N.S. wheelchair basketball team self-funds road to Canada Games
Team lost access to provincial funding, receiving not 'a dollar in four years,' says coach
As Team Nova Scotia heads to the Canada Winter Games in Alberta this month, one team is going into competition carrying the additional challenge of losing access to provincial funding.
"We haven't received any money in four years," said Cher Smith, a coach of the Team Nova Scotia wheelchair basketball team.
"I don't know if there's other teams going to the games in a couple weeks that haven't received any funding, but certainly it's a big change for us."
The team used to have access to about $15,000 in provincial funding each year of the games' four-year cycle, distributed through Sport Nova Scotia and Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic programs.
But a reorganization of the way that money was distributed left the 12-player team fundraising for most of their expenses.
The Canada Games organization is paying for flights to the competition in Red Deer and hotels during the winter games. The costs leading up to the event, however, have come entirely from fundraising and the team members' families.
That includes uniforms, gym time, wheelchairs and parts, basketballs, and the expense of travelling to the seed competitions that earned the team a berth in Red Deer.
"It's a very expensive sport and a pair of wheels is $1,000, for example, and spokes are broken every single month," said Smith. "Just even to get some of the repairs done to keep the chairs running, that money would be really helpful."
One of the team's largest expenses has been paying for weekly gym time. The Canada Games team used to practise at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, but that's not affordable for the team anymore.
"That's out of our reach for the hourly rate that's there. So just simply something as simple as practice time. We've fundraised for every hour in the gym we have, but we simply can't ask these athletes to come up with that kind of money every single year for four years straight," Smith said.
Change in funding policy
Sport Nova Scotia began planning a reorganization of the way funding was distributed about two years ago, said Jamie Ferguson, the CEO of the organization.
The new policy was meant to give more control to the 60 provincial sport organizations that develop and promote various sports, including Basketball Nova Scotia, the umbrella organization for wheelchair basketball in the province.
The policy came into effect within the last year, allowing each sport organization to define priority areas for funding such as participation, coaching and officiating, and high performance.
Smith said when her team's applications for funding were denied in recent years, she was told it was because the policy was being updated. When the policy finally came into effect, the Canada Games team was again told it could not access funding because Basketball Nova Scotia had not grouped their sport in the high performance category, which concerns athletes who travel outside the Maritimes to compete at a national level.
Smith said she still does not fully understand what happened. Ferguson referred questions on the matter to Basketball Nova Scotia.
Katherine Brien, the executive director of Basketball Nova Scotia, told CBC she could not fully explain what happened because she is still at the "information gathering" stage.
Brien assumed the leadership of the organization on Oct. 30 and said her efforts in the last two months have been on making a funding application to Sport Nova Scotia to get participation funding for wheelchair basketball, which will grow the sport as a whole.
"No one wants to hear that there's a team that's not getting funding, regardless of what team it is. Every athlete should have access to funding of any sort to be able to participate in the sport. So no, I don't like to hear it and I wish this was not an issue."
Smith said she's hopeful the new funding application will result in assistance for her team, as well.
However, she said that won't make the situation better for the 12 athletes who are set to leave for the Canada Games next week. She's deeply impressed with their progress but wishes they could have had more support.
"I think because of the funding, it's been a real missed opportunity," she said. "This could have been four years of a period of growth. And it's not that our athletes haven't grown — they're certainly more skilled than they were before. But the other provinces have had, for example, maybe 400 hours more practice than we have. So that is going to have an impact.
"All the teams get better every year. And our concern is that the other teams have gotten better at a much higher rate because of the support that they have had."