For years Canada’s Para athletes have been asking why they don’t receive money for medals at the Paralympics, while Canadian athletes who win medals at the Olympics receive financial rewards.
It appears that those questions are finally about to be answered.
In an exclusive interview with CBC Sports on Thursday in Santiago, Chile, ahead of the 2023 Parapan Am Games, Canada’s Minister of Sport and Physical Activity, Carla Qualtrough, said that an announcement is coming.
“We’re going to get it done. I can’t scoop anybody so you’re not going to get any further details from me but I assure you that before Paris there will be some really exciting news on that front as there should be,” Qualtrough said.
Qualtrough won three bronze medals in swimming at the 1988 and 1992 Paralympics, as well as four world championship medals for Team Canada.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee wasn’t able to add any further details on a timeline regarding an announcement at this point.
However, last March in an interview with CBC Sports a top official at the Canadian Olympic Committee said getting a deal done regarding money for medals was high on the list of priorities.
“It’s such an obvious gap and it’s time to get this done,” Karen O’Neill, the CPC’s CEO, said. “As much as we can say change is slow and steady, there’s got to be some action. It’s a priority.”
Canadian Olympic athletes who win medals are financially rewarded for their efforts — $20,000 for a gold, $15,000 for a silver and $10,000 for a bronze.
Canadian Paralympians who reach the podium don’t receive a single dollar. And it’s been that way since the country’s medal bonus program began more than 25 years ago.
The bonus program is called the Athlete Excellence Fund and it is entirely funded through the Canadian Olympic Committee, which is separate from the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Each organization governs everything to do with their respective Games.
“It’s symbolic but it’s also real. It costs a lot of money to be an athlete and athletes with disabilities have additional expenses and face the barriers,” Qualtrough said.
“The money matters.”
Now it seems Canadian Paralympians being financially rewarded for their efforts is imminent.
“I think it’s absolutely more than symbolic because it’s actually putting your money where your mouth is,” said co-chef de mission of Team Canada at the Parapan Am Games, Karolina Wisniewska.
Wisniewska is a three-time Paralympian and winner of eight Paralympic medals in Para alpine skiing.
“It is a significant contribution to athletes with a disability. Different costs. Higher expenses. This would actually probably be a bigger boon to a Paralympic athlete than an Olympic athlete if I can be so bold to say that,” Wisniewska said.
“I competed at three Paralympic Games. I worked in the sports systems and I’m very familiar with other country’s sports systems. So for those of us who have that familiarity, it’s time Canada catches up to some of those other countries.”
‘We need everyone to join in’
She’ll be leading 140 Canadian athletes making up Team Canada alongside co-chef, Josh Vander Vies.
“I know the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Foundation are committed to making it happen. We need everyone to join in,” Vander Vies said.
Team Canada is READY 👏🇨🇦 <a href=”https://twitter.com/Devin_Heroux?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Devin_Heroux</a> checks in with Canada’s co-chefs de mission Karolina Wisniewska and Josh Vander Vies at the Parapan Am Games in Santiago, Chile <br><br>Watch extensive live coverage of the event on <a href=”https://t.co/bBaiS17bce”>https://t.co/bBaiS17bce</a>, the CBC Sports app and <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcgem?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcgem</a> <a href=”https://t.co/wdxabWII9C”>pic.twitter.com/wdxabWII9C</a>
Vander Vies won bronze in Boccia at the 2012 Paralympics.
“Canada’s role in the Paralympic movement is special. It was one of the early countries that was advancing disability inclusion and now the other countries are surpassing us. It’s surprising,” he said.
Canadian teams and athletes are getting in some last practices ahead of the Parapan Am Games in Santiago.
Competition runs Nov. 17-26 and will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Friday’s opening ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET.
Anderson leads men’s wheelchair basketball team
Canada’s men’s wheelchair basketball team is looking to earn a spot at the Paralympics by winning the event — they have a number of veterans on the team who are no strangers to big moments and big games.
Patrick Anderson, considered by many the Michael Jordan of wheelchair basketball for his skill and scoring ability, is making his sixth appearance at the Parapan Am Games for Canada.
At 44 years old, Anderson has devoted his life to not only bringing a high level of skill to the count but also raising awareness of the importance of Para sport.
When asked about the potential of money for medals, Anderson was thoughtful about the process and why it’s taken some time to get to this point.
“It’s a complicated question so I understand why it’s taken so long. It’s a puzzle and it’s a lot of money so I understand why it’s taken so long,” he said.
Bo Hedges has been on the court with Anderson for years and is poised to make his fifth Parapan appearance.
He is optimistic a deal will get done ahead of Paris.
“We all want to be on the same playing field and treated equally. I think overall the bigger thing is recognition. We get some funding but it’s not a lot so getting that bonus and show of recognition is huge,” Hedges said.
“I’ve heard from other sources too that it’s coming along.”