Amateur sport needs your attention, Mr. PM

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

The Hon. Stephen Harper

Prime minister-designate

Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Sir,

Some of us remember well when Bob Stanfield had problems controlling the football for a ceremonial kickoff at a Canadian Football League game.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the only politician who fumbled the ball when it came to Canadian sports, particularly the amateur variety. But in Mr. Stanfield's case, at least we could say he tried.

Recently, I had hoped, that your predecessor, Paul Martin, would at least have tried to take control of the ball for Canada's sports since he was a basketball and water polo player in his younger years.

I was wrong.

Mr. Prime Minister -- and I believe that will be your official title after Feb. 6 -- Canadian sport is waiting to see if you are cut from a different mold, whether you will give respect to amateur sport, something it gets in most other civilized countries.

You know, Mr. Prime Minister, you fought to unseat Paul Martin because you didn't believe in the way he and his fellow Liberals were running the country. Well, they have done little to substantially affect change in our amateur sports scene.

However, you have now stated that, with your minority government, you will try to be an inclusive prime minister. Well, you might learn something from a couple of former PMs -- Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Brian Mulroney.

These two realized how important sport is to our country and appointed full-time sports ministers -- Iona Campagnolo and Otto Jelinek --who cared about the well-being of sport in Canada and didn't run their sports department as part of some other, bigger portfolio which took up more of their time. They were dedicated to the betterment of amateur sports in this country and Canada was better off for that.

I could go back to Germany, which was controlled by a doctrine it couldn't sell to the world. So, it decided to concentrate its efforts on developing star athletes and introducing them to the world as shining examples of the German system.

Later still, the German government provided more money for amateur sports and facilities and research showed that every Deutschmark spent on sport and physical fitness saved the government four in health care costs.

Sound familiar?

The Germans weren't the only ones. The Soviet Union and its socialist allies couldn't sell their system to the world. However, their top athletes kept the Communist bloc countries at the forefront of global visibility.

The Americans pour hundreds of millions of dollars into high school, collegiate and international sport and glorify the achievements of their athletes at every level of participation.

We don't even have a permanent site for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

There was a chance to move the Hall to Ottawa a few years ago, but then prime minister Jean Chretien decided to keep the proposed building as a picture gallery of Canadian prime ministers. As a result, the Canadian hall got kicked out of its quarters at the CNE and its employees are packing up the memorabilia to move them to some other spot on the grounds.

But that is just part of my complaint, Mr. Prime Minister. I hope that you will keep an eye on your finances so that Canadian athletes get the kind of financial support needed to train and live properly and serve as shining examples of what hard-working, dedicated Canadians can do with their lives.

You should know that we here in Ontario, and particularly in Toronto -- and I realize Toronto is not sending a single delegate from your party to Ottawa -- have no elite facilities to speak of. As a matter of fact, on a per capita basis, we are an embarrassment when compared to visually and economically stable countries. We don't have anywhere near enough Olympic-size swimming pools, soccer stadia, baseball diamonds, not to mention esoteric facilities such as a speedskating oval,velodrome or rowing basin.

You want to be inclusive? Go to the provincial government (since it is responsible for education) and find out how you could co-operate financially.

Then, perhaps, many Ontario sportsmen and sportswomen may vote for you come re-election time.

Sincerely yours

George Gross

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

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