Another cycle of Summer and Winter Games draws to a close, with extraordinary sporting moments provided by Canadian Olympians and Paralympians.
There is, however, a stark difference between the two.
Canadian Olympians who have won medals in Tokyo or Beijing are rewarded financially for their efforts — $20,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for a silver medal and $10,000 for a bronze medal.
Canadian Paralympians who have reached the podium at those same Games will not receive a single dollar. And it’s been that way since the National Medal Bonus Program began 25 years ago.
” Why ? What is the problem ? Josh Dueck, two-time Paralympian and Canada’s Head of Mission in Beijing, said. “I’m very disappointed that it’s not resolved. I’m a bit lost.
“The time has come and the time has passed. It has to be solved. It’s not about money, it’s about equality and being recognized at the same level.”
The bounty program, called the Athlete Excellence Fund, is funded entirely by the Canadian Olympic Committee, which is separate from the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Each organization governs everything related to their respective Games.
“The COC is almost entirely funded by private funds, most of which come from our marketing partnerships. These funds are reinvested into the system in a variety of ways, including the COC AEF,” the COC said in a statement to CBC Sports. .
For its part, the CPC says that if all goes according to plan, this will be the last cycle of the Games that Canadian Paralympians will leave empty-handed.
“It’s such an obvious shortcoming and it’s time to address it,” said CPC CEO Karen O’Neill. “While we can say change is slow and steady, there needs to be action. That’s a priority.”
Not getting money for my gold in Tokyo sucked. I believe I worked as hard as any Olympian to get mine.– Canadian Paralympian Nate Riech
Some other countries, such as the United States and Australia, already pay their Olympians and Paralympians equally. Tokyo marked the first time this happened.
Canadian Paralympic track and field star Nate Riech won gold in his first Games in the T38 1,500 meters at the Tokyo Paralympic Games in August.
“Not getting money for my gold in Tokyo sucks. I think I worked as hard as any Olympian to get mine,” Riech told CBC Sports.
“It sends a message that Paralympic medals are not worth the same as Olympic medals. When people debate this, I’ve found they always overlook the process of recovering from our injury or impairment. I believe my injury is where my journey to gold began.”
Chantal Petitclerc raises the issue in the Senate
Dueck, a three-time Paralympic medalist, is considered a pioneer in the world of sit-skiing, having performed the first-ever backflip in sit-skiing. In addition to his theatrical antics on the hill, Dueck was a strong supporter and advocate of the Paralympic movement.
After winning gold and silver at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games, he began to wonder why Canadians competing at the Paralympic Games weren’t getting paid for their medals when the Olympians were. Canadian athletes won 25 medals in Sochi (15 gold, 10 silver and five bronze) while Paralympians won 16 (7-2-7).
Dueck says those 16 medals would have earned $240,000, less than what the men’s hockey team — made up of a roster of professional hockey players earning millions of dollars in the NHL — would have been eligible for.
The voices of Paralympic athletes are getting louder with each passing day that there is no fairness in financial rewards.
Chantal Peticlerc, one of Canada’s greatest Paralympians with 14 gold medals and 21 won in her career, is said to have earned $375,000 for all of her podium performances at the five Paralympic Games she has attended.
Now a Canadian senator, Petitclerc recently gave a speech in the House, asking why in 2022 Canadian Paralympic athletes are not being financially rewarded for their sporting achievements.
CPC receives $5 million per year from the federal government
“At the end of the day, why isn’t this done yet? There’s no reason in a country like Canada that this is still unresolved,” Petitclerc said. “As you know competing athletes may not talk about it because they have sponsors, they don’t want to sound negative. I’m just frustrated because I don’t really think much has been done to address this issue. .”
O’Neill says the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games had a huge impact on awareness in Canada, and in 2013 the federal government committed $5 million a year to the CPC.
She said the CPC prioritizes using these funds to improve the infrastructure necessary for para-athletes to train and compete.
“What we had to do at the time, if we did this and paid our athletes for medals, it would be difficult for us to invest in the system,” she said. “That’s why we said we’re looking at investing in the system so that the quality of training, participation in competition and the formation of the team are the priority.”
“It was such a limited infrastructure, we were trying to make the best decisions for our athletes,” O’Neill said.
What we had to do back then, if we did that and paid our athletes for medals, it would be difficult for us to invest in the system.– Karen O’Neill, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee
O’Neill said the CPC is now in a better position and hopes to have something in place in time for the next Paralympic Games, in Paris in 2024.
“We hear the message loud and clear,” she said. “Over the past two months, the CPC Board of Directors and the CPC Foundation Board of Directors have said that the time is right.
“We would like to commit to achieving this. And we want it to be sustainable.”
O’Neill said the next steps include engaging their stakeholders, sponsors and all Canadians to step up and begin funding Paralympians at the same level the country supports Olympians.
“Our call is going to be for our corporate sponsors and donors, as this should be a cross section of all Canadian support,” O’Neill said.
“Beyond the money, it’s really this recognition of world-class performance. It’s a chance for all Canadians to help build this next part of our campaign. Let people know.”
After years of frustration, Dueck is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I heard with confidence that this will be resolved by Paris,” he said. “But until I see it in writing, what else can I tell you now?”