Budgets good to athletes 

Own the Podium program ‘close’ to being funded

The dollars are continuing to pour in for Canadian sports and athletes with the release of budgets by B.C. and federal governments in recent weeks.

Last week the federal government committed $429 million to sports over the next five years, starting with an additional $20 million in 2005. The plan would also make the previous increase, to $120 million from $90 million, permanent for a total budget of $140 million this year.

The new budget includes $55 million over the five years leading up to the 2010 Winter Games, or half the budget for the Own the Podium tabled by the Canadian Olympic Committee in January.

"The Government of Canada is a proud supporter of the Own the Podium project, and is pleased to contribute to the development and growth of our athletes and coaches as we prepare to host the world in 2010," said Minister of State for Sport Stephen Owen.

Own the Podium calls for an additional $110 million investment in Canadian winter sports, with the goal of leading all nations with 35 medals in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and to be in the top three in the 2010 Paralympics. That money will be divided between winter sports organizations, based on need and medal expectations, and the development of sport science and technology.

The other half of the money is expected to come from the Vancouver Organizing Committee, or VANOC, through corporate sponsors. The B.C. government recently announced $10 million in additional sport funding, on top of previous commitments, with $5 million going towards Own the Podium.

"It’s close," said Stacie Smith, the manager of communications for the Canadian Olympic Committee. "What we were hoping for is $110 million over five years, half from corporate sources and half from the federal government. With the last budget the government part is covered, and B.C.’s contribution puts us even closer."

This week VANOC also announced two multimillion dollar corporate sponsorships, with RBC Financial Group and Hbc (Hudson’s Bay Company). The details of those sponsorships has not been announced, but both companies have expressed an interest in backing Own the Podium.

"We won’t know until we know, but we feel we’re almost there," said Smith.

The Own the Podium plan, which was created by a steering group in consultation with Canada’s 13 Winter Olympic sport organizations, is already in the process of being implemented, said Smith.

"It started pretty much before we even announced it, assuming that we would get funding down the road. It was a case of ‘if you build it, they will come.’"

The funding is coming together more quickly than the organizers anticipated, which Smith attributes to the fact that the Canadian Olympic Committee took the initiative to develop a plan more than a year ago.

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