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COC, CPC, Own the Podium announce $5M investment for high-performance sport’s return

As Swimming Canada CEO, Ahmed El-Awadi is bracing for a rise in costs — likely double — for the rental of facilities and massage and medical staff once his athletes begin to return in a phased approach from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Phase 1 of the organization’s return to swimming resource document released on Friday, there would be one swimmer per lane in a 25-metre length pool, with a second swimmer introduced after three weeks if all goes well.

“That is not our norm,” El-Awadi told reporters in a Monday conference call. “Our norm is to have a full training squad in the pool at the same time.”

Earlier in the day, the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees along with Own the Podium unveiled a $5 million investment in a phased return to high-performance sport.

Funding will be directed to the areas of greatest need deemed by the Return to Sport Task Force, which has developed a national framework on how the resumption of sport activity will occur “in a responsible manner” from an athlete, coach and practitioner perspective.

“These [expected] funds are super critical in kick-starting the high-performance program,” El-Awadi said. “Funds will ensure the modified training plan can be executed to its maximum potential.”

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Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger wouldn’t speculate as to which of Canada’s nearly 60 Olympic and Paralympic sports have a greater financial need over others. The task force, which she oversees, still must determine key criteria for national sport organizations to consider applying for funding.

Merklinger noted the high-performance athlete scope was defined by the task force as:

  • An athlete or representative nominated by the NSO;
  • An athlete who is on the podium pathway as a senior and NextGen athlete;
  • An athlete currently receiving OTP funding

“We need to build on that, expand on the more specific criteria that would be considered in providing recommendations for distribution of the funds,” Merklinger said, adding there is a vast difference in the protocols that must be followed across indoor, outdoor, individual and team sports.

‘Our greatest need is to invest in podium potential’

First and foremost, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker pointed out he will take the full guidance from the medical experts and sports experts — with public health being of the utmost importance — on how to best optimize the $5 million investment distributed to the various sports, sport institutes, athletes and coaches.

“Our greatest need right now is to invest in podium potential around the return to training for high-performance athletes and sport in Canada,” he said.

“We want to make sure our athletes across the country are returning to training … in a way that is not just safe for them,” he said, “but safe for their families and safe for their communities. That’s how we’re going to be guided by this process.”

Shoemaker cautioned those viewing the investment as $5 million spread across all the sports.

“I would hope that some of the recommendations [from the task force] are things that can have a system-wide impact that perhaps can be housed at our sport institutes across the country or can be invested in coaching. It could be equipment, sterilization, testing capacity, staffing.”

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The federal government announced in early May it would provide $72 million in relief funding to the country’s sport sector that has seen myriad events cancelled because of the pandemic.

National sport organizations and institutes will receive $34.5 million, provinces and territories $32.5 million and the Athlete Assistance Program $5 million.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and postponement of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games [in late March] has had a very significant impact across sport in Canada,” Shoemaker said, “and certain organizations are suffering severely.

“The [federal government announcement] was designed in large part to make sure that our sport organizations remain viable going forward, and I think that will be the case.”

Portion of investment may be used to test athletes

Before the federal government stepped up in May, El-Awadi painted a bleak picture facing most sport organizations in Canada and wondered if some NSOs wouldn’t survive.

While Shoemaker stressed the $5 million investment may not solve all problems for NSOs, Merklinger said “we’ve received very positive indications from national sport organizations, Olympic and Paralympic, of their sustainability going forward.”

The National Hockey League reported on the weekend it plans to test all players each day as part of a comprehensive COVID-19 strategy when it returns to play.

Added Shoemaker: “It’s certainly within our contemplation that [the $5 million] investment could go towards having the capacity with machines and test kits to test Canadian athletes, coaches and support systems at institutes and other training centres for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.”

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