Besides sprinting and stopping soccer balls and doing laps of the pool, four Canadian athletes are going to have to sharpen their lobbying and diplomacy skills over the next Olympic quadrennial.
The Canadian Olympic Committee announced Thursday that four athletes have been elected by their peers to join the COC Athletes' Commission, which represents the needs of athletes within the COC. The new members include sprinter Oluseyi Smith, soccer goalie Erin McLeod, swimmer Mike Brown and high jumper Nicole Forrester.
"I don't think you can ever complain about the sport system unless you try to fix it. So, it's important to have athletes who are willing to put in the time to make the system go from good to great," said commission chair Deirdre Dionne, a retired aerials skier who won an Olympic bronze medal in 2002.
The commission represents the needs and voices of athletes to the COC's board of directors. That means they make sure the athletes' perspective is considered when the board makes policy and program decisions, such as Olympic team selection, athlete funding and helping athletes adjust to life after retirement.
Sometimes athletes can feel like their needs aren't being met, Dionne said, whether that means having to sacrifice training time for promotional reasons, or feeling lost after retirement – especially if they didn't have a great Olympic performance. One of the biggest impacts the commission has been helping to create an athletes services department within the COC. Staff do outreach with athletes and their families, making sure that they're know what services are available to them before and after the Games.
"We're working very hard, and [the COC] is working very hard, to make sure that athletes leave Olympic sport wanting to give back, as opposed to thinking: I was just a commodity."
The commission consists of 12 current and retired athletes from winter and summer sports (Two members are appointed by commission members; 10 are elected). Each athlete on the commission serves a four-year term. After each summer and winter Olympics, athletes can nominate themselves for a spot on the commission. The rest of Canada's Olympic squad is then asked to vote on the nominees. This year, 15 names were put forward for four possible openings.
Some of the incumbent members include kayaker and four-time Olympic medalist Adam van Koeverden, 2012 Olympic silver medalist rower Andréanne Morin, and freestyle skier Steve Omischl.
"The athletes are at the core of everything we do," COC president Marcel Aubut said in a release. "Their voice is absolutely crucial to our work, ensuring that Canadian athletes have everything they need to compete against the best in the world and win."