It was just another grip-and-grin press conference. Governments of all sorts have a lot of these, where some sort of funding is announced, some handshakes are exchanged in front of the camera, and there may be a prop or two.
Earlier this week, two provincial government ministers — Searle Turton (Children and Family Services) and Joseph Schow (Tourism and Sport) trotted out for a photo op at a Calgary rec centre. Handshakes were exchanged. Backs were slapped. Why? To announce that the Every Kid Can Play Program had officially launched.
The program sets aside $3 million this year so families in need can get financial aid for their kids’ sport registrations.
The media members who bothered to pay attention were really there so they could ask Schow about the status of the Calgary-Edmonton Commonwealth Games bid, in the wake of Victoria, Australia’s announcement it was cancelling the 2026 edition due to cost overruns. All of the questions asked of Schow were about the Commonwealth Games, and there was not one shred of interest in the Every Kid Can Play Program.
And that’s too bad. Because, without grassroots sports programming, what’s the point of bidding for the big events?
We know that sports organizations across Canada are in the midst of a perfect storm. Costs are rising, and registrations are falling. And, one of the reasons registration numbers are falling is because of those rising costs.
Let’s look at the two big team sports in Canada, soccer and hockey.
In its recently released 2022 Annual Report, Canada Soccer announced that there were 689,938 registered players across the country. Compare that to 818,940 in 2016. Yes, COVID had an influence; but before the virus spread across the planet, we were already seeing a downward trend in registrations. Despite the whole “soccer is accessible” mantra, the truth is participation in the sport has been shrinking for the better part of a decade.