Avoiding the Olympic hangover

Does watching the Olympics translate into higher levels of participation for the general public in Canada?

There are some who ignore the Olympics and some who can’t seem to get enough of watching.

I always get inspired to exercise more than usual or to try a sport I haven’t tried before when the Olympics are on.

But does watching the Olympics translate into higher levels of participation for the general public or sport success in Canada over the past 15 or 20 years?

Doing well on the world stage requires high level coaching, world-class equipment and facilities and money to fund the athlete’s training, all of which costs money.

Funding in Canada has increased steadily over the years but results have been mixed. For example funding for the women’s soccer team increased by 400 per cent since the Beijing Games, and it did produce a first team medal in London since 1936.

And yet the triathlon program’s increase in funding of 300 per cent over the same period produced disappointing results in London.

Total Canadian medal count also shows a stagnated performance over the past few Olympics.

Part of the justification for high levels of funding in many countries is that the success on the podium will inspire younger people to participate in sport and this will in turn improve medal performance in future years.

Is this podium inspiration borne out by the evidence?

Sport participation has declined for the last twenty years that

Statistic’s Canada has been tracking the trend, falling from 45 per cent in 1992 to 28 per cent in 2005.

There may be many factors influencing this tendency including economics and societal trends toward increasing passive entertainment among others.

However, since Olympic funding has increased and sport participation has decreased, it appears that funding is not having a beneficial effect on sport participation rates.

It is interesting to note that gross amounts of funding for Canada’s Olympic program is much less than other countries. For instance, if you compare funding levels in a country like Great Britain to Canada in all the individual sports from field hockey to swimming to athletics, Canada is outspent 10:1 even though we are only half the population of Great Britain.

As far as podium ownership in Canada, up to 90 per cent of government funding for sport goes to helping elite athletes in their attempts to boost the medal count, while the remaining 10 per cent is left to fund grassroots participation in sport for the rest of the population.

It is not surprising at all that sport participation has decreased. Maybe it’s time to re-examine our priorities on funding.

Certainly maintaining the funding for elite performance is required to compete with the world’s best, but if we are to realize increased participation in sport and general physical activity, we have to plan and prepare to fund improve participation at the grassroots level – and not just for Olympic success, but for a healthier general population.

We can’t just sit back and wait for people to be inspired.



Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology.


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