Canadian Paralympians hail $1.2M donation as step toward bonus equality with country's Olympians

Sanjay Malaviya, a Canadian healthcare technology entrepreneur, is giving $1.2 million to support Team Canada athletes, meaning 130 Olympians and 53 Paralympians who won medals at their respective Tokyo and Beijing Games will receive $5,000 each.

Sanjay Malaviya's gift provides $5,000 each to Tokyo, Beijing medallists

Canadian para hockey players Ben Delaney, left, and Billy Bridges in Beijing. Bridges said Wednesday it's "nice to see" Paralympians get rewarded for their athletic efforts. (Getty Images)

Nearly 200 Canadian athletes are cashing in on medals won at the Tokyo and Beijing Games thanks to a sizable donation from a Canadian entrepreneur.

Sanjay Malaviya, a Canadian healthcare technology entrepreneur, is giving $1.2 million to support Team Canada athletes, meaning 130 Olympians and 53 Paralympians who won medals at their respective Tokyo and Beijing Games will receive $5,000 each.

"Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes have inspired and united us during a very difficult time," Malaviya said in a statement. "It's an honour to be able to celebrate their achievements and invest in their future."

For Canadian Olympians, the $5,000 will be added to money they already receive from the Canadian Olympic Committee for winning medals — $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for gold. 

That contrasts with Canadian Paralympians who have traditionally received nothing for their medals as the Canadian Paralympic Committee doesn't have a similar program.

'Great to be included'

So the significance of this equal payment for medals is not lost on six-time Paralympian Billy Bridges, who just won silver with the para ice hockey team in Beijing. 

"It just feels great to be included in the conversation. What Sanjay has done is absolutely incredible, and I hope it helps the inclusion of Paralympians in the future," Bridges said. "My fellow Paralympians have such inspiring stories, and have been through so much before they even get to the Games.

"It is so nice to see them get rewarded for their athletic efforts, on par with the Olympians for a change."

Additionally, $100,000 will go to the NextGen program to help support future Olympians and Paralympians. The donation is being made through both the Canadian Olympic Foundation and Paralympic Foundation of Canada. 

Para nordic skier Mark Arendz won four medals at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games to bring his career total to 12.

"On behalf of all my fellow Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Paralympians, a huge thank you to Sanjay for this gift," Mark Arendz, a four-time Paralympic nordic skier who won four medals in Beijing, said in a statement. "This is a significant step forward in the recognition of Canadian Paralympic athletes who work and train so hard to compete on the world stage.

"I am optimistic that Sanjay's generosity will serve as a catalyst for greater equality for Canadian athletes with a disability that so proudly represent our country."

The COC's bonus program, called the Athlete Excellence Fund, is entirely funded through its own marketing sponsorships, separate from the CPC. Each organization governs everything to do with their respective Games.

Karen O'Neill, CEO of the CPC, told CBC Sports in March her organization hasn't given money for medals because it chose to use its funds — including $6 million annually from the federal government — to improve the infrastructure needed for para athletes to train and compete.

Canada's Mark Arendz celebrates his gold medal middle distance standing nordic event at the Beijing Olympics in March. (AP)

CPC says medal fund a priority

But she said Wednesday the CPC is substantially healthier now, allowing the organization to focus on things like a money for medal fund.

"You have people now who want to make a personal statement and personal commitment for the things that count," O'Neill told CBC Sports. "The gap in this one situation and recognition is such a key symbol. For Sanjay and his family to make this commitment is just phenomenal.

"It's such a statement. It's inspiring. And for our athletes there's such appreciation to be acknowledged and recognized in this way."

O'Neill said the CPC has had a number of conversations over the last couple of days with sponsors who are understanding the importance of getting the money for medals fund established and sustainable into the future. 

"We've had side conversations over the last couple of days with our sponsors and in principle almost every single one of them that we've talked to understands this, wants to get behind it and it's recognizing Canada's best athletes."

Pascale St-Onge, Canada's Minister of Sport, said the federal government has been making para sport a priority for years, pointing to the $6 million annually it gives to the CPC compared to $800,00 to the COC.

"The mandate we have and the CPC has is to build athlete's careers and help them in their training, traveling, and so that they can perform," St-Onge said. "There needs to be a culture change in our society to ensure our Paralympians are recognized and celebrated as much as the Olympians."

St-Onge said she's been having conversations with the CPC to ensure a fund to reward Paralympians for medals financially is established.

"I'm making it a priority to find solutions with the CPC because I don't want to continue this inequity between Olympians and Paralympians," she told CBC Sports. "This needs to be fixed. I want to ensure that on the international stage, Canada is still perceived as a very inclusive and progressive country."


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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