Canada's Olympic curlers and the power of the private sector

Many governments subsidize their Olympic curlers. In Canada, the private sector steps in.

Jae C. Hong/AP
Canada's Carolyn Darbyshire delivers the stone during a women's curling match against Great Britain at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics on Feb. 23. Despite a lack of government support, Canada's private sector supports top curlers.

As I have watched the curling from the 2010 Olympics, I have heard several of the commentators tell us that so-and-so from such-and-such country is a full-time curler. S/he is sponsored by their government and unlike Canadian curlers does not have to have another job to support themselves. There is always a whinging, wistful tone to such pronouncements, suggesting that in Canada we should also provide government financing for our top curlers.

I find this tone and its implications offensive for two important reasons:

  • It ignores the considerable sponsorship and prize money for curling that is provided by the private sector in Canada. Top curlers earn an acceptable (though probably not luxurious) living when their winnings and sponsorships are added up. This private support for curling in Canada is monumentally greater than the private support for curlers in other countries.
  • If the government were to provide support for Canadian curlers, who should receive that support? Only the top teams? If so, how might the gubmnt bureaucrats determine which are the best teams? And keep in mind that the fourth best team in Alberta could well be considerably better (and more likely to win on the international level) than the best teams from some of the other provinces. Governments are notoriously bad at "picking winners" in other industries, and I see no reason for them to be any more successful at picking winners in sports.

In fact, one might well argue that one of the several reasons for Canadian success in curling (aside from years of practice and inculcation) is that curlers in Canada must compete for sponsorship and prize money. Those who aren't very good don't receive much money; those who are better tend to receive more money. There is a huge incentive to improve one's game.

I doubt if these arguments would apply to all Olympic sports, but they certainly are important when discussing sponsorship for curlers (and probably most other sports for which private sponsorship and prize money are sizable).

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