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When Athletics Canada released their Commonwealth Games criteria that stated that the team would be comprised of 36 athletes, Canadian track athletes and fans had a whole host of questions. Mainly, they wanted to know where this number came from. Many jumped to blame Athletics Canada. Because of all this, I decided to dig deeper into the issue. As it turns out,their hands were tied.
The international governing body of the Commonwealth Games, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) put a hard cap of 4,500 athletes for all sports at the 2018 Games. To put that into context, that’s a reduction of 450 athletes (or 10 per cent) from the 2014 Games which were held in Glasgow.
This quota was put in place by the Gold Coast organizing committee because at the games in Glasgow, there was about 700 more people who showed up than there were beds in the village. Not only did they pose problems with accommodation, but there were also changes required to the competition schedule and event planning as a result.
So now we’re seeing a reduced number of athletes who will get set to compete. This drop in numbers actually hits individual sports the hardest. The effect is two-fold. Other team sports, including basketball, beach volleyball and women’s sevens, have been added to the games and so that takes up spots from the total allotted number. Because of this, the CGF introduced a new athlete quota system for individual sports.
What does it look like for Canada? Well, we received a reduction of individual sport athlete spots from 223 to 159. That’s a pretty big drop. Actually, it translates to about 29 per cent fewer athletes making up the individual sports part of the team. Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC) lobbied for more individual athlete spots. They didn’t receive them.
From that 159, athletics was given 36. That means we get to send a total of 36 athletes – male and female – for track and field. To put this in perspective, the 2016 Olympic Team was comprised of 65 athletes and 52 Canadian track athletes competed in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, numbers that dwarf the size of the group that we’ll send to the track next year.
Because we were given such a small team quota, CGC and Athletics Canada wrote a criteria that would prioritize athletes who were ranked in the top five in the Commonwealth. This made it exceptionally difficult to make the team in events that are competitive in the Commonwealth, including distance events.
This is all before even thinking of Canada’s medal count – which is another issue. Surely all of this is going to impact Canada’s medal count in individual sports – including athletics – and will inflate the grand totals of other countries who received a greater athlete quota. That’s the thing in all of this: it’s not like each nation is sending the same sized team. This creates an unfair advantage. Team England, for example, has already announced their athletics team of 75 athletes. That’s huge compared to our 36. With just half as many athletes, how exactly is Team Canada supposed to compete with that?
There are so many reasons why not sending a full team to the Commonwealth Games hurts the future of track and field in Canada. The Commonwealth Games is a significantly weaker competition in most track and field events when you compare it to Worlds or the Olympics. This means, that the Commonwealth Games would be an excellent stepping stone for up-and-coming athletes because it’s easier to make the final and therefore get that racing experience. That can’t happen if only the top portion of the country’s cream of the crop gets sent.
Any multi-sport Games experience is also invaluable in the build up to the next Olympics. Living in a village and dealing with the stress and distractions of it all is something that requires a bit of practice – and I can speak to that. I can only hope that the athlete quota is not a factor at Commonwealth Games in the future. I would further hope that all rightfully qualified individual sport athletes get the opportunity to compete for their country.