Olympic groups wasting millions while athletes struggled to get to Rio

By NICK FILLMORE*

Artist’s rendering of the stylized LED-light Olympic flame that will ’burn‘ outside the Canadian Olympic Committee offices at Olympic House in Montreal.

Dozens of athletes from Canada and thousands from developing countries have had a difficult time raising the money needed to train and take part in the Olympics Games in Brazil.

In Canada, more than two dozen world-class athletes were so hard up for support that they resorted to launching crowdfunding campaigns to supplement the money they receive from government and perhaps corporate sponsors. 

On the tiny Pacific Island country of Nauru, judo participant Judoka Uera, had to hold barbecues and knock on doors to get the funds he needed Getting to Rio fulfilled Uera’s lifelong dream.

However, hundreds of other athletes who had the same dream and could have qualified for Rio were unable to attend because of a lack of support.

Given the financial difficulties faced by athletes, you would think the Canadian Olympic Committee  (COC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would provide every dime possible to sports bodies to provide funding.

Not so.

In fact, both the COC and the IOC are guilty of greedily spending millions of dollars on themselves while struggling athletes scrambled for a few bucks to get to Rio.

COC spends $10-million-plus on office

The Canadian Olympics Committee’s main task is supposed to be fostering Canadian participation in the Olympics. So it’s a bit of a shock that it is spending $10-million on a new office – Olympic House – in Montreal. Included in the grandiose facility is a $2.9-million board room, called the “Lausanne Room” – a tribute to the international masters who have their headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In addition, hundreds-of-thousands of dollars are being spent on a spectacular outside lighting system for the office. To top it off, the Committee spent more than $1-million on a launch party for its new headquarters.

According to an audit, the project is facing a cost overrun, likely more than $1-million. The COC has not so far been able to collect $1.5-million it has counted on to help pay for Olympic House.

In fairness, the $10-million to be raised was specifically for the one-time project. But a more modest but adequate facility could have been built for much less.

The COC could have focused more on getting funds to athletes.

The COC passed on $5.218-million to the various sports bodies – less than one-half the amount spent on the office.

In the COC’s most recent but sketchy financial report filed with the Canada Revenue Agency for 2014, figures show that it passed on $5.218-million to the various sports bodies – less than one-half the amount spent on the office.

Incidentally, the COC refused to say how many of its 19 Board members and staff are attending the Games in Rio.

The COC is also having difficulty recovering from a horrendous sexual harassment situation.

Former Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut, who as forced to resign because of sexual harassment complaints, is about to embrace Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Karen O’Neill.

Recently resigned President Marcel Aubut made unwanted sexual advances toward many staff members over a period of five years. Senior staff members who knew about the situation were fired.

Problems linger and it’s too soon to tell whether the COC will be able to adequately do its job of supporting athletes and the Olympics.

IOC looks after its own

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) clearly spends much more money on itself than is reasonable. Its priority is supposed to be distributing as much of its estimated $1.375-billion US to sports groups around the world.

The IOC is a volunteer organization but, as The Washington Post reported in July, it has created ways of greasing the palms of its executives and members.

IOC President Thomas Bach, a former German fencer, is called a “volunteer.” However, he receives an annual “allowance” of US$251,000 plus other perks. The IOC pays for his suite at a luxurious hotel in Lausanne that is listed at more than US$1,000 per night.

When on IOC business, members are allowed to fly first class, stay in luxury hotels, and get large per diems: US$450 per day for regular IOC members, and US$900 per day for IOC executive members.

Hundreds of so-called IOC volunteers at the Olympics are handsomely rewarded. Representing Canada on the IOC, and therefore entitled to the expenses, are Richard Pound, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency; former hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser; and new COC President Tricia Smith.

Bob Balk, a former U.S. Paralympic canoe athlete, volunteered at the 2012 Games in London. Every morning a crowd of IOC members and volunteers gathered in a hotel room to get their daily stipend, he told The Washington Post.

“They had a US$100-bill-counting machine, and people were standing in line to get their stacks of hundred-dollar-bills,” Balk said. “It was crazy.”

IOC answers to no one

The IOC is able to get away with such extravagances because it answers to no one except itself.

Every year the IOC claims that 90 per cent of its income is sent to sports organizations around the world. But because it is a non-profit based in tax-haven Switzerland, it is not required to disclose how it spends its money.

