Commonwealth Games: Andrew D'Souza paying to play
Canada's No. 2-ranked player had to fund own way to Glasgow
Before Andrew D'Souza could represent Canada at the Commonwealth Games, the badminton player had to harness his inner entrepreneur.
The 20-year-old from Ottawa is Canada's No. 2-ranked men's player, but based on his Commonwealth ranking, is one of 47 "pay to play" athletes on the Canadian team bound for Glasgow who had to pay their own way to the Games.
So D'Souza organized a badminton exhibition in Ottawa to raise the $3,000 it's costing him to compete at the Games.
"It's fairly common," said Andrew Dabeka, D'Souza's coach. "Our sport took a nosedive in terms of government funding over the years, and so more and more of these types of programs are on a self-paid basis."
D'Souza, winner of two Canada Elite Series Circuit events this season, charged admission and sold raffle tickets at last month's exhibition to raise the money for the trip. The event drew about 150 supporters.
Our sport took a nosedive in terms of government funding over the years, and so more and more of these types of programs are on a self-paid basis.- Andrew Dabeka, D'Souza's coach
Other self-funded athletes on the Glasgow team were fortunate to have their trip covered by their club or national sport organization. Athletics Canada, for example, is picking up the tab for the eight self-funded athletes who are part of the 50-member track and field team.
Canada is sending 265 athletes to Glasgow — its largest team ever for a Commonwealth Games outside of Canada.
"We set, based on our budget, a maximum number of athletes we could afford to fund, and that, for better or for worse, was 220," said Brian MacPherson, CEO of Commonwealth Games Canada.
The 220 funded athletes, MacPherson explained, are those who are capable of finishing in the top three in Glasgow.
"If they're below Top 3 but better than Top 8, then that's the 'pay to play' group," MacPherson said.
Commonwealth Games Canada toughened its qualifying standards for Glasgow — athletes must be capable of finishing Top 8, compared to Top 12 four years ago for the Games in New Delhi. There were only two athletes on that team who had to pay their own way, MacPherson said.
"Budgets are budgets, we can only afford to fund so many, but we do allow for pay-to-play through the NSO (national sport organization), but they still have to be Top-8 calibre, that's the very minimum," MacPherson said.
D'Souza, who's never competed in an international multi-sport event, is used to footing the bill for his badminton endeavours. The human kinetics student at the University of Ottawa said it's been a joint effort between him and his parents to pay for trips such as the Pan American and Pan American junior championships and the world junior championships.
"It's a tough situation," he said. "You can't play everything you need to because you can't afford it. . . but you have to (if you want to improve). It makes no sense to me, really."
Dabeka, a member of Canada's 2008 Beijing Olympic team, said badminton has lost a large chunk of its funding over the years because it's considered a "fringe sport."
Canadian 'carded' players
He said there are five Canadian "carded" players, who receive funding through the federal government's Athlete Assistance Programs. Dabeka said when he retired in 2009, there were six. Around 2003, he said, there were 10, and back in the early '90s, there were about 20.
Dabeka said D'Souza has a decent shot of being named to the 2016 Rio Olympic team, but it will come with a stiff cost. The badminton team is chosen based on international rankings, and to rise in the rankings, D'Souza must pay his way to compete at international tournaments all over the world.
"During an Olympic year, everybody is travelling to the maximum number of tournaments, so players are often doing 30 to 35 tournaments in a year. So that's the big expense," said the coach.
"If he's going to go for it all the way, then he's going to have to definitely spend a lot of money."
It's frustrating, said Dabeka, but it's the reality of the sport, and a price athletes will pay.
"The question is, do you want to do it or not?" he said. "You just sort of have to accept it and if you want, then you have to come up with the resources, and find ways to make it happen.
"I think being someone who's done that myself, I think it's worth it. Sure at the end of your career you don't have the house and the car and all that stuff, but you have all these experiences. You've been travelling for six, seven, eight, 10 years in some cases.
"All my buddies in offices are always, on some level, a bit jealous that, 'Oh, where are you this week?' 'Oh, I'm in this country."'
D'Souza's goal is to reach the podium in Glasgow.
"I want to see if I can bring a medal home for Canada, it's been a long time," he said.
It won't be easy though. The Commonwealth Games feature some of the world's strongest badminton countries in England, Malaysia, and India.
Canada ranks fourth in total Commonwealth badminton medals won (18), behind those three powerhouses.