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Recent WinSport lodge funding reallocated from sliding track trust account

The decision has Calgary-based sliding sports organizations wondering about the future of world-class training facilities in the city.

The bulk of recent funding announced to restore WinSport’s Frank King Day Lodge is actually a reallocation of cash originally meant for upgrades to the sliding track.

That has sliding sport organizations frustrated they weren’t told, and wondering about future infrastructure.  

Earlier this week, the province announced $17.5 million in funding to restore the Frank King Day Lodge. It’s an anchor location for visitors to Canada Olympic Park.

Back in 2016, the province committed $10 million to revamp the 30-year-old sliding track at Canada Olympic Park. That funding was being held in a trust account. The initial plan was for work to begin on sliding track upgrades in 2020.

In early February 2019, WinSport said it didn’t have the necessary funding to finish a renovation of the sliding track. At that time, according to CBC, WinSport said it needed an additional $8 million.  

Demolition of the first five corners of the 1988 Olympic track began in 2019.

WinSport confirmed on Thursday that the $10 million was reallocated.

To date, they’ve been unable to raise the remaining capital to fund the sliding track project. The time frame to use the $10 million from the province was set to expire, according to WinSport President and CEO Barry Heck.

“In an effort to keep the funds for capital projects at COP, we worked with the Government of Alberta to reallocate the $10 million to the day lodge project, WinSport’s highest capital priority, instead of requiring us to return the funds,” he said in a prepared release.

“While we appreciate that this is difficult news for the sliding sports community, we are thankful that the Government of Alberta agreed to reallocate this money to serve hundreds of thousands of athletes and the community, instead of requiring us to return it.”

Transparency and communication a problem: Luge Canada

Sam Edney, four-time Olympian in luge, silver medallist in the 2018 Pyeongchang team relay event, and high-performance director of Luge Canada said this puts Canada’s sliding programs in crisis.

Edney said they’ve had little, if any, communication with WinSport on the matter.

“It was always us having to connect with them and sort of pry any information from WinSport on this,” Edney told LiveWire Calgary

“Here’s another stage of this process where again, we’re left sort of in the dark on the entire thing.”

He also said they were led to believe the funding expiry was 2024, giving WinSport more time to find the remaining $8 million for the sliding track project.

Edney said this leaves the sliding sports without 50 per cent of their training facilities.

“We’re losing a facility that is world class that is an ultimate piece of our of our recruitment and development,” he said.  

The other sliding track location is Whistler, B.C.  Edney said it’s isolated, it’s not a major centre like Calgary. There are support facilities in the city, including access to post-secondary, affordable housing and other training facilities.

“(Calgary’s) an extremely livable city in terms of attracting athletes to come here and live here,” Edney said.

Major event needed for cash infusion

Earlier this week, during the Frank King announcement, Alberta Culture Minister Ron Orr suggested that there was a potential bid in the works for another Calgary Olympics.

That could obviously lead to further investment in winter sports infrastructure.

Winsport said the track replacement is still in their capital plans.

“Our capital projects are prioritized, and the day lodge has long been our number one priority,” said Heck.

“The day lodge is critical to WinSport’s year-round operations and the future viability and sustainability of COP, affecting hundreds of thousands of annual users and guests, including athletes of all ages and abilities.”

While Edney said he’s not aware of any new Olympic bids, that’s what it will likely take to see cash for a revamped track. He said 2026 was a missed opportunity to capture some of that capital.

“The sad reality is the longer this track stays that stagnant, I think the more unlikely it comes back online,” he said.

Bottom line, with communication they could have prepared.

“If WinSport were upfront with us in the first place, and a bit more free with their information, then we’d be able to better assess our future and plan for the future,” Edney said.