May 06, 2005

Federal Government "Waste" in Athens

I cringed when I read this story last week, detailing how the Canadian government "wasted big sums" sending government big-wigs to the 2004 summer Olympics. Thankfully, the story seems to have died a quick death, as I have not seen it picked up anywhere else.

The "big sums" in question are in fact incredibly small:

… the federal government spent thousands on hospitality and travel for its government officials, more than $270,000 in hotels and security, more than $70,000 on Olympic tickets, nearly $20,000 handing out Canada pins.

Geez, $360K "wasted." This compared to a Sport Canada budget of about $120M for 2004-05, of which about $15M went directly into athletes' pockets through the Athlete Assistance Program, and another $30M went to the NSFs for Olympic sports. Even CTV had a hard time finding anybody who was willing to be outraged about this, at one point quoting one of their own reporters for her reaction. Top-notch journalism, there.

Looked at another way, the $360K, divided up equally among the 265 athletes on the Olympic team, would have meant another $1360 per athlete for 2004, or roughly one extra month of Athlete Assistance Program funding. Not peanuts to those athletes, for sure, but also not the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

I don't mean to make light of government waste of taxpayer dollars. But I think of this as a kind of "marketing cost" for high-performance athletes. The only reason politicians want a paid trip to the Olympics is because, well, they think that the Olympics are cool. And politicians who think that the Olympics are cool are the ones who want Canada to do better. Therein lies the path to increased funding! In this light, $360K looks like a real bargain.

The politicians who see this as a waste of taxpayer dollars probably think that any funding of high-performance sport is a waste of taxpayer dollars. And those are not the kind of politicians that Canada's elite athletes want on their side.

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