Athletic investment will pay off

By ALISON KORN, Special to QMI Agency

Is it all worth it?

The pressure, the tears, the injuries, the financial cost, the occasional medal — is sport really worth it? That was the blunt question posed to me by an old friend this week. Someone who never had the chance to enjoy sport as a kid and is now, as an adult, skeptical of its value.

Win or lose, and perhaps triggered by some negative publicity over the Own the Podium program, the Vancouver Olympics have sparked a national conversation about excellence.

“The conversation that’s going on right now, it signifies that change has happened to Canadian sport,” said Ian Bird of the Sport Matters lobby group. “It reflects now what is so important to Canadians. They want sport to exemplify the excellence they see in the country. And so you see the different ways that people respond to that and they’re animated by it.”

Despite the derision over its supposedly arrogant name, Own the Podium needs to live on. Who knows where we’d be now without it? A poll before the Games showed 74% want such a program to continue post-Games. But will it?

“The genie’s out of the bottle,” Bird said. “Those of us who are involved in leadership roles in sport need to understand it will never go back.”

If in the past 12 days you’ve found yourself animated while watching an unfamiliar sport, felt frustration over a Canadian winning silver instead of gold or placing fourth instead of snagging bronze, take heart. You’re among the more than 70% of Canadians who wanted a top-three result for Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Games and hoped an initiative like Own the Podium would continue post-Games.

Polling done by Angus Reid before these Olympics indicated about three-quarters of us care deeply about seeing Canadians on the podium on the world stage.

It’s a change from what Bird recalls as a national-level field hockey player, when the story lines were more about athletes living 10-to-a-house and surviving on Kraft Dinner.

A gold medal like Simon Whitfield’s in triathlon at the 2000 Olympics was considered an astonishing miracle (even if it wasn’t). By contrast, the trend now is for athletes to highlight all the support they’ve received in the lead-up to Vancouver.

But there still remains a big group of people in this country who don’t engage in sport at all. Bird feels “we need to hear from those people if we’re ever to connect with them.”

Results of polls happening now will be released Friday.

And next week’s federal budget will reveal how much government sport funding will be available post-Vancouver. That’s when things will get really busy for Bird. He welcomes the bustle.

“I do think people will continue to talk about this, I don’t think this will be a two-week experience,” Bird said. “There will be some ongoing debate on where sport is going in the country. What Canadians want is for us to be there in support of our athletes and coaches and have the systemic response that gives the country the chance to excel in sport.”

Is it all worth it? Yes — humans have raced, fought and tested themselves since forever. There’s something so raw and scary, yet electric and fulfilling about competing and giving your all. If only everyone had the chance to try.

That could happen — if Vancouver 2010 ends up not being the end of the road, but a new beginning.

alison_korn@hotmail.com

POLL