Minister of Sport & Persons With Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough.

“Canada lived it in 2010”

By Ray Hudson


Canada’s Paralympian team enters the Olympic Stadium in Rio
Canada’s Paralympian team enters the Olympic Stadium in Rio.

A year ago, Carla Qualtrough was the Liberal candidate campaigning in the last few weeks before the October 19 federal election. Since that time, the Paralympian swimmer, mother of four, Delta-based lawyer specializing in Human Rights and Sports, has become the Member of Parliament for Delta and Minister of Sport and People with Disabilities in the Trudeau cabinet. Her twenty-five year path from being a medal winner at the Paralympics and the Pan Am Games seemed to come full circle as she traveled to Rio de Janeiro last month, as Canada’s Minister of Sport. This week she returned to Rio for the Paralympic Games as the Minister of Sport and the Minister for People with Disabilities.  Ray Hudson spoke with her about her journey and what it has meant for her.

“It’s a pretty unique opportunity as a Canadian athlete, to stand on the podium, with the maple leaf, and represent your country. It’s a big deal, and to be going back twenty-five years later and cheering on our athletes at the Olympics and the Paralympics is a super big deal.
In terms of my personal journey, I owe a lot of my current success to my time as an athlete. The lessons you learn as a high performance athlete are transferable. You learn about determination, about hard work and commitment. All those lessons apply in other parts of your life and for me it has worked pretty well.”

Qualtrough said it was a unique opportunity that the Prime Minister gave her responsibility for her two life’s passions: her commitment to sport and her advocacy for people with disabilities.

“We’ve never really had a minister responsible for sports and persons with disabilities, and the message that just my title alone is sending to Canadians with disabilities is historic.”

Minister of Sport & Persons With Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough.
Minister of Sport & Persons With Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough.

Combined Planning for Olympic and Paralympic Games

She said the next big event happened when the Olympic and Paralympic movements combined planning for the Barcelona games in 1992, following a directive from the International Olympic Committee.

“If you’re going to host the games you will host both games using one organizing committee which is easier and much better for economies of scale because they would now be looking at a functional area for both games right away,” Qualtrough said.

Media coverage: Olympic versus Paralympic Games

“The media piece is an on-going challenge but it’s getting better. Media is driven by interest. The more Canadians want to see paralympic sports the more paralympic sports they will see. CBC is covering more Olympic sports than ever before, but the Paralympic coverge won’t be the same as what we saw of the Olympics. The broadcast rights work very differently. Where the CBC had to pay the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Canadian Olympic Committee for the broadcast rights, on the paralympic side the Canadian Paralympic Committee has to give CBC money in order to augment their broadcast. It’s market driven and the market just isn’t there yet.”

Qualtrough commented that the video profile of the athletes is very powerful in building awareness and interest.

“I think corporate sponsors are realizing the value of showcasing the Paralympic athletes in sport and so you’ll see many of the joint sponsor ads will have both an Olympic and Paralympic athlete in them. I think that in some ways corporate sponsorship and interest in Paralympic sports may drive increased media around it because media will think if their sponsors think it will increase their productivity and viewership, maybe they should get on board as well.”

Finding, Funding and developing Paralympic athlete candidates

“At the national level we have a policy on how we fund athletes for Olympic and Paralympic sports. We don’t differentiate at Sport Canada, at the Federal Government, in terms of how we fund sport. That has, over time trickled down to the provinces and the local level. Is it equitable? Not quite yet but we’re working on it. It’s an interesting dilemma in terms of how to best attract kids with disabilities versus attracting people who may have acquired their disability later in life. It’s a very different feeder system which creates some very challenging coaching and training scenarios in high performance situations which are unique to Paralympic sport.”

What to expect from the Rio Paralympic Team

What is neat for me and what is slightly different than on the Olympic side this year is that the Paralympic Team is in more of a transition because a lot of our veterans retired right after London, so this is a young team. I think this is more of a ‘rebuilding’ games for the Paralymic Team than it was for our Olympic Team. That being said we have some strong veterans like Benoit Huot. We have a phenomenal team in the pool, in wheelchair basketball, rugby, boccia, so our team is going to perform very well. And wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby are fantastic sports.

The Legacy: What do the games leave behind when everyone has gone and attention is focused on South Korea or the next major competition?

“We’ve heard a bit of negative around what kind of experience it’s going to be. Certainly it will not be without its challenges, but what we’ll see coming out of Rio will be world-class athletic performances. We’ll see records broken, we’ll see split second competitions, but the legacy the Paralympic Games will leave for Rio and Brazil will be transformative. Vancouver lived it at the 2010 games, Toronto lived it at the Pan American games last year. You cannot host a Paralympic Games and not have transformative change around the social attitudes toward people with disabilities. When you go to China now, people with disabilities are more visible on the streets, they’re more accepted in their communities, because Beijing hosted the Paralymic games in 2008. You’ll have the same thing happen in Rio. Whatever negative, whatever challenges we faced in hosting the games, the legacy is undeniable and I think for Rio it’s going to be wonderful.