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Commonwealth fund survives for next generation of Olympians

Olympic Silver medal swimmer Ryan Cochrane speaks at a press conference announcing the support of $1.5 million in combined national and provincial funding for a high-performance trust fund at Saanich Commonwealth Place. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Olympic Silver medal swimmer Ryan Cochrane speaks at a press conference announcing the support of $1.5 million in combined national and provincial funding for a high-performance trust fund at Saanich Commonwealth Place.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

Municipal and provincial politicians have rescued a nearly empty 1994 Commonwealth Games legacy trust dedicated to high-performance athletes in Saanich.

On Monday, the provincial and federal governments granted a combined $1.5 million to rejuvenate the ailing trust, which subsidizes rent for elite athletics groups at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

The original fund was nearly dry, falling seven years short of its 25 year termination date of 2019.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard realized this and called upon two more fellow guardians, MLAs Ida Chong and MLA Murray Coell, who were part of the facility’s genesis with Leonard in 1993. At that time, Chong was a Saanich councillor with Leonard and Coell was mayor.

“In our 2011 and 12 budget meetings for Saanich, we saw that the fund was not going to have enough money to make 2019,” Leonard said. “It’s a problem most people weren’t aware of.”

Chong and Coell went to bat for the Commonwealth trust fund, scoring $750,000 from B.C. and another $750,000 from Own the Podium to fund the trust through 2019.

“It honours the agreement that was made with us, the Boardworks diving club, and our fellow user groups, the synchronized swimming, water polo and the swimming clubs, to train here with affordable rates,” said diving coach Tommy McLeod of Boardworks, the home of two-time Saanich Olympian Riley McCormick.

“It means we don’t have to find other ways to pay for pool time, which varies a lot across the country and our rates are among the best.”

The $1.5 million is the latest commitment to high performance athlete facilities in Greater Victoria, with University of Victoria’s upcoming Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities, upgrades to the Beaver-Elk Lake rowing centre, the Rugby Canada Centre for Excellence in Langford, and the Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence in Saanich.

“Back (when the Commonwealth fund was set up) everyone thought interest rates would be 18 and 19 per cent, not the three per cent interest the fund has been earning, which is why it’s drying up,” Leonard said.

“It would have meant an increase in property taxes, at a difficult time to do that, so I approached Murray Coell and Ida Chong.”

The mayor also recalled Gerald Berger, a federal negotiator at the time who saw the need for a legacy trust fund. Berger passed away in 1998, but is honoured on a plaque at Commonwealth pool.

“He was quite visionary, otherwise we would have had the event and the next day realized these athletes can’t afford to be here.”

Simon Whitfield and KidSport representatives were also at the announcement to unveil a new six-metre wide KidSport mural that honours Olympians who’ve trained at Commonwealth pool. The mural was designed by KidSport Victoria’s director Archie Louis, and focuses on the connection of child athletes with local Olympians.

“We want kids who are here to know Olympians train here just like they do,” said Whitfield, a two time Olympic medalist in triathlon who has swam at Commonwealth pool for 15 years.

Only a few athletes are honoured on the mural, Whitfield and swimmer Ryan Cochrane among them, but there’s room for more, Whitefield said.

“Rick Say was a three-time Olympian, captain of Canada’s Olympic swim team, and he swam as many metres in this pool more than anyone outside of Cochrane, and there’s no presence of him here, yet," Whitfield continued.

"(Say) wanted to quit at one point. So if the kid who is 14 and thinking about quitting realizes they are in lane four, exactly where Rick Say swam, to know that Say went through tough days here, too, hopefully that kid can keep going and reap the health and well-being sport brings.”

sports@vicnews.com

 

 

 

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