CBC: Speed Skating Canada considering team fees

This article was originally published on CBC Sports website.

Athletes haven't signed contracts with national federation

Ivanie Blondin is having a career season in speedskating, but there are mornings when she questions why she's putting on her skates.

A cold, hard financial reality has settled on the national speedskating team this winter, and the options Speed Skating Canada is considering are so unpopular that some of the top skaters on the long-track team are willing to sacrifice their funding rather than fall in line.

The situation has also created a breakdown in trust between some athletes and the national federation based in Ottawa.

Speed Skating Canada is considering instituting a "team fee" of $1,200 per skater on the national and development teams in both long-track and short-track to defray costs this winter.

For Blondin, who receives $1,500 monthly in athletes' assistance from Sport Canada, that's significant money.

For a developmental long-track skater such as Edmonton's Nicole Garrido, who gets $900 monthly in athletes' assistance, the financial hit is even more acute.

Athletes in other sports pay team fees to their federation to help cover costs of competing such as travel, accommodation and the transportation of equipment. The lugers, for example, will pay $1,800 in team fees this winter.

The speedskaters haven't had to pay team fees up until this point and are unhappy about the prospect.

Reduction in funds, revenues causing rift

A reduction in Own The Podium funding and other revenue sources dropped SSC's budget for 2014-15 by a million dollars from last year, according to chief executive officer Ian Moss.

"We're running $750,000 less in our national-team budget," Moss told The Canadian Press. "We're looking at ways to cover that cost.

A team fee would generate about $75,000, he said.

But the timing and handling of the situation has spawned a second, serious financial issue for some athletes.

Ottawa's Blondin, double Olympic medallist Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., and Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., are among some athletes who have not signed their athletes' agreement with SSC.

The athletes' agreement is a contract between athletes and their national federation to fulfil certain requirements, such as wearing sponsors' logos on clothing.

Not signing the contract makes athletes ineligible to received their Sport Canada funding. Speed Skating Canada's athletes' agreement contains a clause requiring the skaters to pay team fees.

Blondin, Morrison and Dubreuil haven't signed the agreement because they have no official word from SSC on what the team fees will be, even though $1,200 has been informally discussed.

Like signing a blank cheque

Signing their athletes' agreement without knowing for sure what they will pay is akin to signing "a blank cheque," they say.

"When they sent the agreement out, we actually didn't know what the amount was, which is why a lot of us didn't sign it," Blondin explained. "We felt it was like writing a blank cheque. They could come back and say it's $15,000."

So Blondin hasn't received her Sport Canada funding for December, nor will she for January. The 24-year-old has won five World Cup medals, including two gold, in her first four events this season.

"I had a little bit of flex in my budget, but right now I don't have that flexibility," she said. "I'm struggling right now and it's not good. I'm stressed out.

"You're trying to focus on skating and there's some mornings I think 'why am I even here? I'm not being paid right now.' It's frustrating, the struggles of being an athlete with a low income. It's hard and sometimes I wonder why I'm coming to the Oval every morning, but I do."

Informed too late

Dubreuil has won four World Cup medals in as many races in the 500 metres. He said the athletes were informed of a possible team fee in the fall when it was too late for them to find the money to pay it.

"Some of our frustration is the money, but also the timing of it and learning about it in season when there's no way to turn around and get a job because we're leaving for World Cups and stuff," he said.

"Having to sign the (athletes') agreement on short notice while we're in Japan and telling us we need a lawyer 'to read it with you before signing' and we're in Japan, how am I supposed to do that? The timing, they couldn't have done much worse."

After winning a combined 13 medals at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics Games, the long-track team totalled two in Sochi, Russia, in February with Morrison's silver and bronze.

Morrison is concerned about the impact fees will have on developmental skaters, as well as the disconnect in the relationship between the long-track skaters in Calgary and the organization that oversees them.

"A clause requiring you to pay team fees and it is an undisclosed amount, is that even legal to put into a contract?" the three-time Olympian asked. "It really kind of ruins the team morale as far as the relationship between athletes and Speed Skating Canada goes.

"I want to stick up for the young athletes who it does affect," Morrison continued. "I'm on my way out. I only have a few years left. If you give young athletes no incentive to stay in the sport, it's not going to bode well for the future of speedskating."

Moss acknowledged the situation could have been handled better, but he said there is no escaping speedskating's financial realities that didn't become clear until September.

Own The Podium funding is doled out based on a sport's medal potential. SSC's allotment for 2014-15 was $517,000 less than in 2013-14.
Source: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/speedskating/spee...