Athletes group slipping into grey territory

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

Canada's highly respected athlete advocacy organization, AthletesCAN, announced this week that it has eliminated its CEO position and is down to a staff of three after Sport Canada slashed its funding by more than half.

Established in 1992, AthletesCAN represents athletes from all of Canada's national teams, including Aboriginal, Paralympic, Pan American Games, Olympic and Commonwealth sports. It educates athletes about issues such as contracts, funding, use of their images and team selection.

But because most of its work is hard to quantify, and doesn't directly lead to medals or other tangible outcomes, the organization flopped last year in a performance assessment by Sport Canada.

So, what kind of message is being communicated when the voice of Canadian athletes receives a huge funding cut?

"Objectively, we didn't rate well, but that indicates the evaluation tool is inadequate for assessing the impact, importance and reach of an organization like AthletesCAN," said its president, Claire Carver-Dias, an Olympic synchronized swimmer. "This cut could damage the progress athletes have made in ensuring a more responsive and fair sport system."

Starting this year, AthletesCAN's yearly budget of approximately $650,000 will decrease every year and dip below $300,000 by 2010.

The Sport Funding and Accountability Framework is the process used by Canadian Heritage to identify which organizations are eligible for Sport Canada contributions. AthletesCAN was compared to other multi-sport organizations such as those advocating for coaches or women in sport. All organizations are judged on how they fulfil the priority of the Canadian Sport Policy, which is to enhance participation and excellence in sport.

And according to Sport Canada, more is expected of AthletesCAN.

"AthletesCAN is an organization that is still developing," said Roger Ouellette, director of sport programs for Sport Canada. "I think it's a matter of the number of things that they actually do. If they do more, then there is more that can be measured. The message is they are (still) being supported, because they are providing a valid role, and they should continue to work in that direction."

AthletesCAN's main project is its yearly Forum, a networking and educational weekend for athlete representatives, with Whitehorse, in the Yukon, playing host in September to the 2007 gathering. This year's theme -- Leaders for Life -- celebrated contributions of athlete leaders past and present and looked at the varied and many roles of leadership. Those are fuzzy concepts to grade.

"How do you quantify the forum beyond the fact that we bring in 50 athlete representatives?" asked AthletesCAN senior leader Jasmine Northcott. "How do you quantify the discussion and work and feedback that they are doing on their end? We certainly don't want our relevancy in the system to be questioned by Sport Canada. But the (assessment) tool hasn't worked in our favour and we need to re-examine that tool."

RENNER RETURNS, SOON

Olympic silver-medallist Sara Renner has returned to the national cross-country ski team after a year off to have a baby daughter, but will miss the season-opening World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany this weekend.

The six Canadians who will race this weekend are Olympic gold-medallist Chandra Crawford, Perianne Jones, David Nighbor, Phil Widmer, Sean Crooks and Stefan Kuhn.

Renner plans to get back into top form by competing domestically on the Haywood NorAm series before entering the World Cup event in Canmore, Alta., Jan. 22-2


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