John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Public funding of stadiums should come with a caveat

A scale model of Quebec's proposed hockey arena.

David Asper made an articulate argument for the public funding of stadiums in today’s National Post, that focused on sport’s role in culture and how athletics should be treated as the equal of art and drama.

Asper, a guest contributor to the Post, is a law professor at the University of Manitoba as well as a successful businessman who is spearheading the movement for a new community-owned football stadium in Winnipeg.

However, Asper’s argument is framed in the context of the proposed hockey arena in Quebec City that would help bring the National Hockey League back to the capital of la Belle Provence. His article supports Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent declaration that the federal government would consider aiding the project.

 “Governments at all levels in Canada have an easy time providing billions of dollars annually toward artists and their cultural organizations — many of which are just as ‘professional’ as NHL athletes and teams,” writes Asper.

“Similarly, governments often have little or no problem funding concert halls, theatres, art galleries and other bricks-and-mortar venues where cultural events are performed.”

Although Asper’s clearly got a bit of a bias, he makes a compelling argument. There’s no denying that sport is a part of culture and that all levels of government support artistic enterprises in the name of improving society and contributing to Canada’s collective heritage.

Of course, Asper is conveniently forgetting the fact that the Harper government controversially cut back  support to the arts not so long ago and that although there are some musicians, filmmakers and artists who make a healthy living, there are just as many who do not. Professional sports, particularly an NHL franchise in Canada, would be a different animal.

Despite that glaring flaw in his article, it is undeniable that Asper has a point – sport is certainly a worthwhile investment for all levels of government, not just for cultural reasons but also because it encourages healthier lifestyles in citizens.

But those financially allotments should always come with community-oriented strings attached.

These projects shouldn’t just be about generating tourist income and a sense of civic pride – they should also be used to create facilities and programs that can be shared by the public and to encourage athletics at the amateur and recreational levels.

For example, the City of Toronto did well when they agreed to support the creation of BMO Field on the condition that its soccer pitch would also be used for local recreational leagues.

Unfortunately, Toronto City Council’s lawyers didn’t read the fine print just right and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment blocked the oft-discussed possibility of moving the Argonauts to BMO Field.

But the stadium is used for recreational soccer leagues and has turned the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds into a hub of activity year-round.  The city also got the added bonus of having MLSE, along with the Toronto Nationals of Major League Lacrosse, rehabilitate Lamport Stadium, revitalizing a wreck of a facility that is also being used for amateur sports.

That is how governmental sponsorship of stadiums, arenas and professional sports can pay off - by insuring that these professional teams partner with their local communities to implement athletic programs that will grow sports at the grassroots level. It engages the community, creates fans and helps to develop a unified civic culture.