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WinSport closes ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park as transparency issues raised

By Kristy Koehler, December 23 2018 —

WinSport has made good on their ultimatum to Ski Jumping Canada — either come up with a substantial sum of money to maintain the iconic ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park or see those facilities decommissioned.  

WinSport asked for $345,000 by the end of October 2018 to cover mounting operational and repair costs, as reported by the Gauntlet.

“It’s a complete and utter dead end,” said Mike Bodnarchuk, chair of the Alberta Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Association, of the talks with WinSport. The group has effectively been evicted, and Bodnarchuk says they don’t know where their next home will be.

“We have to be out of there by Jan. 20,” he said. “This is all over the Christmas break, of course — and all of us that run that club with the exception of the coaches are volunteers, so you can imagine the extra stress and duress that adds to what we’re trying to do knowing that we have to move out of there. Where do we move to?”

He says that WinSport has abandoned their vision, outlined on their website as “to be a world leading centre for winter sport excellence and athletic development.”

“WinSport has continually proven that they’re not in the same game as we are,” said Bodnarchuk. “They’re intent on turning Canada Olympic Park into an amusement park and negating what we consider to be their purpose and their duty — supporting high-performance sport in Calgary.”

Athletes have been left out in the cold with the decision to close the jumps. Bodnarchuk says some have been forced to travel internationally to train. The Calgary facility is the only location in Canada with a K63 ski jump — the mid-range jump between the smaller, training jump and the larger, Olympic-size jump. The K63 is necessary for training and athlete development. The loss of this crucial training component could be the death knell for ski jumping in Canada if a solution can’t be found.

WinSport was, until the decommission, responsible for the maintenance of the ski jumps. But they have demanded money from the ski jumping group for rising maintenance costs.
“What other sporting club gets held hostage by the organization charged to maintain the facility that they use — it’s kind of unheard of, to be honest,” said Bodnarchuk. “That’s like the Team Canada hockey team being charged with the maintenance of the Saddledome.”

Bodnarchuk says that transparency has been an issue throughout discussions with WinSport.

“They’ve never been transparent about any of this. They’ve never provided any line items for what things cost there,” he said, adding that, if the numbers they’ve come up with for maintenance are accurate, it would “[make] Calgary the most expensive ski jumping facility operating in the whole world by far — probably twice as much as anybody else.”

In a recent interview with the Calgary Herald, Dale Oviatt, senior communications manager with WinSport, claimed that WinSport is not responsible for increasing the popularity of the sport or building up the club’s numbers, but was only responsible for maintaining the jumps.

Bodnarchuk says it was never about adding to the programming.

“The largest ski jumping clubs in the world — none of them have more than 100 members,” he said. “Right now we have 70–80 athletes in our club so we’re nearing actual capacity of what we can do.”

He also adds that ski jumping is a niche, high-performance sport.

“Anybody that ever expects ski jumping to be revenue generating or to support ski jumps doesn’t understand how it all works. We’re reliant on our infrastructure to be built and supported,” he said.

Bodnarchuk alleges that WinSport’s recent statements to the media have been misleading to the public, saying that “the misinformation and the non-transparency that [WinSport] continues to propagate in the media” is one of the reasons for his frustration.

In October, when the jumps were facing decommission, city councillor Sean Chu stated that the jumps had been neglected.

“Over time they have been neglected and now they’re going to shut it down because it’s not worth it to put more money in,” he said. When asked whether or not he’d been provided with any documentation proving the jumps were neglected, Chu said no, but added, “You can see it when you go there.”

Bodnarchuk says that misinformation regarding the state of repair of the jumps is rampant.

“Every year we get a technical delegate from FIS [the International Ski Federation]  — that’s the organizational body that regulates the ski disciplines around the world — to inspect those jumps and they give them the seal of approval, meaning that they’re safe and we can use them in competitions,” Bodnarchuk said.

The shutdown of the ski jumps raises serious questions about the accessibility of winter sports training facilities for Canadian athletes and all but guarantees that the nation won’t advance in the sport any time soon, despite our self-identification as a winter sports nation.

Nearly every Winter Olympics, national pride reaches a fever pitch as Canadians celebrate our sporting success. The cult of winter is strong here, a long-held cultural phenomenon. Visit any sports bar during the Games and you’ll hear spectators lamenting our Olympic losses, wondering why the country doesn’t provide funding to our athletes equivalent to other winter sporting countries.

When asked about funding and if the city should step in to assist, councillor Chu said no, citing that sport development falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial and federal governments.

“As a city, I think we’ve already done enough because we’ve provided land. We gave them the land and the facility back when. I think it’s enough,” Chu said. “To be honest [WinSport] can sell the land for a lot of money and I think that’s what they’re going to do.”

Neither the federal nor provincial governments have offered assistance, something Bodnarchuk says he’s disappointed about.

“We’re continuing to engage al levels of government. And we’re hopeful that they’re going to see the light because, quite frankly, we’ve been very disappointed with the complete and utter lack of feedback from the federal government. They’ve just kind of left us to the sharks — the sharks at WinSport,” Bodnarchuk said.

Bodnarchuk, as well as young athletes who have already committed their time and money to the sport, are remaining hopeful.

“We’re continuing to fight,” he said. “We’re continuing to be optimistic. We’re continuing to look for solutions but the situation right now is that those jumps are closed and we’ve been evicted.”

For the moment the dreams of young athletes who wish to represent Canada in ski jumping will have to wait.

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