Someone once told me that to be your best, you had to be confidant. If you doubted yourself, you were holding back so much of what you could really be without even realizing it. When I was competing, I dreaded those days when I knew I wasn't ready. I knew that I wasn't where I should be, mentally...physically...you name it. It's such an indescribable feeling, but it's awful. People who know me, know that I'm a confidant person, but I definitely have those nervous, self conscious moments too. When I was asked to be a panel speaker on Athletes' Rights and Representation for an Olympic Reform Conference this year at the University of Toronto I was incredibly honored and excited. When I got off the phone with Dr. Bruce Kidd, Dean of Physical Education and Health at the University, I squealed for probably the second time in my whole life and then my stomach dropped. I had never done this before. I know what I believe in, but now I would be voicing that opinion in front of some of the most influential people in our sporting community and the media. I wasn't just an overzealous athlete with dreams of a better international sport system anymore, this was serious. I would have the chance to not only state my beliefs, but criticize our Olympic governance and make recommendations for the future. When I first began writing my notes I hit that wall. That what if everyone takes one look at me and wonders what this young girl is doing there wall. It took me a few drafts, but I gained that confidence to stand up in front of all those people and make them listen to me. It was empowering in such a different way than I was used to and am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to speak.
Here are some of my favorite parts of what's been on my mind lately...
My main goal has always been to increase awareness among the athletes. Most of them don’t even know their rights as a national team member, or what kind of decisions are being made without their knowledge. I believe that NSOs can often easily start functioning like a business, pushing themselves further and further from an athletes’ centered organization. So without truly even defining the role of your own athlete representative at the Board level its easier to keep this position more as a figurehead instead of being an active athlete member that can effect change. Without an active and powerful athlete body within the IOC, COC or any other governing bodies such as NSOs and Bid Committees, vital decisions are being made that significantly impact athletes without them. The athletes actually don’t have any input at all on the decisions that are greatly affecting their lives. Even with athlete representation within the IOC, COC and NSOs at the Board level, I feel that there are problems with their actual effectiveness. When decisions are being voted on in various governing bodies, even with athlete representation, in reality their voice is completely ignored because it comes in the form of one vote or a certain number that wouldn’t be able to challenge the decision anyways. At the IOC level, there are only so many athlete representative members. So how can they really make a difference? I honestly don’t see it and I don’t see how we are making enough change in the system. It is extremely frustrating.
We all have the right to understand how decisions are made and the ability to question our national and Olympic governance. And I think it is important to mention that this type of questioning should not be perceived as something negative, as it generally is. It is usually seen as an attack on the IOC or COC and it is not that at all. Questioning their governance defines their roles and responsibilities. This is the only way you can learn and grow; the only way to improve your Olympic governance is by constantly examining and reforming the system.
I find the Athletes’ Councils created as a branch of the IOC and the COC are an attempt to address the athletes’ perspective on issues that arise. However, many of us question their effectiveness and how much power they actually have.I see now that they are functioning more as just giving constructive criticism back to the Olympic Committee. They are not really able to force change and again make us question if they are really involved in the decision-making process at all.
I believe that athletes need to start to be integrated more heavily into the system, at the national and international level, not as only athlete representatives but as equals. We need to increase their numbers within the IOC and the COC, separate from the Athletes’ Commission, and need them working together as equal members and not as individual athletes sitting in. They should be more highly valued because of the specialized experience and knowledge they have, which is so valuable to our sport system. I think we all need to realize that in a perfect world we would have equal representation from every nation and every sport at the international level, but in reality we’re not even close. Equality is something that we need to strive for. We need to diminish the disparity between the representation from different nations and different sports. I hope to one day see the different Athletes’ Councils, the IOC Council, all the Olympic Committees come together in some way or begin to consistently engage in communication to learn and improve from each other. This would be an opportunity for the national athlete representatives to meet with the IOC Council and distinguish and open the lines of communication, which would drastically improve the sporting community.
A common feeling among some of the athletes is that if you are not within striking distance of an Olympic medal, you don’t matter as much as an athlete that is. With the focus of our sport system moving towards Olympic medal potential, the voice of an athlete struggling for more funding without ranking to back it up, realistically, is lost. And we can see that with regards to our new Own the Podium plan that has begun to be implemented here in Canada. I am not here to speak on my opinion of the program and whether you agree or disagree with the principle, it is an example of why many athletes are now coming running to their athlete representatives and demanding answers for why they’ve lost their federal funding.
I stand by my convictions when I say that our government is holding us back. The insufficient funding, coaching and facilities for a country of our wealth and size is unacceptable. We as a nation do not value sport in the way we should. The President of AthletesCAN Andrew Nisker said it perfectly. Sport is not just sport. It is education, it is crime prevention and it is healthcare. The power of sport is endless. How we perceive amateur sports in Canada needs to change. We need a whole culture shift that places emphasis on sport, not just medals and trophies. I think by educating the public on the remarkable role that sport has and can play in this country, our government might be more willing to make it a priority.
If you want the entire thing it will be published in a few months with all the lecturers from the 2009 Olympic Reform Conference....