At the risk of voicing an sentiment unpopular amongst my countrymen, I am not convinced federal money should fund athletics. Canadians are crying the blues about how few medals we have won in Athens. “If only the athletes had more money, they could afford to train,” we whine.
I am finding it tough to rationalize the idea that we spend tax money on what really amounts to little more than entertainment. Really, what good does it do a country to see a few dozen elite athletes compete on the world stage? It doesn’t do much to make us a more peaceful nation (we’re Canadians, how much more peaceful could we be?), it certainly brings little in the way of revenue, and endless hours of couch time takes a toll on our bodies and our collective health. Sure, we laugh, we cry, we mourn the loss of the gold in women’s hurdles (there is a feisty and admirable woman, that Perdita…), but really, can we justify handing over the cash it takes to pay for the athletes’ food, rent and running shoes while we wait three months for a CT scan?
It is a resource allocation issue. I tend to think that a better use of the money would be to spread it around a little. Keep using it for athletics, but maybe divert it toward making our nation more athletic as a whole. What about good, upstream, health promotion and illness prevention initiatives like, say, physical education for elementary schools? Remember Participaction? What about improving access to community-based soccer or hockey leagues? The idea is to prevent diabetes and heart disease by helping people establish healthy lifestyles…that would be a good use of that money. Better than grooming the chosen few so that the vast majority have yet another excuse to sit motionless for hours on end and eat junk food while they are entertained by the chosen few in the brief, intermittent glimpses of Olympic action the CBC (itself another resource allocation issue, some might argue) allows us, sandwiched between McDonald’s commercials and Brian Williams yammering on about how underpriveleged these talented young people are because their government just won’t cut them a break.
Lance Armstrong did not need to rely on tax money to achieve his lofty goals; he had no difficulty getting private sector funding for his team. Heck, he probably makes more from sponsorships in one year than our entire Olympic contingent put together gets from the government. The sponsors will come to the truly talented. Those who are, well, less talented… maybe they shouldn’t quit their day jobs. Hey, how about volunteering as a kids’ soccer coach?