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Organizers call for end to turf wars

Fractured local club system cripples sport

LARRY Switzer calls it "turf wars."

Most of the rest of Manitoba's leaders in track and field call it silly, counter-productive, petty, political and about as helpful to the sport as spreading petroleum jelly on the track before a 100-metre final.

While Ottawa's smaller athletic clubs united to create an 800-member super club with 25 coaches, four of them paid full-time -- and while Regina has done the same -- Winnipeg is mired in a system of smaller, fractured clubs with little cohesion or communication.

"We should, in this city, have one big track club, just like Regina has done," says Athletics Manitoba head man Rob Guy. "We don't have the bodies involved in our sport to have four or five fractured groups."

Including participation in the sport by school athletes, Guy said, about 3,500 Manitobans compete.

There are two main clubs in the city: Winnipeg Optimist, the most established one, which Switzer heads, at just under 100 athletes. Stride Ahead Tough Track works with younger competitors and has a few more members, Guy said.

There's also U of M track coach Claude Berube's Bison Track and Field Club in the summer and one more club, Flying M. Guy said Athletics Manitoba has no power to force the clubs to unite, but he thinks the time and mood is right.

"We may be in a position now where there's not quite as much politics as there used to be and that people might just recognize for the sake of the sport and for the sake of the athletes, let's put our egos aside a little bit and let's work together," he said.

"We'll be a whole lot stronger than we are working as a bunch of little parts. I think I have some responsibility to make everybody play nice together."

Switzer said he tried to get all the clubs to merge years ago. He says he's still open to the idea if it meant improving the sport in Manitoba, "but a lot of people...have vested interests in their own little worlds and it makes it very difficult to combine everybody."

With all of the membership fees pooled together in one club, as the Ottawa Lions have done, a lot more money is generated -- money that can be used to pay for quality, professional coaches, Switzer said.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2009 C4

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