|Boxer Luis Valdivia has to come up with $850 in order to compete at the Commonwealth Youth Games in September. (Valdivia family photo)
TORONTO - A couple of months ago, Brampton boxer Luis Valdivia was down, though certainly not out.
The Chilean-born fighter was anxiously awaiting word on his Canadian citizenship, as he had been chosen to represent Canada at the prestigious Brandenburg Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, June 21-26.
Valdivia, 17, has lived in Canada since he was seven and pinned for the chance to represent the Maple Leaf internationally, but was afraid his citizenship wouldn’t come through in time. And so his coach, John Melich, contacted the Toronto Sun in the hopes that a little media publicity would perhaps expedite the boxer’s paperwork.
Sure enough, a few days after an article was published (June 6, 2011), Valdivia’s citizenship came through, and though it’s doubtful the Sun piece had anything to do with Valdivia receiving his citizenship so promptly, Melich is adamant that the article did light a fire under some functionary’s keister up in Ottawa, paving the way for Valdivia to be sworn in as a new Canadian.
In any case, Valdivia’s citizenship paperwork arrived a few days too late for his participation at the Brandenburg Cup. The good news is, Valdivia, the 2011 Canada Games champion at 69 kg, has been selected to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Youth Games, which will take place Sept. 7-12 on the Isle of Man.
But there’s another dark lining to this silver cloud.
In order to compete at the Commonwealth Youth Games, the Turner Fenton Secondary School student has to raise $850 from out of his own pocket. And his pockets aren’t deep.
The deal is, Boxing Canada is so strapped for funding, that our international-level boxers have to partly pay their own way to some tournaments. Having to cough up money to pay for competitions abroad isn’t unique to boxing in this country, but the hardship is especially felt in sports, like boxing, that traditionally attracts kids from the lower end of the economic spectrum. Valdivia’s parents are hard-working immigrants, but they’re certainly not wealthy, and $850 is a considerable sum.
Melich doesn’t blame Boxing Canada for the funding shortfall, but he’s not impressed that athletes, in any sport in Canada, often have to pay their own way to international competitions.
“Boxing is really a poor man’s sport, not like golf or hockey,” Melich said. “We’re just trying to keep youth in our neighbourhoods busy and active. Boxers just don’t have this money like they have in other sports. In Luis’ case, he comes from an average family and can’t really afford this.”
The problem, from my perspective, is that Sport Canada, an arm of the federal government, funds too many sports and programs in attempt to appease everyone, as opposed to concentrating funding on sports that have traditionally been followed by Canadians — sports that Canada has traditionally excelled at internationally — like track and field, swimming and boxing.
Instead, in an typical Canadian government attempt at total appeasement, the money is spread too thin, on too many sports or programs that are popular only in certain regions, or aren’t even Olympic events. For instance, Sport Canada gave $203,000 to the Canadian Broomball Federation this year and $300,000 to something called Motivate Canada.
Melich is currently seeking sponsors for his fighter, whom he believes is a good bet to win a medal for Canada at next summer’s London Olympic, even though he will just be turning 19. Canada hasn’t won a medal in Olympic boxing since the 1996 Atlanta Games. Before that, the Canadian boxing team almost always won medals at Olympics.
Canada’s boxing team at the last Games, 2008 in Beijing, consisted of one fighter, Windsor welterweight Adam Trupish, who had all of one fight, losing 20-1 to Bakhyt Sarsekbayev of Kazakhstan, who eventually won the gold medal — a sad showing, but the new reality in Canadian amateur boxing.
Part of the reason for the poor showing of Canadian fighters in recent years is a lack of funding, for coaching, training and competition. Increasingly, Canadian boxers are being told to come up with their own money to represent Canada on the world stage.
And it’s not that the federal money isn’t there. It’s that it’s been spent the wrong way.