Pound is passionate about the value of the Games

It's an investment in the country's physical fitness as a whole, he says

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Sunday, February 28, 2010

There are two issues facing Canada's Own the Podium program after the Vancouver Games. One is branding and the other is funding.

Every organization has a positioning statement, but the branding of Own the Podium was over the top, creating expectations that couldn't be managed let alone met, and inviting ridicule from other countries and their media. There's nothing wrong with the concept of supporting excellence with funding for coaches and training. It's entirely laudable. It's the name that needs to be re-branded. The English title is unbecoming of a country that makes a virtue of modesty. The French version, A nous, le podium, is clunky.

"How about just Podium?" Dick Pound was saying from Vancouver, where he has been taking in these fabulous Games as the ranking Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee.

That'll work. In both languages. And it'll get the monkey off the back of our athletes, and the rest of the world off our case.

"Part of it was meant to be deliberately provocative," Pound explained, "to make a statement to a country that doesn't think of itself that way."

Well, if that's the case, they certainly succeeded in getting everyone's attention. They've also done a good job of telling their story. OTP's website is informative and exemplary in terms of transparency as to its public and private sources of funding.

And there's the issue of looking ahead to London, Sochi and beyond.

The federal government committed $11 million a year over five years to funding elite athletes at Vancouver. That's $55 million, with matching funding from the provinces and corporate sponsors. So, $110 million over five years. There's also $36 million a year of federal funding for summer sports, but that's part of a larger Olympic picture.

But most of the major corporate winter sponsors will be waving goodbye after Vancouver. Bell, the first and biggest corporate partner, put in $15 million. Other partners include GM's Chevrolet division ($4 million), Rona ($2 million), RBC, McDonald's and the Hudson's Bay Company. They've all got a great return on their investment in terms of good will for their brands. And their Olympic television spots, without exception, have been creative and generated good feeling. Rona probably deserves a gold medal for its "Made in Canada" spots, but Chevrolet has emerged from bankruptcy with talking cars. RBC has even got some creative mileage out of its chap in the bowler hat. Who knew?

The provinces, including Quebec at $2.5 million, are waiting to see whether Ottawa will renew.

Which brings us to Thursday's budget. In a $250 billion budget, $11 million a year is a rounding error. More money than that falls off the table before lunch in Ottawa every day.

But Ottawa is running a deficit, probably $45 billion next year, down from $56 billion in this fiscal year ending March 31, on its way to a balanced budget in 2015. In that context, should the feds step in and take up the slack left by the corporate sponsors?

Sport Minister Gary Lunn has said there will be no additional funding. But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has the final say. If he can find $10 billion to bail out GM, maybe he can find a few million dollars for our winter Olympians.

"It's an investment," Pound says. And not just in medals, but in the physical fitness of the country as a whole. But it's an intangible. There is no way of knowing how many young people will be inspired by our long-track and short- track skating medalists, or even our curling teams.

Pound's home is Montreal, but his native province is British Columbia, where he first got into swimming in Ocean Falls, and remembers greeting the town's Olympic swimmers returning from someplace called Finland in 1948. It was the beginning of a life in the Olympic movement, which led to the presidency of the Canadian Olympic Association, vice- presidency of the IOC where he did all those TV and marketing deals, and finally the chairmanship of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

He said he's never seen his native province so connected to Canada as during these Vancouver Games, which he's prepared to say are the best he's ever seen, in terms of facilities, venues, performances and dramatic story lines.

 
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