From the Globe and Mail, published November 19, 2007
It’s no way to get rich, says kayak champion Adam van Koeverden, but Canadian athletes will soon receive cash rewards for winning medals at the Olympic Games. Athletes will receive up to $20,000 per medal from the Canadian Olympic Committee at the Games, with $15,000 going to silver medalists and $10,000 to bronze medal winners. It’s not as much as the value some countries put on Olympic podium performances — the U.S. Olympic committee offers up to $50,000 for gold, South Korea offers a lifetime pension and Norway offers a piece of land according to Canadian athletes at an excellence series congress in Ottawa.
“But it helps get athletes off the poverty line,” said van Koeverden, the Oakville, Ont., paddler who won gold and bronze at the Athens Olympics in 2004. “It’s not an incentive, because winning Olympic gold is priceless. I wouldn’t give up mine for $20,000 or $20-million. But it’s a reward, not a motivator.
“For years and years we work and put our families in financial difficulty. We’d still go for gold… but you don’t want your athletes to starve. treat their sport as a career. Thankfully, there are resources now. [Federal athlete assistance grants amount to $18,000 a year; the COC offers $5,000 in annual development money and van Koeverden says an athlete living at home is no longer a poverty case.]
“The amount isn’t important. The idea is.”
All Canadian athletes, in Summer and Winter Gam es will be eligible for the cash rewards, which begin next year, including professionals, such as the National Hockey League players who will make up the 2010 Olympic squad.
It’s the first time Canada’s once strictly amateur athletes will be paid for winning medals at the high-performance competitions.
Offering an incentive program to the best performers has been debated — and rejected — in Canada for over two decades, said COC president Michael Cambers. Canadian athletes watched other countries reward their athletes varying amounts for gaining medals, five time Olympic shooter Susan Nattrass said a shooter from an oil-rich state in the middle east stood to get as much as $1-million for a gold.
The COC decided in conjunction with its athlete advisory council to concentrate its efforts more toward achieving results at Olympic Games and less on spreading money thinly across a wide range of programs.
“If you want me to go and compete with the world’s best then I’ve got to be able to train like the world’s best,” van Koeverden said. “I don’t think I should have to live in poverty in order to accomplish my goals.”
The Athlete Excellence Fund will come from $1.3-million annually found in COC making economies in other programs said Chambers.
“It varies wildly (in other countries from) huge amounts to lesser amounts than we provide,” said Chambers.
“But in most of those other countries that have large rewards at the end of the trip if you win a Games, they have very little in the way of development programs leading into the Games,” he said.
“So it’s all or nothing. That’s not where we wanted to go.”
Performance awards will apply to all Olympic sports, Summer and Winter, team and individual, professional and non-professional, Chambers said. He added that all athletes, including the pro hockey stars, will be advised that they can turn back their reward money and get a tax credit for it. The COC is waiting for an opinion from the Canada Revenue Agency as to whether the medal reward money is taxable. The development payments are tax free.
Chambers cited swim icon Alex Baumann, who heads up the Road to Excellence program that funds medal-oriented projects for Summer Olympians, is saying Canada already had paid into broad-based sport development “bbut now it’s time to m ove past the participation and into winning.”
“When I first heard about the program, I thought ‘right on,’” said Pickering, Ont., hurdler Perdita Felicien. The former two-time world champion has designs on an Olympic medal in Beijing next summer.
“You think about what the Americans get when they win stuff and it would be nice to be on that level. It’s not an incentive, not for people who have been to an Olympic Games. It’s not going to send you off gambling in Las Vegas. But it would help you get over that financial burden that’s left afterwards.”