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Federal government giving $72 million in pandemic relief to Canadian sport


Gymnastics Canada laid off 70 per cent of its staff this week.

The organization's chief executive officer hopes the emergency funding announced Friday by the federal government allows him to recall people soon.

"It's harsh. This hasn't been a pleasant week," Ian Moss told The Canadian Press on Friday. "I would love to be able to phone some of our staff tomorrow and say 'you're back.'"

Canada's amateur sports system will receive $72 million to alleviate the financial pain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Timing is interesting given our decision this week before we knew about this," Moss said. "Having said that, the impetus for our decision this week was around essentially preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

"As new information comes to light such as this, then we can start bringing people back if it's feasible."

Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault recently announced $500 million in pandemic relief to cultural, arts and sport organizations. The details were unveiled Friday.

The $72 million earmarked for sports will go to national and provincial organizations, Canadian sport institutes and Indigenous sport groups.

Athletes whose monthly Sport Canada cheques are impacted by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to 2021 and the pandemic also receive financial aid.

"We will try to save all our organizations and to help everybody," Guilbeault told The Canadian Press. "We may not be able to, but we will try.

"What we're hoping to achieve out of this is once we've gone through that first phase of the crisis, our sports ecosystem is still intact."

The Canadian Football League, soccer's Canadian Premier League and the Canadian Elite Basketball League have asked for millions in pandemic relief money, but professional leagues were not eligible for the funding announced Friday.

"What's important to say is all the money being announced today is for amateur sports and our Olympic athletes, so there's nothing for professional sports," Guilbeault said.

"It's too early to be able to say whether we will be in a position to support these."

National sport organizations and institutes will receive $34.5 million, provincial and territorial sports federations $32.5 million and the Athlete Assistance Program $5 million.

The use of any remaining funds will be based on need, the Heritage Department said in a statement.

"The impact of the pandemic on the Canadian sport system is profound," Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker said.

"There's a collective sense of appreciation for today's announcement for the dollar figure and for the speed in which Minister Guilbeault and Parliamentary Secretary Adam van Koeverden worked on this initiative.

"I believe this is a fair and right way to distribute funds because at its core, it's based on need."

National sports organizations are eligible for up to 25 per cent of the total they received from Sport Canada in the last funding cycle. That number is a total of base, Own The Podium and NextGen funding.

That translates to a top-up of roughly half a million dollars for Gymnastics Canada.

Moss estimates the organization will lose between $1 million and $1.5 million in membership fees this year because of the pandemic.

He believes provincial and territorial associations who rely even more on club memberships for revenue will take a substantial financial hit, so money provided for them in Friday's announcement is key.

"There's almost the same level of funding available for provincial and territorial sport organizations," Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger pointed out.

"It's going to help address sustainability across the whole system."

Large organizations with a lot of athletes and high equipment costs can receive more than $4 million a year in federal funding, and would thus be eligible for over a million dollars in pandemic relief.

"Those larger sports are the ones in many instances who have suffered the most in dropped registration from clubs to the provincial associations to the national organization," Merklinger said. "This addresses that scaleability."

The Canadian government, and by extension the Canadian taxpayer, is the largest investor in high-performance sport at about $200 million annually.

OTP makes funding recommendations directing $70 million of it in targeted excellence money — about $9 million comes from the COC — to sports federations whose athletes demonstrate medal potential.

"Sports is going to be critical to Canada rebuilding, reuniting and healing from COVID," Merklinger said. "We, sport, is going to have a very strong role to play. Sport at all levels."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 8, 2020.

Follow @DLSpencer10 on Twitter

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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