Athletes’ Dais

by George Gross, Jr.

Plans developed by the technical arms of the various national sport governing bodies (NSGB) will be largely responsible for the medals won or lost by Canadian athletes at the upcoming Pan American Games and the 1980 Olympics.

According to an informal poll taken recently, approximately 70 per cent of Game Plan sports have no athlete representation at all in the technical planning of their sports; less than ten per cent of sports have more than one athlete involved in technical planning.

The lack of athlete representation might appear inconsequential, especially to those who would argue that an athlete’s only concern should be training and competing — with the planning, administrative, and political problems best left to the NSGB.

In any system of technical and production accountability, management’s failure to use natural resources is the most expensive waste. It is both sad and ironic that, in our case, athletes, who are responsible for ensuring productivity success and who are the ultimate recipients of a national team plan, have no input into the planning, modification, and evaluation of that plan through the technical development committees.

The kind of input I refer to is regular voting privilege. And that voting privilege should consist of at least two national team athletes in every sport, with allowance for more positions depending upon the complexities of the national team program. For example, team sports could use three delegates to put forth the athletes’ views, while other sports may need separate women’s and/or disciplines’ representatives.

Criteria for selection of athlete delegates should include years of competitive experience and maturity. In many cases, the selection could be made by the athletes in conjunction with the NSGB’s board of directors.

But why involve the athletes? As well as the reasons mentioned previously, no one is closer to the centre of competition. Even the coach cannot translate an athlete’s feelings exactly when answering questions at a technical committee planning meeting. When the athlete’s perspective is not tapped directly, decisions are made at a level that much further removed from the actual competitive milieu.

From the preceding alone, the need to have athletes involved in national team planning should be obvious.

However, one has only to examine the quality of the athlete input that is available to understand why it is imperative to utilize this resource. Many top athletes are adults, with years of competitive experience from which to draw. They may be foregoing careers in order to compete. Surely they can be relied upon to act in the best interests of the NSGB. Other athletes hold responsible positions and can bring many skills to the technical planning process.

As long as we as athletes feel that all our needs are not being met, we should have the right to speak for ourselves and help shape the programs of the national teams of which we are an integral part.

However, there is no point in us waiting for the NSGBs to ask for our input. We must put pressure on our executives and demand representation on the technical planning committees of our NSGBs. It’s time we created our own vehicle for putting back into sport what we are getting out of it. And, if we are not getting what we want out of it, then we should voice our displeasure and offer constructive criticism.

At the same time, we must ensure that, once attained, positions are not treated as tokenism. We must act in a responsible manner and show our peers that these positions are an integral part of the national team process. Then the executives, instead of looking upon our involvement as a confrontation, will view it as an opportunity to tap an invaluable natural resource.

It is also interesting to note that, if athletes become involved in the technical planning process now, their transition to volunteer or other involvement upon retirement will be much easier and will ensure the future management and development of our sports.

For the present, however, the attempt must be made to establish our involvement. Any questions you may have on how to proceed may be directed to me.