Oval may close doors to 2010 hopefuls

Speed skaters may have to hold on to their skates a bit longer and shell out more for the opportunity to train on Canada’s fastest ice due to budget issues at WinSport Canada, the organization that helps fund the Olympic Oval.

The problems began after WinSport Canada took a $40 million loss to its Olympic Endowment Fund created to fund the Olympic Oval. The Olympic Oval receives two-thirds of its funds from WinSport Canada while the University of Calgary funds the other one-third. Athletes and coaches who use the facility will have to pay $3,000 per year — up from $2,300 per year. Some directors are warning there may be more cuts to some of its programs coming in the future. The Olympic Oval in Calgary is set to close down for seven of the next twelve months, creating headaches for Speed Skating Canada, which needs the ice to prepare for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

Last week, Speed Skating Canada held a news conference and warned that the Oval’s potential closure would harm their chances for success in Vancouver because the Oval is the only facility used for speed skating training in Canada. Oval staff are hoping to keep the long track oval open until the end of the season. Olympic Oval director Kameron Kiland noticed that the facility’s problems could affect many programs at the Oval, but hopes there will be ice by July 2009.

“The question is if we can afford to keep the long track oval open until the end of the season as Speed Skating Canada has requested,” said Kiland.

Kiland said the Oval is exploring other methods of funding such as corporate sponsorship and additional funding requests to Sport Canada and WinSport. He explained that WinSport approved a $2.1 million budget while the Oval proposed a $2.9 million budget for 2009 — last year’s budget was $3.6 million.

“It costs about $1.6 million in utilities and maintenance a year to keep the Oval operational for nine months of ice, along with another $1.3 million in staffing, supplies and overhead,” said Kiland. “So there is very little room to cut.”

WinSport Canada president Guy Huntingford argued the cutbacks are necessary for the future of the organization. Ten people have been laid off from other facilities run by WinSport Canada such as Canada Olympic Park.

“The current turmoil has forced WinSport Canada to make large cuts to its 2009-10 budget, which is troublesome in an Olympic year,” said Huntingford. “Everyone in WinSport Canada is doing what they can and staying focused on the goals, that being to help all athletes, from novice to expert, discover, develop and excel at their sport.”

Dinos athletics director Kevin Boyles is keeping a close eye on the Oval situation, warning that the Oval may have to review their business plans.

“I understand they are looking closely at how they do business and how to generate operating dollars, so we are anticipating new or increased costs for our programs that utilize the Oval,” said Boyles.

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