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HomeBusinessThirteen years after Vancouver 2010, Canada’s sport system at a crossroads

Thirteen years after Vancouver 2010, Canada’s sport system at a crossroads

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Bob Mackin 

The Canadian Olympic Committee and Four Host First Nations say they haven’t given up on bidding for the 2030 Winter Olympics.

Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith (left) and Four Host First Nations executive director Tewanee Joseph (second from left) at the Dec. 10 bid exploration announcement (Twitter/Tewanee Joseph)

In December, the International Olympic Committee delayed its decision to 2024, after the NDP government refused in October to provide more than $1 billion and a deficit guarantee.

“With the IOC’s new timeline, we have almost a year to continue the conversation,” spokesperson Chris Dornan said optimistically. “The proposal remains an incredible opportunity for the Host Nations, the province and the rest of Canada.”

Sapporo became the perceived frontrunner in October, but the Tokyo Olympics corruption scandal overshadowed its efforts. Salt Lake City said it could do the job, but prefers 2034. Meanwhile, Sweden announced this week that it is now exploring a run for 2030.

An advocate for athletes says the time is wrong for Canada to be pondering another Olympics. 

“Canadian sport is not fit for purpose, and as a result, if Canadians don’t have their own act together, in protecting athletes, ensuring athletes are safe, they should not be welcoming the world to our country to show them how sport should be run,” said Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete.

Koehler is campaigning for a federal judicial public inquiry into the Canadian sport system, after an unprecedented wave of athlete protests in 2022 against abuse and corruption across the sport system. Hearings before the House of Commons’ Status of Women committee are a welcome step, but no substitute for a full and complete investigation of all the federal and provincial organizations responsible for the rot in Canada’s sport system, Koehler said.

Rob Koehler of Global Athlete (Mackin)

“Abuse In sport is a global issue, it’s a human rights issue and we need to address it not only for Canadians but to be leaders globally. That’s why we’re pushing so hard for this inquiry to bring the truth to the surface and to protect athletes for the future. Until that’s done, we are going to continue to see abuse happening across this country, untreated and people still turning a blind eye to it.”

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opened 13 years ago this Sunday and one of its legacies is the Own the Podium high performance program that Koehler said has fostered a toxic, win-at-all-costs mentality.

“What’s the objective? Is it gold medals? Or is it a healthier, stronger, more robust society? Those are questions that need to be asked.”

He points to the Norwegian system, where play and participation are emphasized, while the best and brightest athletes are naturally identified and nurtured.

Koehler said Canada also isn’t ready to host the world again while premiers butt heads with the prime minister over healthcare funding and resources, something that also affects developing and high performance athletes. 

“They’re left with a public system that is is overburdened, when it comes to mental health issues, when it comes to physical issues. So we have a crisis here.”

The IOC is also courting controversy by proposing Russian and Belarusian athletes be welcomed at the Paris 2024 Olympics as neutrals. Ukraine threatened a boycott and the IOC has threatened suspension.

Vladimir Putin (left) and Xi Jinping during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics (PRC)

Koehler said Russia deserves shame for committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Competing under a neutral flag is merely a facade, because authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records like Russia and China, which hosted the Winter Games a year ago, consider sport part of the state machinery.

“The IOC, their moral compass needs a complete correction. We’ve seen time and time again that the IOC continuously favours Russia, over any other stakeholder. We saw it leading into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when it was uncovered that Russia was undermining the tip the complete Olympic Charter by institutionalized doping.”

Canada’s Sport Minister Pascal St-Onge participated in an online summit Friday with more than 30 other countries. She Tweeted support for banning Russian and Belarusians from Paris 2024. 

“I have reiterated this to my international counterparts and to President Zelenskyy. Let’s stand in solidarity with Ukraine,” St-Onge said. 

However, the COC favours the IOC position because it says banning athletes solely on nationality contravenes Olympic ideals. Koehler said Canadian sport leaders should be aligned with the values of the country.

“Shame on the Canadian Olympic Committee,” Koehler said. “All you have to do, you don’t have to look very far, the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee is also an IOC member.”

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