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Posted: April 14, 2005

Athletics: An Open Letter to Athletics Canada

The following letter, written by Steve Boyd, has been circulated among Canada's athletics community with the intent of addressing the myriad of problems facing Canadian athletes.
To support this initiative, print, sign and mail the letter or email your response.

To: Athletics Canada
Suite 300-2197 Riverside Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
K1H 7X3


To the Board of Directors:

We, the undersigned, wish to address the board over concerns arising over the de-selection of athletes to the 2005 National Cross-Country Team. We feel that this situation, including both the initial decision to de-select the athletes in question and AC’s subsequent published response to the concerns of the broader athletics community (as expressed in the media and other forums), was seriously mishandled; moreover, we’re convinced that the mistakes made in this instance were not the results of some temporary lapse in judgment. We see this whole episode as one more symptom of a general, long term organizational malaise, characterized by a failure of leadership and vision, and a growing lack of accountability to the core constituency of the sport— namely, athletes and the club/university level coaches who do the vast majority of the work to bring them to the elite level. This affair has, for many of us, justified our cynicism regarding the role of AC as an organization charged with the promotion of elite level track and field, road racing and cross-country in this country.

While our immediate concern has been mishandling of the World X-C selection process (see our demands), we feel that the deeper issue is the continued use of “self-funding” for national teams, particularly for junior age athletes, which we think is emblematic of the general failure of AC to meet its core responsibilities to athletes and coaches. What many of us found most galling about the World X-C selection affair was AC’s continued unwillingness to distinguish between self-funded athletes and fully-funded athletes when it comes to travel and training rules. It seems to us that AC is bent on requiring a level of accountability and commitment from athletes and coaches that, for years now, it itself has been either unwilling or unable to provide.

More generally, this incident served to remind many of us long term observers of the extent to which AC has come to rely on the self-funding option for the mounting of national teams; once presented as a temporary “stop-gap” measure, self-funding has now become a staple of the organization’s year-to-year functioning. It would seem, now that it has habituated a generation of athletes to the expectation that they must pay to represent the country, that AC has removed any pressure on itself to find a more permanent and viable solution to the team funding problem. AC’s response to criticism over the recent World X-C selection affair indicates that it has now become content with offering the trappings of a national team program (rules, guidelines, a rhetoric of “excellence” and “high performance”) with little of the substance.

The now apparent institutionalization of self-funding by AC is the clearest indication of its abandonment of any serious role in the area of athlete development. The role of athlete development in Canada has been de facto devolved to local clubs and, for final year juniors and “hopefuls”, the university system (and the NCAA in particular). This shift of responsibilities is to some extent an inevitable consequence of the systematic under- funding of this and almost all other amateur sports in Canada; no one, after all, expects the federation in its current form to play the leading role in athlete development. It seems to us, however, that AC could do much better in supporting the efforts of those of us who ARE now directly responsible for providing the next generation of Team Canada members, and that the best way for it to do so, within its mandate of administering national teams, is by providing full funding for athletes who succeed in meeting the set standards for international competition, beginning with junior athletes. If AC is unable to do at least this to support the efforts of clubs and the university system, then we feel strongly that its entire raison d’etre will continue to be suspect in the eyes of its core constituency.

In light of the above, we make the following demands:

1. That AC do whatever it takes to reinstate full-funding for junior national teams as soon as possible.

The self-funding option has removed the pressure on AC to provide leadership in this area. The long term use of self-funding also systematically limits the pool of potential national team athletes at its source, and, in so doing, harms long term athlete development in this country.

2. That AC publish a clear plan, including a timeline, for how it proposes to end the practice of "self-funding" on all national teams.

Or else that it consider canceling teams that can't be fully funded and stop using self-funding to hide the public embarrassment that Canada, a G-8 nation, cannot afford to send athletes to accredited international competitions, in spite of the fact that many developing nations manage to do so.

And, in the meantime, that AC:

1. End mandatory training camps, and travel restrictions in general, for “self-funded” athletes.

We feel strongly that AC should make demands of athletes only in accord with level of responsibility it is willing or able to assume. Responsibility between athlete and federation must be balanced.

2. Make junior team funding the priority.

By far the biggest development “bang for the buck” that AC, in its now very limited capacity, can achieve is through the full funding of our most talented junior athletes, even if this involves the short term transfer of resources from other activities. The possibility of national team participation is very attractive to young athletes, but many are inevitably put-off by the potentially high costs involved; full funding for junior athletes is therefore probably the single best way to ensure the future of elite track and field in our country.

Signed: “Friends of Canadian Athletics”

Steve Boyd
Past National Team Athlete,
Current Coach and Master’s Competitor

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