Remarks to the Olympic Athletes Reception
April 17, 2008
Thank you, Brian Williams, for joining us as EmCee and thanks also for your sterling career as Canada’s best known Olympic broadcaster …
Good afternoon to all Olympic athletes, trainers and coaches, Faculty of Physical Education and Health staff, University administrators and guests. Special acknowledgments:
- Chris Rudge, CEO, Canadian Olympic Committee
- The Hon. Margaret Best, Minister of Health Promotion
- The Hon. Peter Fonseca, Minister of Tourism & MPP Mississauga East
- Gord Cunningham & Karen Pitre – celebrated, former UofT athletes, both of whom are now giving back to their alma mater as the tireless co-chairs of our Varsity centre Campaign Cabinet
It is my pleasure to welcome you – especially those who have not had the privilege of being here before – to the new Varsity Centre, right across the street from the site of the future Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.
And on that note, let me salute two members of the Goldring Family who are with us today, both alumni of the University of Toronto. Warren Goldring is the visionary founder of AGF, a hugely successful financial services company. Judy Goldring is senior vice president and general counsel for AGF, and a member of the Governing Council of the University of Toronto. The Goldring family gift is the largest single benefaction to athletics in Canada to date, and I ask you to join me in acknowledging this extraordinary family.
Once completed, the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport will fill a critical gap in sports infrastructure in Canada. The basic fitness facility will of course be open to our students, but located above it will be a remarkable tune-up station for elite athletes from across Ontario and indeed across Canada.
This reception offers me the opportunity to express my great admiration for the coaches, trainers, managers, athlete students and alumni of our university, and also provides us with a chance to celebrate your successes and for you to reflect on your shared memories of the University Toronto.
Ever since 1900 when George Orton – the first Canadian-born Olympic Champion and a former UofT student – won both the Gold in the 2500m Steeplechase and a Bronze in the 400m Hurdles in Paris, our school has enjoyed a reputation as a breeding ground for high-level achievement.
Following in George Orton’s footsteps, over the past eighty years, more than 300 UofT students have participated in the Olympics as athletes, as well as more than 40 coaches, trainers and health professionals.
The University of Toronto has clearly been fortunate to attract gifted athletes like many of you here this evening.
We also have a great leadership team in the Faculty of Physical Education and Health who support over 500 students and 45 intercollegiate teams in 26 different sports.
Olympians have long been inspirational role models to others to enjoy sports and be fit and active. More generally, however, the importance of elite athletes as role models has perhaps never before been more important than in this time of shocking childhood obesity rates and adolescent inactivity …
I note as well that sport is a rallying point for our students. We see that here for Varsity playoff games in volleyball and basketball. And we see that with the more than 10,000 students who play in more than 3,000 intramural games each school year…
We also want to keep our most promising student athletes here in Canada, since we are currently losing a staggering number of them to universities in the U.S.
Our renewed commitment to athletics is the main reason we’ve been able to raise, through the Varsity Campaign, $24.8 million in donations for new buildings, in addition to $21.7 million for the stadium [which, yes, is UofT’s investment]. We’re just over halfway!
This represents fundraising to date for the new dome, the pavilion, the Centre for High Performance Sport, the Field House and the Arena altogether, all important facets of a new commitment to athletics at UofT.
In addition, the University of Toronto Mississauga campus recently opened a major sports facility earlier this academic year – the Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre, and a significant sports project is also being discussed for the University’s Scarborough campus.
Furthermore, we are building strong partnerships with major provincial and national sport governing bodies such as:
- The Canadian Olympic Committee
- Canadian Paralympic Committee
- Swim Canada & Swim Ontario
- Athletics Canada
- The Ontario Track and Field Association
- Ontario Volleyball Association
- Canadian Sports Centre Ontario
Together with these partners, we’re urging a range of public and private partners to re-invest in sport in Ontario and Canada.
A great example of this took place earlier today, in fact, when Minister Best made announced on our campus that the Ministry of Health Promotion will be contributing $2 million to enable carded athletes to participate in high performance sport training at UofT. You can look forward to hearing more from Minister Best and Health Promotion’s Quest for Gold commitment in just a few minutes …
We are very excited about the current prospect of growing the numbers of competitive athletes through the investments we are making in the renewal of our own facilities and sports science programs.
But none of us can do it alone – we need to work together at provincial and federal levels, with the corporate sector and private donors and we must do so with the determination of elite athletes because we have a considerable distance to go. That’s the clear message of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s 2006 Road to Excellence Business Plan for Summer Olympic and Paralympic Sport:. The COC is calling on us to harmonize and coordinate our actions, and we agree with that strategy 100%.
Last, as with many things in sports, timing is everything. We cannot develop athletes for games of the future without building the infrastructure now.
The Olympic events in Beijing this year and in Vancouver in 2010, will mark the culmination of years and decades of training and sacrifice for coaches and athletes alike.
If we hope to build upon these achievements, we will need to see a similar long-term commitment from the large community of athletic bodies in Ontario.
Take for example, the possibility of attracting the 2015 PAN AM Games to Ontario. Should the bid proceed, those leading the charge will be able to point to U of T’s sports facilities, including the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, located at a leading North American university in a world class urban centre, as a prime example of facilities that would be available to competing athletes.
Of course, there will need to be investments elsewhere in southern Ontario, but the University of Toronto is a great place to start …
As you’ll hear from our next few speakers, we have reason to be confident that U of T and the province of Ontario will be seeing more of our competitors not just on top of the Olympic medal podiums, but also competing in a wide range of international events…
Lastly, just a quick thanks to the Olympians here today, past, present and future, for joining us, along with those from the amateur sports world, supporting them in all they’ve done and will do…
I would like to close today’s event with a call to action.
We need to build centres of excellence for summer sports here in the Toronto Region to serve all of Ontario. We need to bring our athletes home from the US and from other provinces.
We have had great support from families such as the Goldrings or the Davenports, whose gift has enabled the construction of this magnificent track. I am delighted to announce that we have also received a major gift to support the construction of a 2000 seat field-house – we’re keeping the details under wraps at the moment, but it’s another fantastic multi-million dollar commitment.
These gifts from remarkable philanthropic leaders are hugely important. But now we need others who share their commitment to athletic excellence to follow their lead, and to help drive the rebuilding of these facilities to completion.
As the attendance here today demonstrates, we have a big community of people who care and who are interested in seeing our province’s athletes succeed. I certainly believe that, together, through partnering on the important projects of today, we can have an exciting and successful tomorrow
Thank you all for coming; Minister Best, Minister Fonseca, Chris Rudge, Karen Pitre, Gord Cunningham, and all the athletes, trainers, coaches and guests …
Sincere thanks to Brian Williams for being our EmCee
And thank you especially to those in the inspiring athletic procession and demonstrations. Please enjoy the remainder of the reception, and I hope to see you here for future competitive athletic events…
Check against delivery.