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Athlete stipends to rise, minister says

Globe and Mail Update

Top Canadian athletes will see an increase in their government funding within a matter of weeks, Sports Minister Stephen Owen said Monday.

Mr. Owen, speaking to CTV News, was referring to $30-million in new money for Sport Canada that was announced in the March budget, but much of the funds had yet to be allocated.

"I've said that a significant portion of that will go directly to athletes to increase the number of high-performance athletes who are funded on a stipend level," he said. "The number of athletes and the amount they each get will be increased."

Currently, Sport Canada gives top athletes a tax-free stipend of $1,300 a month and core funding to summer and winter sports across the board. Mr. Owen said an announcement on the increases will be coming shortly.

"An immediate amount of the new money went to assist with the preparations and support for athletes in Athens," Mr. Owen said. "The great amount of it will now be announced in a few weeks as to how it will be allocated across the system."

The comments come a day after Mr. Owen told the Globe and Mail he wants the federal government to consider an increase in funding to the provinces for sports development at the school level rather than another increase for high-performance athletes.

"It seems a pretty obvious conclusion to draw that if you've got less organized sport available on a regular basis right through the school system, eventually that's going to be reflected in less high-performance athletes," Mr. Owen said in the story published Monday.

As the Athens Games closed on Sunday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said he plans to visit Canada later this year to push the federal government on increasing funding for amateur athletes.

Mr. Owen said he looks forward to speaking with Mr. Rogge.

"I'll be very pleased to receive his ideas on how our sports system in Canada can produce more Olympic athletes and Olympic medals," Mr. Owen said.

Canada finished the Athens Games with 12 medals, two fewer than the 14 won by Canadian athletes in Sydney four years ago and 10 fewer than the 22 they earned in Atlanta in 1996.

The total was the lowest since the country's 10 in Seoul in 1988.

Mr. Owen defended the Canadian performance, saying that 80 per cent of Canada's 267 Olympians finished in the top 12 in their sports.

"They have a major draw to win medals but that is not the only measure of the health of sports in this country," he said.

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