Clara already making big difference

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

Amazing how far a simple promise can go. Not to mention, $10,000.

Remember what speed skater Clara Hughes said after her dramatic Olympic victory in the 5,000 metres in Turin?

The 33-year-old Winnipeg product cleaned out her bank account when she pledged $10,000 to the Right to Play organization, the charity closest to her big heart.

Just three months later, Hughes's gift has grown to more than $400,000, as Canadians have responded to her challenge to help underprivileged kids around the world.

"I just knew if I had a voice I had to use it, and I believed that Canadians would respond," Hughes told reporters at Toronto City Hall yesterday. "And they have."

Just back from a trip to Ethiopia, Hughes is hoping the fundraising drive hits half a million bucks by the end of the year.

That shouldn't be a problem, as this thing seems to have as impressive a set of legs as Hughes did in winning the most gruelling event in women's speed skating.

In Africa, Hughes saw first-hand the effect donations can have on kids, an experience she says will help keep her focused on the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

"I had young boys tell me in Ethiopia that before Right to Play, girls weren't allowed to play sports," she said.

How many athletes, pro or amateur, can say they've helped make that kind of difference in the world?

RICKY'S REAL NUMBER: If Hughes reaches her fundraising target, she'll match the amount the Toronto Argonauts scraped together to pay running back Ricky Williams.

Sun Media has discovered the Argos are actually paying the suspended NFLer close to half a million this season, not the $240,000 that's been widely reported.

Of course, a good chunk of that could be under the table, as the CFL's proposed salary cap remains little more than a rumour.

Wonder how commissioner Tom Wright feels about all this?

Wright was one of the driving forces behind the cap. He also happens to be here in town for a Grey Cup media event today.

On one hand, he can't be impressed. On the other, when's the last time the CFL got this kind of media attention during training camp, particularly in Toronto?

As is so often the case in the CFL, a piece of good news has a dark flip side.

GROWING CONCERN: More and more CFL types are questioning the signing of players under suspension in the NFL, an issue first raised in this space when the Blue Bombers showed interest in Onterrio Smith.

Saskatchewan Roughriders president Jim Hopson is the latest front office figure to question the practice.

"We as a league need to talk about this practice and (whether) we really want to be signing players who are under suspension somewhere else," Hopson told the Regina Leader-Post.

That echoes comments made by Montreal GM Jim Popp and Bomber GM Brendan Taman.

The fact Williams was still under contract to the Miami Dolphins only heightens the urgency to deal with it.

"I'm all for giving people many chances," Popp told the Montreal Gazette. "But pro leagues don't want guys jumping out of contracts. We do this so guys in our league don't bolt."

What's more, the CFL seems to have bent the option-year rules, with Wright reportedly promising the Dolphins that Williams will be allowed to return to them immediately following the season.

Normally, he'd have to clear CFL waivers, or wait for the six-week NFL signing window early in the New Year.

Making up the rules as you go, which is what the CFL appears to have done here, opens up a can of worms the league doesn't need.

It'll be interesting to hear the commissioner's defence of this one, too.

You can bet we'll be asking him.


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