A lot of money goes to non-profit sports organizations in many countries where they too are not required to account for their spending.

Just like the IOC, international sports bodies concerning track and field, swimming and gymnastics are located in Switzerland or Monaco, another tax haven.

Obviously, a culture of absurd entitlement exists throughout much of the Olympic movement, and the question arises: How many millions of dollars are not being used in the right way to support the Olympics?

Because so much financial information is hidden, it is difficult to tell how much money might be poorly allocated in Canada, and whether there is corruption and theft on an international level.

Clearly, as both organizations need to maintain the confidence of donors and the public, they should voluntarily undergo independent audits.

When such scandals erupt, the athletes know that, even though they are the stars adored by millions, they are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to money.

At the top are the big international advertisers who fund the Olympics because they want access to those millions of eyeballs. Next come the wheeling and dealing middle men Olympic officials who get their piece of the pie. Last are the athletes.

The athletes would be wise to organize and demand full disclosure from all Olympic bodies.

*Nick Fillmore is a veteran award-winning investigative reporter, editor, and a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ). To subscribe to his blog, http://nickfillmore.blogspot.ca, CLICK HERE

Comments

Posted at the request of Peter Bursztyn:

As a recreational rower, I (and thousands of other recreational rowers) pay $25/year to Rowing Canada for “something”. Goodness knows what!I have also been a Rowing Canada umpire for well over 20 years, and my interaction with Rowing Canada has been . . . well actually I have no interaction with them. They rarely communicate with me.

I don’t even know from them how many years I have been an umpire or whether I am due for a re-test. The Ontario Rowing Association does this.

This year Rowing Canada decided to cut the man’s 8 from the rowing lineup so they could instead send a 4 and a quad. Neither of these did particularly well.

In fact, our showing in rowing – once a point of pride for Canada – has been “disapopointing”. So I certainly do not know where the money goes . . .

Peter Bursztyn
Barrie Rowing Club
Barrie, Ontario

Tony Seed 19 August 2016 at 16:05

Hi Nick, thanks for this. I will repost this on amateursport.com with your kind permission (or not!).

These developments, all in the name of high ideals, should be of concern to Canadians.

There is much more behind the scenes. Athletes are pushed to fund themselves as a shining example of voluntarism. Look at Trudeau’s message. It is neo-liberalism. CBC et al then heroize them for a brief period, promoting a modern variant of Reagan’s “trickle down” theory: their examples in competition as an inspiration to encourage participation in sport by youth. The social responsibility of the state for sport and recreation is thrown out the window, and the severe cutbacks in social funds are justified.

Especially since Harper, the role of the state is decried to be one of handing over funds to fund those programs and athletes designated as “winners.” These programs are instruments of the rich.

Own The Podium deserves investigation and exposure in this regard. The federal government has privatized sport to private capital, to the extent that the self-serving “Own The Podium” is selecting those athletes to be supported by public funds according to its own criteria, winning is everything, the only thing. OWN THE PODIUM? What happened to the idea that participating in the Olympics is itself a huge achievement? Sporting ethics seem alien to the Canadian Olympic Committee, and its parent International Olympic Committee. If they were allowed to, those people would sell to the highest bidder the right to carve a company logo into that marble slab in Olympia.

The media uses them to create a brand as a marketing tool for the sponsoring corporations. These athletes more and more include Americans with only the remotest connection with Canada, who are selectively targeted and recruited through On The Podium (and, for example, Swim Canada, Athletics Canada) as a matter of official policy sanctioned by the COC.

The popularization of sport in poor countries is left to Right to Play, a voluntary NGO, an initiative of athletes and funded through contributions from the public.

To Peter Bursztyn’s interesting letter, in contrast to crowdfunding or posing nude for fund-raising calendars, the rowing team reportedly received $17 million since London 2012. I think the question is more than where the money goes. How are private interests served? The excellent Rugby Sevens Women’s team received $6 million? Who benefits?

Tony Seed

For your information

https://amateursport.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/own-the-podium-%E2%80%93-a-negation-of-the-spirit-of-friendship-and-solidarity/

https://amateursport.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/canada-group-makes-medals-its-business/

https://amateursport.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/for-your-information-gold-doesn%E2%80%99t-come-cheap/

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