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Promoter working to fund Olympic athletes

A young Toronto promoter wants to even out the playing field for Canadian athletes gearing up for Olympic competition.

A young Toronto promoter wants to even out the playing field for Canadian athletes gearing up for Olympic competition.

"We’re so proud of the women’s hockey team and the Catriona LeMay Doans and those people but there are hundreds like them," said event promoter and volunteer fundraiser Jane Roos from her Toronto office.

"So imagine if we had double, triple the amount of heroes that come out of the Games, performing their top performances.

"Imagine going to the Games and doing your best performance, knowing that your entire country was behind you."

The problem as it stands right now said Roos is that many Canadian amateur athletes are living on or below the poverty line, many subsisting on a $1,100 per month grant from the federal government.

Roos maintains that these amateur athletes can’t give their best performances or train to their full potential when they have to worry about making the rent, paying for their coaches, and raising the money to compete in international competitions.

"Everyone struggles until they do well," she said.

"Until they come back from the Games, and then endorsements come up and appearances and that type of thing. But for most of our amateur athletes who are training right now to go to Athens, it’s a huge struggle."

Enter Roos’ brainchild, the See You in Athens Fund.

Her goal is to raise $5 million for Canadian athletes going to the 2004 Summer Games in Greece.

"You need to invest in people," said Roos.

"Everyone wants to be there at the end to cheer our athletes on and when they do well we say ‘great, they’re Canadian.’ But you need to invest in that talent."

The idea to fundraise for amateur athletes came to her in 1997.

In the three years leading up to the 2000 Sydney Games Roos managed to raise $500,000. That money went directly into the athletes hands – athletes like B.C. wrestler Daniel Igali, who was given $6,000 from the See You in Sydney fund in January 2000 before heading Down Under. There he won the gold medal.

"When an athlete does well for Canada, I think the entire country does well," said Roos.

She managed to raise another $500,000 for Canadian athletes competing in Salt Lake City and now she’s raising the fundraising bar tenfold for Athens.

While a big jump in fundraising goals, the See You in Athens fund is being helped along with a provocative marketing campaign. A Toronto advertising firm called Taxi has created a series of print and advertising commercials free of charge for the fund.

The commercials highlight the plight of the amateur athlete and their financial struggles.

One print ad shows Canadian boxer Jason Douglas holding up a sign saying ‘Will work for coach.’

"It really evokes thought in the system," said Todd Allison, general manager of the Telus Whistler Sport Centre, who is developing programs for young athletes to encourage them to compete in the 2010 Games and beyond.

"Any initiative that is bringing more money to the athletes is definitely positive."

But Allison said there may be parts of the ad campaign that can be a little misleading.

While he agrees many amateur athletes are struggling to make it by, he’s says that’s a decision they choose to make and so their financial plight cannot be equated to others who are living below the poverty line.

Allison is also concerned that these fundraising efforts are taking place outside of a structure that’s already in place.

"There needs to be a harmony," he said, adding that most athletes get their coaches through their National Sport Organization.

"It needs to be respective or inclusive of the rest of the system."

That system, specifically the Canadian Olympic Committee, has announced a $8.7 million injection of funds for select athletes, coaches and sports that could be potential medal winners in Athens.

But Roos said compared to other countries, Canada’s contribution and financial support for their amateur athletes is "shameful."

The numbers speak for themselves.

Roos recently received 198 applications for funding. The funds’ board of directors chose 45 teams, pairs and individuals to receive funding based on the athletes’ world ranking, Canadian ranking, and their revenue minus their expenses on a month-to-month basis, among other things.

"(There’s) a common theme with everyone’s story," said Roos.

"We don’t support our athletes very well.

"If we did, this fund wouldn’t exist."

Still, she’s hopeful that by 2010, there will be enough funding in place that she won’t be working on the fund.

If not, this same fund may be helping athletes competing in the 2010 Games.

For more information about the See You in Athens Fund visit or call toll free 1-866-yes-2004. People can make a donation on behalf of a sport, a city or even a particular athlete.