SUMMER SPORTS NOT OUR FORTEAugust 15th, 2004
DOUG FISHER REVEALS HOW OTTAWA’S OLYMPIC POLICY IS ALL ABOUT HOCKEY, HOCKEY, HOCKEY
SPORTS IN Canada, especially regarding the Olympics, has political aspects. However, hockey dominates the political issues in Canadian sport, and there is no hockey at the summer Games.
Some 45 years ago the federal government first became involved in regular funding of most “amateur” sport. The cause of this did not emerge from the spectrum of sports across Canada or the sports of the summer Olympics but from hockey, hockey, hockey!
In Canada, what developed in government vis-a-vis sports beyond hockey was mainly a corollary of equal entitlement to what hockey had forced forward.
Believe it or not, it was national suffering over Canadian failures in international hockey in the late 1950s which brought the federal government into sponsoring sport under the aegis of an act of parliament, the Fitness and Amateur Sport Act of 1958.
I was involved as an MP. I came to the House in 1957 wanting to push for a federal role in sport — matching that which had emerged in aid of arts and culture.
The PM of the day, John Diefenbaker, was worried that frugal citizens would consider sport sponsorship by Ottawa frivolous. This explains why “fitness” was the lead-off word in the sports act. “Fitness” sounded so moral and desirable.
‘FITNESS AND SPORT’
The PM also set an annual limit of $5 million in spending for “fitness and sport,” a ceiling which wasn’t broken until the mid-1970s. (It’s now just over $100 million.)
Early in the ’70s, a brave bid led by the late Father David Bauer to create a successful, continuing national hockey team using non-professionals came close but failed.
By 1969, I was out of electoral politics but as a volunteer I was lobbying for more federal money for sport, and for major government help to open up international hockey so Canada could ice its NHL players against the USSR teams (whose top players were professionals, not amateurs).
I became the federal nominee on the board of a new institution, Hockey Canada.
This semi-Crown agency was designed to ice a winning international team and raise the standards of hockey coaching and organization.
As for other sports and their future, I was in touch as a founding director of the Coaching Association of Canada and the Sports Information Research Centre.
Within a few years of the ’69 report, the HQs of most national sports associations were housed under federal auspices in Ottawa, but not the Canadian Olympic Association (COA).
It remained in Montreal, where its roots ran all the way back to a local “Olympic Club” formed in the late 1840s. In the early 1970s the COA opposed the federal intervention into sport policy — not the funding but the government direction of sport policy.
In its first few years, Hockey Canada, supported by Pierre Trudeau, quickly accepted the obvious: we would have to play rough to get the international hockey federation to open the rules so Canada could use its best. Among other moves, this meant cancelling the world hockey championship Canada was to host in Winnipeg in 1970, and threatening not to ice a team for the 1972 Olympics.
Playing it aggressively in sport diplomacy, backed by foreign affairs’ resources, paid off in getting the now famous “Summit Series” of 1972, which Canada won against the USSR.
By the early 1980s, the NHLers were in. But before that — growing out of the 1976 Canada Cup hockey series — a sensible test of a world championship for hockey nations was put in place.
There’ll be huge interest in this year’s world tournament in Canada next month — whereas, the Athens Olympics?
Canadians will watch for our athletes and teams, and relish each medal winner, but we’ve long had small expectations from the summer Olympics, and take our joys modestly over our scanty haul.
There are many explanations why Canadians do poorly in the summer Olympics. Most begin at the greater spending and keener backing in other countries.
Mine begin with our obsession with hockey, and what this does to siphon promising athletes away from other sports, not least track and field.
We are so emotionally and financially caught up in hockey and its current best and future best in players and coaches.
There’ll be little suffering across the land if our rowing eight misses the Olympic gold, but there will be lots of it if the Yanks or the Swedes take the September hockey tournament.
It bothers us little that less populous Australia and Cuba win more gold at the summer Games than Canada.
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2004, SunMedia Corp
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