Federal budget bumps up monthly carding money for Canada’s top athletes

Feds bump up carding money for athletes

CALGARY — Canada’s athletes will see a raise in their monthly cheque.

The country’s top athletes receive money from Sport Canada via the Athletes Assistance Program to help pay for groceries, housing and utilities.

It’s known as “carding” money and it’s been a maximum of $1,500 a month for a senior card since 2004.

The federal government committed in Wednesday’s budget to pump an extra $5 million a year into the Athletes Assistance Program for the next five years, which is an 18 per cent increase.

Tuition money and other grants also come out of the AAP. But if the 18 per cent increase is applied strictly to carding, that’s $270 more per month for a senior carded athlete.

A couple hundred bucks more a month is significant to biathlete Rosanna Crawford, if she can buy more of the healthy organic produce that helps her recover from workouts.

Calgary luger Justin Snith can put the extra cash towards his car insurance. Skeleton racer Mirela Rahneva says she’ll work fewer catering shifts to get more time at the sliding track in Calgary.

“Money is pretty tight. It always kind of has been,” said Snith, 25. “There’s been this big push for extra carding for so long and now that it’s finally gone through is really big.”

Olympic paddler Adam van Koeverden, the vice-chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s athletes commission, was among those leading the charge for an increase to the AAP.

Since carding money levels hadn’t changed in over a decade, he lobbied for a 24 per cent increase to catch up with the rise in inflation over that time.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” van Koeverden said. “The work’s not over. Politics is a slow game and making institutional millions of dollars worth of change is huge.

“I can tell you personally my dream was $2,000 a month. I think athletes deserve $2,000 a month.”

About 2,000 athletes who compete in Olympic and Paralympic sport, and who rank in the top 16 in the world or who are deemed to have the potential to get there, receive carding money.

A first-year senior card or development card has been $900 per month, which will also increase.

Crawford, from Canmore, Alta., had written a letter to Blake Richards, the member of Parliament for Banff-Airdrie. She made a case for an increase and invited him to the shooting range at the nordic centre.

“Living in Canmore is definitely one of the more expensive places, but it’s where we need to be to be able to compete with the best in the world,” she said. “We have a great world-class facility here.”

Rahneva, from Ottawa, is coming off a breakthough season in skeleton winning five World Cup medals, including one gold.

She was having coffee with speedskater Vincent de Haitre when they heard about the carding increase.

“It allows me to pull away from work and focus more on the season coming up ahead of us, which is a big one being an Olympic qualifying year,” Rahneva said.

“I wasn’t sure we were going to get an increase. Ten per cent or 18 per cent, anything is amazing.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled and I think Vince is on the same page.”

The COC and the Canadian Paralympic Committee both released statements Wednesday applauding the increase in funding to athletes.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press