WinSport slides funds from track to day lodge expansion, Luge Canada not impressed

In Olympic Games

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Frustrated officials with Luge Canada are disappointed WinSport is using money that had been earmarked for the restoration of Calgary’s Olympic sliding track on day lodge renovations.

The sliding organization says the $25 million track restoration was scheduled to begin in 2020, but the project was temporarily shelved due to a funding shortfall as the commitments from the provincial and federal levels of government only equated to $17 million.

WinSport has since reallocated the province’s $10 million contribution from the sliding track project to the day lodge expansion project without notifying the sliding groups.

“WinSport has repeatedly reassured Canada’s sliding sports of its commitment to secure the additional funds required to complete the restoration project,” said Luge Canada in a statement issued Thursday. “WinSport has not communicated its decision to move (the) existing provincial funds to other projects before Tuesday’s media conference.

“Removing the track from Calgary’s legacy of Olympic venues puts the future of our sport in Canada at serious risk.”

Luge Canada says WinSport’s decision removes “the critical resources required for our youth to discover, develop and excel in Olympic sliding sport” as well as what was “a major revenue generator for Calgary’s economy” as the track hosted world cup and world championships each year with global exposure.

On Tuesday, WinSport announced plans to expand the day lodge, a 35-year-old facility, as a cost of upward of $43 million. The project is expected to begin in 2023 with the federal government contributing $17.5 million and the province providing $17.4 million.

WinSport confirmed to CTV News that $10 million in provincial funding for the day lodge project was originally set aside for sliding track upgrades and repairs, but track restoration remains on its list of capital projects.

“The $17.5 million in provincial funding includes $10 million that had originally been committed from the Government of Alberta to support renovating COP’s sliding track to upgrade the refrigeration system to meet modern safety standards and allow the track to safely reopen for luge, skeleton, and bobsleigh athletes,” said Barry Heck, WinSport president and CEO, in a statement. “The sliding track project was only partially funded and WinSport has continued its efforts to raise the substantial additional capital that is needed to proceed with the project. To date, we have been unable to raise the required capital and with the time frame to use the $10 million from the Government of Alberta set to expire, there was no prospect of securing the funding and completing the project in the required time frame.

“In an effort to keep the funds for capital projects at COP, we worked with the Government of Alberta to reallocate the $10 million to the day lodge project, WinSport’s highest capital priority, instead of requiring us to return the funds.

“While we appreciate that this is difficult news for the sliding sports community, we are thankful that the Government of Alberta agreed to reallocate this money to serve hundreds of thousands of athletes and the community, instead of requiring us to return it.”

WinSport adds the federal funding promised for sliding track upgrades remains in place and is separate from the recently announced federal funds for the day lodge under its Green & Inclusive Community Buildings program.

ATHLETES, OFFICIALS CAUGHT OFF GUARD

Both Pat Norton and Erica Voss started sliding in Calgary on the now-closed track. The two current Team Canada bobsleigh athletes say the news of the funding being diverted was a surprise.

“When we first heard about the commitment to redevelop the track, it was exciting because this is a hub for us and it’s a developmental piece and critical piece of our organization,” said Norton, a bobsleigh pilot with the national team.

“It was incredibly disappointing to hear that (the funding) had been reallocated to something that suited them better,” he said.

The two are among the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) athletes who train at WinSport’s Ice House during the summer. They’re set to head to Whistler with the team on Monday to start on-track training before the season starts.

“I’ve been a brakeman for the last two years and now I’m transitioning into piloting and it’s kind of sad to not get the chance to drive this track that a lot of our top, medal-winning pilots have started on,” said Voss, who was an alternate on Canada’s 2022 Olympic team.

“It was a great learning track,” she said.

The start of the bobsleigh track at WinSport now ends just short of its first corner; hundreds of metres of it was dismantled years ago. The sliding sports that still have offices at WinSport aren’t sure yet what the next steps are now that the provincial funding to repair the track has disappeared.

“It was a huge surprise. There had been no communication or discussion whatsoever that came from WinSport. They didn’t reach out in any way to the sliding sport community,” said Alex Gough, an Olympic medallist who is now the president of Luge Canada.

“To learn that they had gone ahead and diverted those funds without even having a conversation or the courtesy to discuss it with us is hugely disappointing,” Gough said.

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