Master Anthony Tomlinson was a taekwondo, kung fu, and kick boxing coach at his school in Whitby, A.T Martial Arts. He had been teaching for 30 years. However, he also had a dream of being one of the first Canadian taekwondo Olympians. When Anthony was just one year away from competing in the 1989 Olympics, he got into a car accident.
Driving back from his bouncer job in Toronto, Anthony’s car got hit by a drunk driver from the rear. His back was wrecked, but he survived. However, his dreams of competing in the Olympics died within the wreckage of that car.
Unable to attend because of his accident, Anthony passed his dream down to his son Adam. Adam has always had a passion for taekwondo and has been training since he was four. His father’s accident was Adam’s final push in becoming an Olympian. He vowed to make it to the Olympics as a way of keeping his father’s dream alive.
Little did he know that 17 years after he began training, Adam would still be in Canada. He still hasn’t set foot in the Olympics gymnasiums, despite winning 3 Canadian championships, because of Ontario’s inadequate financial support to its national athletes.
There is an explanation why we keep seeing Quebec athletes in the Olympics. The provincial government has 13 funding options listed for their athletes. In comparison, Ontario has one. The Quest for Gold.
The Quest for Gold is a federal carding system set up by the government to support athletes who rank high provincially, nationally, and internationally. The amount given to athletes can range from $5,000 to $8,000 per year. Still, the funding can’t be provided if athletes can’t prove themselves. But athletes can’t prove themselves provincially, nationally, or internationally if they can’t afford to get there.
Not being able to prove themselves also means athletes can’t receive some of the $67 million allocated to Own the Podium. Own the Podium is an organization that funds athletes and teams based on their likelihood of earning medals, an approach called “targeted excellence.”
“You could be the best athlete in the world,” said Tomlinson. “But nobody’s going to ever know because you can’t afford to leave your country. I find myself in that problem too.”
Tomlinson had to pay his way through every competition he’s been in. So far, he’s spent more than $50,000. With his most recent visit to Montreal for his Canadian Championship, Tomlinson paid over $500 out of his own pocket; none of which he was reimbursed despite being on the Ontario provincial team. Spending that much money is not always an option when, just like Adam, you’re working three jobs and paying your way through college.
There is no doubt Tomlinson deserves to be funded by the government. Currently, he is Ontario’s undefeated taekwondo champion across all divisions for three years in a row. He is the number one taekwondo university-athlete in all of Canada. He won gold in the 2013 Junior Pan Am games in Mexico. He just won a bronze medal at the Canadian Championship last weekend. And he is only 20 years old.
However, Tomlinson has not received one cent from the government.
You could be the best athlete in the world, but nobody’s going to ever know because you can’t afford to leave your country.
“There are so many countries around the world that have terrific support for their athletes,” said Tomlinson, pointing towards the United Kingdom, which gives its athletes $45,190 in financial support annually, according to the Globe and Mail. The UK also provides national coaches, nutritionists, and facilities such physio and rehab for its athletes. “In Canada – we don’t, and it shows in the results internationally.”
Canada has sent one taekwondo fighter to the Olympics. Last year, Melissa Pagnotta, did not place.
But the problem with athlete funding isn’t just an international one. It exists within Canada as well. Yet comparison between Ontario and other provinces isn’t possible, as the numbers seem to be hidden away behind a veil of cluelessness. Provincial taekwondo organizations and coaches do not have the numbers. Every inquiring phone call leads to a dead end.
In comparison to Ontario’s $5,000 annually, we know nothing of what taekwondo athletes receive in other provinces. We only hear tales of athletes in places like Quebec advancing to the Olympics and articles reassuring that the funding is greater. Ontario athletes are only left to assume.
“A lot of guys from Quebec – they have more incentive to fight, because there’s more support,” said Tomlinson.
Tomlinson feels his sport is left out of the financial support that Ontario provides to other athletes.
“In Ontario, I’d say more of the funding probably goes to sports like hockey,” he said. “But when it comes to sports like the Olympics where we are not necessarily ‘professionalized’ like these other sports, there’s nothing really there for us.”
Tomlinson points to how the hockey industry was reported in 2015 to be worth more than $11 billion annually, according to Canadian Business. In comparison, stats on taekwondo spending aren’t even being collected.
There’s nothing really there for us.
“Everybody in Canada wants Canadians to be the best at hockey. Whereas taekwondo, do we really want to be the best, or are we just sort of doing with what we can and trying to make a business off of it? I’m really leaning towards the latter.”
For most of athletes in Canada, their chances at competing internationally lies in the sponsorships they receive. 2003 pole vault world champion Shawn Barber signed a deal with Nike in 2015. Also, 21-year-old track champion Andre De Grasse signed a contract with Puma worth $11.25 million which “lifted a lot of stress from his shoulders.”
Tomlinson received no such sponsorships.
Realistically, he would like to compete in five international championships per year in order to make it to the Olympics. With his current financial state, he can afford to go to one or two.
Even Provincial Director Rommell Cabanatan says the current funding received by Ontario athletes is inadequate to help them reach Olympic success.
“If they’re not getting funded at the senior [level] (17 years and above) and if they’re not getting financial support, then they may just quit the sport,” said Cabanatan. “So we start losing them before they move on to the next stage.”
According to Cabanatan, athletes need to be able to compete at about seven international competitions per year in order to secure a place in the Olympics. However, $5,000 only covers the cost of about one international open.
We start losing [athletes] before they move on to the next stage.
Cabanatan says even the coaches don’t know the solution or the exact number of money required to make these athletes more successful.
“You can’t put a cap on what you think is enough,” he said. “More is always going to be better.”
This funding uncertainty seems to be sending athletes like Adam in circles. Having to decide between providing for yourself or representing Canada in a sport isn’t a choice many people would like to make. Sometimes, the real choice they face is whether they should leave the province. Or worse, move south of the border.
But the hope of athletes remaining loyal to the province is alive in people like Adam. Moving away from Ontario was never an option to him.
“I’ve never thought about that. Toronto is my home. I would rather stick with Ontario and give hope to athletes in Ontario than just kind of conform to Quebec. “
Still, Adam can’t help but think of what it’s like to be an athlete in someplace like Quebec or the United States.
I would rather stick with Ontario and give hope to athletes in Ontario than just kind of conform to Quebec. “
“I would say the biggest disappointment for me was when I graduated high school, he said.” “I won a business bursary, I won a philosophy bursary, I had honor roll, and I won the Pan Am championship and Canadian championship that year – I got zero scholarships. I know for a fact if I was in the United States and I was doing football or hockey or something like that and I had those sort of credentials, I would be getting a full scholarship to the best university.”
The car crash that injured Master Anthony Tomlinson was the road block in his Olympic career. But to athletes like Adam, the road block to his Olympic path is no drunk driver. It’s the government.