As professional sports leagues across North America continue to put forward hypothetical scenarios about how to get back to playing at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian National Sports Organizations (NSOs) are trying to find ways to simply survive.
“This has already had a significant financial impact on the organization, and if we lose the whole season, this impact will never be restored without increased investment from our public and private partners,” said David Bedford, CEO of Athletics Canada.
While Canada’s track and field is considered one of the strengths in the Canadian sports system, small organizations such as boxing will close if they do not receive the necessary funding.
“Our regular funding is for 2020–2021, but it’s not enough to survive the current situation,” Boxing Canada said in an email to CBC Sports.
A similar pinch is felt Rowing Canada.
“If this government funding is reduced to create an economic incentive or to ease the debt caused by the pandemic, we will not be able to work in our current form,” said CEO Terry Dillon.
CBC Sports has contacted dozens of Canadian NSOs, and although many organizations say it’s too early to talk about how much they will be affected by the closure of the sport, some admit that this is getting terrible.
“Canada’s gymnastics will survive this decline, but going through it will not be easy,” said CEO Jan Moss. “We assume that the impact of new funding initiatives will not be significant, so we plan to proceed from the assumption that new sources of funding are not coming.”
Federal Minister of Cultural Heritage Stephen Gilbo said aid is already underway by allocating $ 500 million for art, sports, and culture. But NSO representatives say they need more details as to when this money will come and how much will be available to them.
“We do not yet know when this money will go, how much of this will be for the sport, how we will apply (or they will distribute it) and for what,” Bedford said.
In a letter to CBC Sports on Tuesday, the Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced that it was finalizing details regarding the placement of funds.
“An announcement should be made in the coming days. The process will be streamlined, and mainly existing programs will be used for the fastest spending of funds, ”the representative wrote.
Ahmed El Awadi, CEO of Swimming in Canada, draws a gloomy picture when it comes to the situation that most sports organizations in Canada face.
“I think it is likely that some NSOs will not survive. There is also a high probability that after this the NSOs will look different, ”he said.
Organizations manage all aspects of sports in the country, including manage highly productive programs, including national teams, authorize competitions and tournaments, and provide development for coaches and officials.
The Canadian sports financing system is complex and difficult to navigate – even those closest to this process have difficulty explaining the cash flows that ultimately end up in the NSO.
There are various public finance initiatives to support NSOs totaling more than $ 230 million per year. They include:
- The main financing, which is essentially a one-time amount divided between almost 70 sports organizations. This money is not divided evenly among some NSOs that receive more money than others.
- Have Podium money that is based on organization performance and likelihood of success and is not shared equally.
- NextGen Foundation for beginner athletes.
- Funding for gender equality was announced last year.
NSOs usually in many cases clash with each other, fighting for every penny of government funding. But the funding crisis forced them to rethink the approach.
During a conference call two weeks ago, about 70 NSO leaders gathered to discuss the current state of funding and the challenges they face.
There is a common understanding that not all NSOs are equal and that some may receive more money than others.– Ahmed El Awadi, CEO of Swimming in Canada
During this call, CBC Sports found out that it was decided that when Heritage funding became available, NSOs would try to distribute the money in such a way as to ensure the survival of all organizations.
“There is a common understanding that not all NSOs are equal and that some can get more money than others,” said Al-Awadi. “Each NSO will be considered individually to understand where we are. It may not be suitable for each NSO of the same size. If one is in a more difficult position than the other, then as a system we must be healthy, not just individual sports. “
Top-notch sports organizations are faced with a somewhat double-edged sword scenario when it comes to their revenue streams – when times are good and they are able to host world championships, money flows. But when these world championships do not take place, the blow does much more damage.
Sports such as curling, figure skating and hockey were preparing for big payday days by hosting world championships in March and April.
Curling Canada was to host the Women’s World Championships in Prince George, and then in April in mixed pairs and senior worlds in Kelowna. Montreal was the venue for the World Figure Skating Championships in March. And the women’s world hockey championship was scheduled for Halifax in March.
All these events usually bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the respective sports organizations.
Then everything was canceled.
“Worlds are a huge part of our revenue stream. It’s all from ticket sales, sponsorships, ”said Catherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada. “It will be quite destructive for us.”
For Skate Canada, the loss of world championships will not only affect programming and finances now, but also affect decisions in the future.
“This is a significant opportunity, missed by the fact that the event is usually awarded to us for a period of five to seven years and makes it possible to create a financial legacy to support strategic initiatives for several years to come,” the representative said by e-mail.
Then there is the case of Tennis Canada, which recently cut dozens of employees after the cancellation of the Rogers Cup among women in Montreal in August. A men’s event held simultaneously in Toronto is still planned. Both bring millions of dollars in revenue to a sports organization.
Swimming in Canada drew attention to the layoffs in Tennis Canada, and its CEO admits that this caused a shock in the sports environment.
“This resonated in the world of NSOs and scared a lot of employees. This is what we had to decide, ”said El Avadi.
Swimming Canada had to cancel its Olympic and Paralympic qualifiers, which were to be held in early April. The sports organization canceled each event until December.
“It caused chaos. Absolutely no doubt,” said El Awadi.
Most importantly, NSOs are asking the federal government to have more control over how they spend their money. Currently, there are a number of financial restrictions regarding what NSOs spend money on.
This will affect athletes the most, and with two Olympic and Paralympic Games scheduled for seven months, starting in the summer of 2021 and the winter of 2022, NSO leaders hope that the federal government will provide them with more autonomy in funding.
Some of Canada’s brightest athletics stars are athletes. Track and Field Canadian Bedford said they are getting a huge hit right now.
“The biggest influence was on our athletes,” he said. “The disappointment at the inability to compete in Tokyo this summer is great, although they all know that Canada has done the right thing, that it has become the world leader in leaving Tokyo 2020.”
“We need to recover losses, but it’s more important to ensure the maximum flexibility of our financing in order to manage our resources as efficiently as possible.”
If there is a silver lining, some organizations say that the problem of survival combined the country’s sports structure.
“Complicated circumstances allowed us to build stronger relationships with those parts of our community with whom we had less contact before COVID-19,” said Penny Joyce, CEO of Diving Canada. “When everyone faces a common adversary, it strengthens our sense of community and unity.”
This makes sports organizations ask wider questions about what sports bring to the lives of their athletes and society as a whole.
“Let’s not allow the only legacy of COVID-19 to be that we all stand farther in line for food,” said Terry Dillon, CEO of Rowing Canada.
“We believe it is important to go beyond simple recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an opportunity to hold a really big talk about the role that sport and activities can play in solving the downward spiral of mental health problems in our society and the ever-increasing costs of caring for an aging population. “