I'm sure you've heard about the recent announcement. If not, let me break the news:
The COC announced an Olympic Reward Program.
Gold - $20,000
Silver - $15,000
Bronze - $10,000
I've heard many mixed reactions. Some say, "Fantastic". Others say, "That's not enough". I have even heard some mumble, "Why should Olympians get paid for their performance? Isn't it amateur sport?".
Personally, I was pleased when I heard the announcement. I wish that something like this would have been put in place before Athens...that would have been a nice little reward after 16 years of training!
One has to remember and emphasize that this is a REWARD program. None of us start sport in Canada because of the big bucks...and many of us never make the BIG money. Even when we are the best in the world. But one thing is true...we deserve it! Maybe that's a biased statement, but I truly believe that Olympians are some of the greatest ambassadors and role models a country can have. By introducing this program, I think it is taking a small step forward and saying, "we believe in you, we support you and we respect your hard work and determination".
For those haters out there, let me just say one thing. Many other industries have some sort of financial reward programs in place. If you are in oil and gas and you perform well, you get a few extra tens of thousands of dollars as a bonus. Sport should not be different. When one wins the Olympics, essentially they are THE BEST in the world at that time. No one else on the entire planet is better than them. So, do you think it's worthy to honour someone who is clearly defined as the best in their field? I sure do.
After Athens it was a little frustrating to hear of all the other athletes from other countries who were receiving cash rewards. Some even received instant pensions, houses...some were set up financially for the rest of their life. I sometimes wondered why we don't receive the same amount of recognition and reward in this country. Why is the value of an Olympic Medal different in different parts of the world?
When I was filming White Palms in Hungary in June 2005, Marian Dragulescu (he came second on floor in Athens) told me that he heard I got $500,000 for my Gold medal. I had to laugh! That would have been nice, but in all reality I didn't receive a penny. He couldn't understand that. He asked me, "Why do you do this then?". hehe. "Because I love it", I replied. He just stared at me like I was crazy! But it's true. My goal was to always go to the Olympics and win a Gold medal. Marian couldn't get his head around the fact that I just did gymnastics because it was my passion and not because it was going to set me up financially.
What winning a gold medal did do was it opened many doors of opportunity. I sometimes breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I will probably never work at a liquor store (although that staff discount could come in handy during the holidays!).
I do believe that eventually this reward needs to become something more significant and life changing. Say, $500,000, as Marian believed we received. Winning the Olympics is such a huge accomplishment and it has the power to inspire an entire nation. I believe that Olympians need to receive more recognition and rewards for representing their country to the highest of standards. It would be ideal if corporate Canada (maybe all of those wonderful Olympic partners who have tons of cash) would jump on board and contribute to the reward program. Then the athletes could share their stories with the corporations and different schools around the country and not have to worry about getting "real" jobs. For the years in between the games it could be a giant Olympic medallist blitz. Think of the impact this could have. Wowzers!
All in all, this is a step in the right direction. Now when a Canadian Olympic Champion comes home they will be able to put a dent in the debt that they and their families have accumulated over the years and years of training. Thanks to the COC's Athletes Commission for bringing this initiative to the table and for seeing it through to reality.