REMEMBER ALL THE excitement during the Rio Olympics? Kicking off the first week in the pool we witnessed the incredible feats of Penny Oleksiak and the rest of the women’s swim team. My daughter and I watched the women’s sevens rugby team power their way to an impressive bronze medal finish. Sitting at the counter eating his lunch, my son asked how the men’s rugby team did. I had no idea if we even had a men’s sevens rugby team in contention. (Turns out Canada failed to qualify a men’s team after losing to Russia 14–12 in qualifying.)
Here are some interesting statistics about the makeup of our Olympic team in Rio: • CANADIAN ATHLETES = 314 • TOTAL FEMALE ATHLETES = 187 (60%) • TOTAL MALE ATHLETES = 127 (40%) • PERCENTAGE OF MEDALS
WON BY FEMALE ATHLETES = 73% • PERCENTAGE OF MEDALS WON BY MALE ATHLETES = 27% When you send more athletes of one gender they are more likely to win more medals, but there are other variables at play that impact the future success of our athletes, especially the men.
One of those variables is the Own the Podium (OTP) program adopted in 2010 to help prepare athletes for medal success at the winter Olympics.
“In collaboration with our sport and funding partners, Own the Podium is responsible for providing funding recommendations to the Government of Canada, the COC, and CPC for national sport organizations who have athletes that demonstrate medal potential at the upcoming and subsequent Olympic and Paralympic Games,” says Anne Merklinger, CEO of OTP.
OTP’S mandate, then, is to help Canada win more medals, so it invests in sports where Canadian athletes have the best chance to medal. Don’t get me wrong – OTP is both doing a good job and fulfilling its mandate. But, if your sport doesn’t succeed, or doesn’t look to be ready to succeed, you won’t get as much funding. This is a catch-22 – you can’t succeed if you don’t get financial support, and you won’t get money if you don’t succeed. Therefore, the women’s teams and athletes in many Olympic sports are likely to receive the money they so greatly need and deserve, while the men’s teams might not see as much.
Of all the performances at the Olympics I saw, Andrew Yorke’s finish was one of the gutsiest – he ran up a hill to get a new wheel after a crash on the bike and still finished the race. He has an interesting take on OTP. “Dollars don’t necessarily equal medals. There is no way to predict future performances, especially in younger athletes, so funding based on a hunch leaves little meat on the bone for the next generation of triathletes like Ty [Tyler Mislawchuk, who finished 16th in Rio].”
After Simon Whitfield’s silver medal in Beijing triathlon received almost $3 million in funding heading into the London games. The Rio quadrennial saw just over $1.5 million in funding. Despite Mislawchuk’s impressive performance and Yorke’s gutsy race, we’re down to $200,000 in funding for next year.
There is much more gender inequality in other nations than ours here in Canada. Countries where women are subjugated and still seen as second-class citizens allocate fewer resources, if any, to women’s sports. While some Canadian women’s teams continue to have to fight to be seen as equals on the playing field, when it comes to government and OTP funding I would argue that the pendulum has swung the other way.
I believe that both my son and daughter should have equal opportunities. Given OTP’S philosophy of seeking out current successes, I’m afraid that our boys will be left behind to allow our girls to win on the world stage. There is no greater satisfaction and pride for a parent than to see your child do well. Conversely, there is no greater rage than to see your child pushed aside.
As a nation we need to continue to improve on our treatment of women on the playing field, home and at work. It should not, however, come at the cost of leaving our boys behind.
Many of the men I speak with feel they are stuck between two worlds – chivalry and equality. Women also suffer the dichotomy of femininity and empowerment. In triathlon we have the opportunity to monitor this equality and empowerment. We can help our sons and daughters succeed on an even playing field. We just need to make sure it truly is equal.
Thom Burberry is an triathlete from London, Ont. He has represented Canada on numerous national teams and competed over virtually every distance.