The owner of the Chair’s Podium said the athlete’s cry for change was heard

One of OTP’s previous chief executive officers, Alex Baumann, said the name was aspirational, but did it land that way?

“We entered into this conversation that directly puts all the PR pressure directly on the athletes and the results they can create,” said Russell Reimer, whose agency represents several Olympics.

Canada ranked third in total medals with 26 in 2010 — two more than in 2006 and nine more than in 2002. Although that was not the stated goal, the home team won the most gold medals with 14 in Vancouver and Whistler.

Twenty-nine medals in 2018 is a Winter Olympic record for Canada and a third country ranking. Twenty-four years ago Tokyo for the 11th was the most by Canada at the non-boycotted Summer Olympics.

In consultation with national sports organizations, which oversee the competitive lives of athletes, OTP made funding recommendations directing approximately $70 million of Sports Canada money to NSO for athletes with medal potential, while also providing technical advice to NSO.

All sports receive core funding from a $150 million pot.

The OTP funding recommendation, which requires federal ministerial approval, is additional, targeted funding to help athletes climb to the world podium, the Olympics and Paralympics.

“Before targeted excellence funding went into effect, the approach was for funding to be spread out one mile wide and one inch deep,” said OTP CEO Anne Merklinger. “Our results on the world stage show the impact of that.

“With the introduction of targeted excellence funding, Canada has achieved a fairly positive level of excellence on the global stage.”

But in the weeks since the close of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — four of the 26 gold medals ranked fourth overall — a wave of athletes is demanding a cultural change from the organizations that oversee them.

In what Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge called a crisis, there were allegations of molestation, sexual harassment or misappropriation of funds made against at least eight national sports organizations in his first five months in office.

The exercise system under pressure has blown the gasket.

St-Onge rushed with a makeshift roundtable, the announcement of $16 million in safe sports funding in last week’s budget and the appointment of a sports integrity commissioner on the May 1 job.

Merklinger insists how Canadians win medals is as important as the medals themselves.

“We have changed the way we pursue excellence on the world stage,” said Merklinger. “We’ve been working on the cultural front, trying to ensure that we provide a safe environment for everyone involved in high-performance sports so they can achieve their goals.

“We did that two years before the pandemic. Culture is an important contributor to high-performance sport in our country.

“Every conversation we’ve had with key stakeholders over the last six weeks, everyone is committed to this, everyone is looking for ways that we individually and collectively can address the concerns expressed by the athletes.”

Funding decisions create tension between athletes, their NSOs and OTPs.

“Organizations will use them as scapegoats, like ‘Own The Podium needs to look at this and if you guys don’t get medals, we’re not going to get funding,'” said former alpine skier Allison Forsyth, who now works with athletes in safe sports. .

“The pressure that is put on an athlete is what makes me think often about mental health challenges.”

Merklinger admits there are system tensions over money.

“We know that there are a lot of organizations that care about the funding model in this country,” he said.

“There is $150 million a year per year used for core support. That money goes into every sport in Canada and it hasn’t increased in 13 to 14 years.

“The sports system needs a new injection of funding so that national sports organizations are less dependent on targeted excellence funding.”

Two-time Olympic trampoline champion Rosannagh MacLennan believes OTP lives up to its mandate.

“They were quite successful at turning medal potential into medals and helping NSO create a training environment designed for high performance,” he said.

He also said he felt an undercurrent of funding pressure.

“My desire to win a medal is purely my own goal,” said MacLennan. “I feel there is pressure to appear on a certain day at the Olympics.

“I feel burdened that the future of my sporting success depends in some way on my performance in one minute, every four years.”

The OTP, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee have backed away from tough targeting at the recent Olympics.

The COC, which contributes about $15 million per year to OTP targeted funding, prepares athletes for the Olympics and Pan American Games, and looks after the needs of athletes on the field. COC funds its operations through corporate sponsors.

“I just came out of two Olympics in a span of seven months where I saw the incredible power of Canadian sport,” said COC CEO David Shoemaker, pointing to the Olympic gold won by Damian Warner’s women’s soccer and hockey and decathlon teams. gold medal.

“I feel compelled to show that I am a supporter of Own The Podium. I believe in our high performance strategy.

“Times like these should make us say ‘OK, what might be appropriate in 2010 needs to be refreshed.’

“I think this is an inflection point where we have to look closely at the high performance strategy, we need to listen to our athletes, we need to reflect on the feedback and decide if the strategy needs to be tweaked.”

OTP provides a cultural assessment and audit tool for NSOs “to assess their culture and an important part of that is mental health,” Merklinger said.

The “Gold Medal Profile for Sports Psychology” developed by six mental performance consultants has a key theme of mental health, he said.

“This definitely reinforces the interaction between mental health and mental performance,” Merklinger said. “Now that it’s developed, we have a group of experts in this field to engage with the sport and make sure there are no loopholes.”

Changing the name “Own The Podium” had not been discussed during Merklinger’s decades at the helm.

“That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t guarantee conversation,” he said.

This Canadian Press report was first published on April 21, 2022.

Donna Spencer, Canadian Press

Hadwin Floyd

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