This article was originally published in the Globe and Mail.
Tension between some of Canada’s top long-track speedskaters and Speed Skating Canada eased Thursday when then sport’s governing body gave the athletes a temporary reprieve on the introduction of a team fee.
Facing a $1-million decrease in its 2014-’15 budget, Speed Skating Canada considered introducing a team fee of $1,200 per skater on the long-track and short-track national and development teams this winter.
That move was so unpopular that some skaters on the long-track team were sacrificing their monthly Sport Canada funding in protest. The situation created a breakdown in trust between athletes and the national federation based in Ottawa.
After The Canadian Press published a story on the situation Thursday morning, Speed Skating Canada chief executive officer Ian Moss said in an e-mail that the athletes would not have to pay a team fee this season, but may be required to do so for 2015-’16.
The concession was a relief for Ottawa’s Ivanie Blondin, winner of five World Cup medals in her first four races this season, and for four-time Olympic medallist Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C.
“For sure it makes a huge difference,” Blondin said. “I think that’s great news, but moving forward we need to find a solution for the next season in order to be able to find that money for our team.
“If it’s fundraising or whatever it is, at least this time around we’ll have enough time and notice if the fee is to be implemented for the 2015-’16 season to come up with it and not be stressed out about it.”
The situation created a more serious financial standoff for some athletes. There was no official word from SSC on how much the team fees would be if they were implemented, but the athletes’ agreement with the organization included a clause that team fees had to be paid.
The athletes’ agreement is a contract between athletes and their national federation to fulfil certain requirements, such as wearing sponsors’ logos on clothing.
Blondin, Morrison and Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., who has won four World Cup medals in as many races this season, would not sign their athletes’ agreements until they knew what the fee would be.
They were loathe to sign what they considered ‘blank cheques’ to SSC until they knew how much they had to pay. Since they wouldn’t sign their athletes’ agreements, they were ineligible for Sport Canada funding.
Blondin is eligible for $1,500 a month from Sport Canada. She didn’t receive it in December and wasn’t going to receive it in January until she signed her athletes’ agreement. She was feeling the financial strain.
“As soon as I get that formal notice, I will be signing my documents and sending them off to Sport Canada in order to receive my funding,” Blondin said. “There was too much uncertainty and standing up for our team was our goal.”
“Me, Denny and Laurent decided we would take the hit for the team and if it was losing our carding, it was losing our carding. It’s been two months we’ve been dealing with this.”
The athletes were told informally in October they might face team fees this winter, which was too late for many of them to come up with the money while they were competing.
“That at least relieves the pressure for this year and gives us all the heads up that we probably have to do something extra next summer whether it’s finding crowdsource funding, getting a job or getting new sponsors to pay for it,” Morrison said.
“It takes the stress away for this year so we can just focus on the results, but I fear next year (the fee) is going to be twice as much.”
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.