in particular, although the summer sports are going to come up with their own pitch. One point that should be made is that the Own the Podium budget is a lot of money. There are a couple of years missing between the end of the graph and the new budget, but $55M is nearly twice what Sport Canada spent on Olympic sports in 2002-2003. Granted, some of the $55M probably fits in the Sport Science category, and possibly some will go to the National Sport Centres, but remember that the graph shows total NSF funding, and some of that is spent on grassroots development and participation, not elite athletes. Furthermore, it includes summer sports, which are not part of Own the Podium. Any way you look at it, implementing Own the Podium is going to mean a big increase in government financial support.

Next time, I'll talk a bit more about the distribution of the Olympic sports money.

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