CBC Sports

Amateur sportsIs Corporate Canada really a good teammate?

Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 | 12:45 PM

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Canada's Jon Montgomery, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist in skeleton, races down the track during World Cup competition last season. Montgomery, who spearheaded Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s campaign search for a new title sponsor this month, is taking the season off to test equipment in hopes of a run in Sochi 2014. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press) Canada's Jon Montgomery, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist in skeleton, races down the track during World Cup competition last season. Montgomery, who spearheaded Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s campaign search for a new title sponsor this month, is taking the season off to test equipment in hopes of a run in Sochi 2014. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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The bottom line in any sport is that it takes solid backing to be a winner. That support comes from many sources, including the understanding of family and friends, great coaching, ardent fans and yes ... cold hard cash from investors.

That's why it's disturbing to see a cyclical trend playing itself out in Canadian high performance sport.

Christine Nesbitt is one of Canada's best athletes.  Today it was anounced that she has accepted a large sponsorship from a European company.  She'd rather be sponsored by corporate Canada, but no one stepped up.  Scott wrote this a few months ago.

The bottom line in any sport is that it takes solid backing to be a winner. That support comes from many sources, including the understanding of family and friends, great coaching, ardent fans and yes ... cold hard cash from investors.

That's why it's disturbing to see a cyclical trend playing itself out in Canadian high performance sport.

Once again, in the wake of an incredibly successful Olympics, athletes are faced with diminishing resources from corporations who previously couldn't wait to be associated with the best and brightest of this country's youth.

It's not a universal situation and some business enterprises continue to step up and do their part. For instance, Intact Insurance still carries speed skating. Capitol One is heavily invested in curling. The Hudson's Bay Company and Royal Bank of Canada have renewed commitments to the Canadian Olympic Committee for the London 2012 Games. There are others.

Flagship sports lose sponsorship

Ominous however, is the loss of a title sponsor for Skate Canada and the figure skating national championships. The Bank of Montreal, which was previously involved, disappeared at the end of last season. After nearly 20 years, VISA has dumped the bobsleigh and skeleton athletes who produced a hefty share of medals in Vancouver/Whistler. As for alpine skiing, Bombardier is gone and so is GMC, to be replaced by Audi, a German automobile company, and KLM the Dutch national airline.

Begging the question: What's up with corporate Canada?

There's no shortage of big business support for professional sports, in particular hockey, where the return on investment is a sure and immediate thing. Heck, the major banks in this country have bought naming rights to hockey arenas on both sides of the North American border. The national airline has branded the most lucrative rink in the country and the communications giants have followed suit.

This dwindling of corporate association with so-called "amateur, high performance sport," is becoming a uniquely Canadian tradition. Interest is high when times are good and there's a killing to be made, particularly at the Olympics, but when the Games are over the cash flow seems to dry up in a hurry.

The reality is Olympians aren't made in 16 days. It takes years and years to produce a gold medal and all that national goodwill that goes along with it. To leave the government to pay an increased share of the bills and the athletes to bear the burden of inflated expectations, is short sighted and smacks of marketplace opportunism.

You don't see this happening to the same extent in other countries. So it is that Swiss skiers get heavy support from Swisscom and Raiffeisen Bank. The U.S. figure skating team has an American partner airline and an insurance company backing it. The U.S. ski team has VISA, Delta Airlines and Sprint Mobility on board every time one of its members descends a slope anywhere in the world. Austria's ski team has a list of sponsors that numbers in the dozens.

Investment in potential and greatness 

Even in tough economic times, it seems that business enterprises in some countries consider an investment in the potential of athlete achievers as a good thing that may pay dividends over time.

There's no question that some companies in Canada are doing their part. But there can be no denying that many large corporations are not. Aside from the Olympics, getting their backing for the broadcast of World Cups and world championships in myriad sports is almost impossible.

Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here or at the very least a sports analogy to be used.

It wouldn't be acceptable for any team's star player to show up only when the championship is on the line. You would have to expect the star player and every member of the team to participate in all of the regular season games in order to be in a position to win the big prize.

Corporate Canada should subscribe to that logic if it wants to be a good teammate. It has to avoid meeting gold medallists for the first time in the winner's circle and invest in their journey to get there.

Those are dividends that you can bank on.

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