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Government boosts carding money for athletes ahead of Paris Olympics

OTTAWA — The federal government announced in Tuesday’s budget that it will increase funding for the Athlete Assistance Program by $35 million over the next five years, and $7 million ongoing, as the 2024 Paris Olympics approach.

The $7-million annual increase is more than $6.3-million raise requested by Canadian athletes last month.

“We are truly appreciative of the Federal Government’s commitment to Canada’s athletes who represent our country every single day,” the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and AthletesCan, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, said in a joint statement.

“This added investment to the Athlete Assistance program will help to alleviate the financial strain experienced by our country’s athletes as they train and compete, and allow for ongoing competitive success on the international stage.”

It’s the first raise to the AAP, informally known as “carding” money, since 2017.

The money is for living expenses and competition costs an athlete’s sport’s governing body doesn’t cover.

More than 1,900 athletes across 90 sports are eligible for AAP, which offers other financial supports such as tuition and child care.

In an article by The Canadian Press published March 27, several athletes came forward with their struggles of trying to live on their carding money.

Bobsledder Melissa Lotholz said she sought free accommodation in a church while competing in Lake Placid, N.Y. Olympic rowing champion Andrea Proske said her mother planted an extra garden to grow fruits and vegetables to meet her caloric needs when Proske trained and raced on a tight budget.

“A lot of people that I’ve had this conversation with in terms of funding, seem to have this idea that Canadian Olympians are very much living in the lap of luxury. There’s this illusion that we get high top-dollar sponsors,” bobsledded Cynthia Appiah said at the time.

The request for an increase in carding money is independent of a joint appeal for an additional $104 million in funding from the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. 

Last month, David Shoemaker, the COC’s CEO and secretary general, said sports systems in Canada were on the “brink of a crisis.”

“Without an immediate injection of funds athletes will suffer in the next 12 to 18 months as we prepare to act on the findings. These funds are necessary for the continued development of a safe and inclusive sport in Canada that will benefit all Canadians,” Shoemaker said.

Tuesday’s budget did commit $16 million over two years for the Sport Support Program. 

According to the budget, priorities for this funding include preventing and addressing maltreatment, supporting those with concussions and mental health issues and advancing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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