• A Message to Olympians: Get a Job

    by  • August 14, 2012 • Features, Mike Spry, Olympics • 0 Comments

    THE OLYMPICS ARE OVER. As the Spice Girls reminded us why the ‘90s were a wasteland of contrived “music” and The Who belted out CSI theme songs, we bid adieu to the Games of the 30th Olympiad. The Olympic flag was lowered and presented to Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who as per tradition waved it four times symbolizing the four years we’ll have to wait to care again about the discus, or the floor exercise, or judo. Most Olympians will go back to training in preparation for Rio. Usain Bolt will eat at Hardee’s until his arteries explode. LeBron James will return to South Beach to bask in the sins of ego and pride. Rosie MacLennan will return to her former role as “who?” Televisions will be turned off midday. Bob Costas will disappear. Brian Williams will stop telling us what time it is.

    And what of Canada’s efforts? Eighteen medals: one gold, five silver, twelve brown. Neither a success, nor a disappointment. It was typically Canadian. It was average. It was okay. We were just happy to be there. We got to see London. Now comes the post-mortem, where Olympians, coaches, and faux-patriots will call for more funding for the athletes. And in all likelihood, funding will be increased. But I’m arguing that we go the other way on that inevitability. I argue that we should cease all funding for Olympic athletes. Let me repeat that: Cut all Olympic funding to zero.

    Own the Podium (OTP), an ambitious government-funded initiative was started in 2005 with a goal of Canadian success at the Vancouver 2012 Winter Olympics. And it was somewhat successful, though today all any of us remember of Vancouver is Jon Montgomery drinking a pitcher of beer in Whistler Village and Sidney Crosby scoring in overtime. The federal government funds OTP to the tune of $62 million annually, and divides those monies between the summer ($34M), winter ($22M), and team ($6M) sports. So if we were just to do some quick and admittedly somewhat flawed poet-math, in the four years leading up to the London Games OTP received approximately $124 million dollars, which means that the taxpayers spent $6,888,888.89 per medal. That’s fucking ridiculous.

    It could be argued that winning medals isn’t the most important aspect of Olympic sports, but that’s bullshit. No one from the Canadian Men’s Relay team is turning pro this week. The women’s gymnastics team aren’t getting offers of three-year contracts. The Olympics are it for these athletes. It is the pinnacle of their sport. If winning medals isn’t their only goal, then they should choose another hobby. If it was true that medals are not the be all and end all, we wouldn’t spend any money on these athletes. Winning is the only thing, anyone who tells you different came in 4th. You know where winning doesn’t matter? Me neither. No one is in the Olympics for a participation medal. Go to London on your own time.

    The athletes, their coaches, and many of the country’s equestrian and gymnastics fans, will tell you how time-consuming, how arduous, how all-consuming their training is. They need the funding to pay their bills, to pay their rent. They just get by as it is. My advice to these athletes? Get a job. Life is difficult. I’m a writer. I’m an artist in a discipline that is fading faster than my hairline. My writing, my actual writing, the writing I love, accounts for perhaps 10% of my income, an income that rivals that of 16 year-old dishwashers and inexperienced baristas. So in order to make up that other 90%, I go to work everyday. Well, most days. But, I work on my own writing when I can, if I can.

    There is, of course, socialized arts funding in Canada. I’ve just never received any of it. The Canada Council for the Arts has a budget of around $200 million annually. I wouldn’t even know where to begin the math to discover its success rate, but I don’t know many writers who aren’t struggling, and who knows how the interpretive dancers are doing. Furthermore, I don’t know many writers without day jobs. In fact, I don’t know any writers without day jobs. Frankly, I believe the Canada Council’s funding needs as much investigation as OTP’s. As with OTP, arts funding in Canada does not reward success, or even encourage it. It just wants everyone to be able to play. And that’s a huge problem. These are competitive industries. Celebration of participation is for hobbyists. Professionals (and forget that “amateur” tag Olympians, if you get paid you’re a pro) are in it to win. Otherwise, join a rec league.

    I don’t believe that all funding of sport in general should end. But I believe that it would be better spent on youth leagues and grassroots projects. To me, it’s more important that a kid, no matter their economic realities, should be able to participate in sport. Fund kids’ leagues, get youth involved and active in sport to build character, to create relationships, to learn about sportsmanship, and teamwork, and yes, about winning. If an athlete excels at those levels, and wants to be an Olympian, great. Go get corporate funding and a part-time job. It’s 2012. We’re in the depths of a recession. There is an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent. The cumulative student debt is $14 billion and there are no jobs for graduates. The healthcare system itself needs healthcare. There is an ever-growing disparity between the rich and poor. If someone can explain to me how $34 million a year for 17 people and one women’s soccer team to feel better about themselves than I’m all ears. But in our current economic climate, it’s a frill.

    I realize and admit that there are intangibles related to the Olympics that go beyond dollars. It makes us feel good about ourselves as a nation, as a people. I watched the Canada-US women’s soccer game, and I cheered and I screamed and I felt heartbreak. But at what cost? Because it certainly wasn’t $7.5 million worth of heartbreak. My life is no better or worse today. If these entities want funding, they should find a way to do it without federal dollars. As the Big Lebowski told The Dude: “My advice is to do what your parents did; get a job…”


    Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others. He is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. The short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2012 ReLit Award. He lives in Wakefield, Quebec. His most recent work is the poetry collection Bourbon & Eventide from Invisible Publishing.


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