It’s no mystery that Canadian athletes have historically been underfunded–it’s become somewhat synonymous with being a national level athlete. Funding can be hard to come by in many sports, and in trail and mountain running, it’s no different. To run for Canada in a sport you love is a dream come true. But for Canadian trail and mountain runners, it’s an expensive dream. Only the athletes who can afford it get the opportunity to represent Canada at the world level.
Who is responsible?
When Canadians represent their country at a trail or mountain running world championship event, they have historically paid their own way. This remains the trend until we do otherwise. For Canadian Trail Running teams, Athletics Canada and the Association of Canadian Ultramarathoners support some of the costs (such as accommodation and meals) for an athlete to travel to a world championship event.
Ryne Melcher, Canadian Trail Running team manager says that often “if the funds are not raised, or the athlete does not have the financial means, they cannot represent the country. It is a matter of who can afford to go, not necessarily who is the best athlete to represent. While we have sent great trail teams recently to world championships, I don’t think we have sent our absolute best or full teams to support the other great athletes that have made the personal and financial sacrifice to go. If the trip was paid for, I believe that would be different.”
Although the Canadian Mountain Running Association is not governed by Athletics Canada, it experiences similar funding challenges. Historically, most of the funding for the Canadian Mountain Running Team comes direct through independent membership fees or from donations from generous individuals on the board of directors who “have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the sport personally. We do not receive any significant corporate or institutional support, ” explains Adrian Lambert, team manager of the Canadian Mountain Running Association.
“Canada and Australia are the only two regions in the world where mountain running is not governed directly by the national track and field governing body,” Lambert says. Canadian Mountain Running Association prefers to be in control of the selection process. This is a result of the association’s conscious effort to select teams that will help build competitiveness over time.
Although Athletics Canada has expressed interest in being more involved in mountain running, there is currently no direct funding for the sport. They do support mountain running with discounts on uniforms such as 35 per cent off, when requested.
The lack of support does not just impact the athletes directly, it affects the future of the sport overall. At the last Mountain Running annual general meeting, some federations proposed prohibiting Canada and Australia from competing, because there is no direct representation by Athletics Canada.
What are other countries doing?
In many other countries such as the US, France, UK, and Italy, there is a national governing body supporting both trail and mountain running teams. Additionally, there may be significant corporate sponsorship picking up the pieces. In the US, trail and mountain running teams are partially funded by the USATF, which is the equivalent to Athletics Canada as a governing body for the sport.
Nancy Hobbes of USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Running Council and Executive Director of the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) explains that “The USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Running Council continues to raise funds through various partnerships, one notably is the ATRA, whose mission is to represent and promote trail running, mountain running, and ultra trail running. Another is a relationship between ATRA and Trail Butter – jars of Tribute Trail Butter are sold for a limited time to raise $5 per jar for the mountain running teams.”
What is the answer?
Although it can be ideal to represent your country, it’s not ideal to sacrifice rent money for a Canadian uniform. The initial human response is to help and give what we can monetarily to the sport or cause. But in the big picture, that may not be the best option.
There’s no question we live in a world where self-promotion can equate to increased financial support. But for the future of trail and mountain running in Canada, fundraising does not solve the problem. Fundraising often involves promoting oneself to brands, social media followers, and corporations. This can be challenging for athletes who do not feel comfortable sharing their love of running in the public eye. For some of the most talented athletes, promoting themselves does not align with their values.
However, more funding, regardless of where it comes from, helps increase the popularity of the sport, and thus help Canadian teams eventually become more competitive. On the other hand, continued support for our athletes sends the message that governing bodies are off the hook for reaching out. Melcher sees it like the “chicken and the egg scenario, where more funding could send stronger teams and thus increase the popularity and marketability of the sport.”
Who needs support now?
Regardless of whether the chicken or the egg came first, Canadian athletes continue to scramble for funds to represent our country. Canadian athletes have long experienced a lack of funding, and the pattern continues. The next world championship event will be in Villa la Angostura, Argentina on November 15. Travel costs, expenses, and team uniforms mean each athlete will be spending over $4,200 of their own money to toe the line. Click here to support the Canadian national mountain running team.