November 14, 2019

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Opinion

Amateur athletes getting the short end

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>As her father Terrence looks on, Manitoban Brigette Lacquette of Mallard, who won silver in hockey, gets hugs from fans as she arrives home from the winter olympics Feb. 26, 2018.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

As her father Terrence looks on, Manitoban Brigette Lacquette of Mallard, who won silver in hockey, gets hugs from fans as she arrives home from the winter olympics Feb. 26, 2018.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2018 (499 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2018 (499 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A confluence of events over the Canada Day long weekend got me thinking about how we as Canadians so dramatically undervalue the contributions our amateur athletes make to this country, while simultaneously just as dramatically overvalue the contributions of our professional athletes.

Let’s take a look at those amateur athletes first, for a change.

The folks over at Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba craftily took advantage of the Canada Day weekend to send out a press release detailing how much (little) we as taxpayers supported our amateur athletes in this Olympic year.

The numbers are laughable.

In 2017-18, the federal government contributed just $13.1 million to the Canadian Sport Centre institutes scattered throughout the country that do the absolutely essential work of identifying, nurturing and supporting our high performance athletes.

Of that total, just $357,800 went to the Canadian Sport Centre headquartered in Manitoba.

Both those numbers are a complete joke, made all the more laughable over the weekend when you saw the diamond-encrusted contracts NHL players were signing as the annual NHL free agent frenzy got underway.

Consider: the new contract John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend will pay him next season — and every year thereafter, for the next seven seasons — more  (US$11 million, or $14.47 million) than the feds will contribute toward the entire Canadian Sports Centre program ($13.1 million) in this country.

Or look at it this way: The $357,800 the feds contributed over the last fiscal year to the support of high-performance athletics in Manitoba is roughly one-eighth the $2.73 million that hapless former Jets goalie Steve Mason will be paid by the Montreal Canadiens over the next two years to not play hockey in the NHL.

Think about that for the moment: Mason, a goaltender who has been neither good nor healthy for a very, very long time now, is going to get paid just under $3 million.

Meanwhile, the six Olympians that were born and raised in Manitoba and who medaled for Canada in Pyeongchang last February are going to continue to eat Kraft Dinner and work part-time jobs to make ends meet.

That’s so Canadian. Indeed, I’d argue the most Canadian thing that happened this entire Canada Day weekend was Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff paying the Canadiens to pay Mason not to play hockey in the NHL.

Think about it: Such is the deification that we afford professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals when we remember again that they exist.

Now, I get that we have long since made peace in this country with the idea that we are paying a guy like Mark Scheifele roughly 250 times what we are paying daycare workers to look after our children in their most crucial formative years.

I don’t understand that math — and I never will. But I do understand that the same guy who will paint his face, dress all in white and then pay hundreds of dollars to watch a Jets game in person that he could see better for free at home on TV probably thinks that is as it should be.

Nobody pays to watch daycare workers work, goes that argument. Indeed, we pay them precisely so that we don’t have to watch them work.

But where I would hope both me and that guy with the painted face could find common ground is with the outrage we both feel at the idea of paying millions to a millionaire to sit on his ass at home and do nothing.

In a blue collar country carved out of the bush and shovelled out of the snow, the idea of paying a guy that kind of money to do nothing runs contrary to the rigidly Canadian work ethic that makes this country even possible.

Now, to be clear, most of this is Chevy’s fault more than it is Mason’s. Chevy signed a bad contract and Mason has the right to collect every last dime of it under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

It was always going to be a terrible idea to give a guy as inconsistent and oft-injured as Mason a two-year contract worth $4.1 million a season — and I said as much last summer when Chevy signed Mason.

I offer that reminder not so much to say ‘I told you so’ as much as to point out that if someone as simple as me could see all the flashing red lights going off around Mason, why the hell couldn’t Chevy?

But a mistake was made and I give Chevy credit for at least cutting his losses after one season and paying the Habs — in the form of Jets winger Joel Armia and a couple of draft picks — to take Mason off Winnipeg’s hands and their salary cap books.

Montreal, in turn, immediately put Mason on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out the last year of Mason’s contract. According to CapFriendly, the Habs will pay Mason a little over $1.36 million over each of the next two seasons to not report for work.

It’s the Canadian dream — being paid not to work. Somewhere in Newfoundland, a cod fisherman is blushing.

Meanwhile, closer to home, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in curling in Kaitlyn Lawes must surely be wondering, ‘WTF?’

While someone like Lawes does receive additional federal support in the form of Sport Canada funding, it’s still a joke. Last fall, the feds announced that senior carded athletes like Lawes were finally going to get their first raise since 2004, from $1,500 a month to $1,770.

You try to feed a finely tuned Olympic body on that, much less also shelter it and keep the lights on at the same time.

Lawes mistake? Well, as we learned once again this Canada Day weekend, it’s infinitely more profitable in this country to be a bad hockey player than a world class amateur athlete.

Woe Canada.

 

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 7:41 AM CDT: Corrects US dollar figure

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