Olympic team sports at risk

ALISON KORN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 PM ET

Are Canadian team sports at risk because of our quest to own the podium?

Even though team sports are where almost all elite Canadian athletes get their start, individual sports deliver more bang for the buck in producing medals and therefore attract more funding and fanfare.

In contrast to speed skater Cindy Klassen, who won five medals at the 2006 Turin Olympics, the womens hockey team members, all 21 of them, can only win one medal per Games. Granted, its usually gold.

So heres an interesting idea: When tallying totals, why not count the actual number of medals that go home with athletes? Its a notion perhaps far-fetched, but worth considering put forth by researcher Kevin Lawrie, who works at the Centre for Sport and Law in Toronto (although this is not the centres official view).

Well, why not? asks Lawrie, who admits hes biased, being a team sport coach himself in baseball. The way were currently looking at it is, team sport athletes are worth less when it comes to our arbitrary medal count.

If we were to count the actual number of medals that went home with athletes after the Vancouver Olympics, Lawrie figures, the U.S. would be on top with 96, Canada second with 91 and Germany third with 54. In Turin, Canada would have led with 69, ahead of Sweden at 65 and Germany with 54. Make sense?

I think it has some logic to it, said Jean-Paul Cody-Cox, executive director of Volleyball Canada. I think the value of looking at each individual medal on a team makes sense to me because its the same type of investment, the same type of work that has to be done and youre validating that work that needs to be done.

Many team sports face additional challenges and costs in centralizing their athletes, getting past continental qualifiers, and not having Olympic or Paralympic status, which reduces their funding.

There has been an urgency for team sports to work together, said Wayne Parrish, executive director of Basketball Canada.

Thats why last year, united in concern for the future of their sports, 19 national sport-governing bodies joined forces to create the Canadian Team Sports Coalition.

The group commissioned a survey, for which Lawrie was a key researcher, and found that participation in team sports is the foundation from which almost all elite Canadian athletes emerge, whether or not they move on to individual sports later in their careers.

The Full Team Ahead: The Benefits of Team Sport to Canadian Sport report also found that seven of the top 10 most popular sports based on participation are team sports and that team sports play an important role in building communities and in socializing young Canadians.

Coalition efforts seemed to pay off post-Vancouver, when the federal government earmarked $6 million annually to support team sports as part of the broader $22 million annual commitment to encourage participation in amateur sport. Now the group is busy working to design a new methodology to assess team sports, beyond the traditional medal count.

Were pretty active at this point, Cody-Cox said. My concern is not just team sports. Its the sport system. Its that pipeline where kids come up through the system.

Lawries recent newsletter article, Olympic Success when 24 athletes = 1 medal, warns that countries ignore team sports at their own peril. Not to worry in Canada the survey found that 24 million Canadians are engaged in team sports, compared with 10 million involved in individual sports. So team sport hasnt quite died off here just yet.

But just maybe, taking a different look at medal distribution could offer the boost it needs.

alison_korn@hotmail.com


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