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Friday, September 29, 2000

Athletes argue more money vital to boost performance

 SYDNEY -- More dough, more show, Canadian Olympic athletes are saying.

 More money, medal incentives and choosing athletes with greater potential for success to future Canadian Olympic teams were among the recommendations by athletes and coaches Friday at a news conference dealing with Canada's pallid performance at the Sydney Games.

 "We're amateurs competing against pros," judo silver medal winner Nicolas Gill said.

 "We're all disappointed with the results here."

 Cyclist Tanya Dubnicoff began taping interviews with various athletes for their views several days ago and said lack of money is the common denominator.

 Mark Lowry, executive director of sports and programs for the Canadian Olympic Association said "our system is not working and we will continue to fall behind unless we change it."

 Lowry said steps taken by Secretary of State Denis Coderre are going in the right direction. Coderre is running a national program of forums seeking input from all Canadians as to how sport can be improved.

 Swim coach Dave Johnson implied that people close to sport foresaw Canada's weak performance -- nine medals so far, 13 fewer than Atlanta in 1996.

 "We had more dollars in 1984 than we did in 1999, and that's not taking inflation into account."

 Johnson felt financial incentives for athletes as part of better funding for programs would produce dividends in the numbers participating.

 "You wouldn't lose the ones who go play hockey or other pro sports," he said.

 "An incentive creates a bar to jump over, a target, and athletes respond to that."

 Dubnicoff said that carded athletes earn only $1,110 a month, yet have the same expenses as everyone else.

 "I've been here a month but I'm still paying rent and phone and Visa. My bills are stacking up, all our bills are. We don't have RRSPs and we don't get on with careers until our late 20s."

 All involved felt a complete restructuring of sports was required, from the bottom end of participation to the elite international level.

 Johnson said a coherent approach is necessary if Canada is to regain ground in international sports.

 "Expectations are high, support is medium, the outcome average," he said.

 "It's hard to ask an athlete to continue getting up at 5:30 in the morning, ride his bike to training and commit to another four years for $13,000 a year.

 Lowery said the fact the athletes have got together at a time Coderre is on a fact-finding mission across Canada augurs well despite the tone of negativity that has been engendered at these Games.

 "For the first time in my 20 years here I'm seeing all the pieces falling together," he said.

 "What we saw happen here was a legacy of cutbacks of the past decade. Our results in 1992 and 1996 were the product of the (funding) of the 1980s."

 The group left for a ceremony at the Olympic village, where the Canadian flag was lowered to half-mast out of respect for the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau.