New Athletics Canada CEO Mat Gentes says priority is to develop sport at grassroots

·3 min read

Growing track and field at the grassroots level, and finding the funds to do so, are at the top of Mat Gentes' priority list.

The longtime employee of Athletics Canada was named its chief executive officer on Thursday, and said the organization needs to find ways to attract kids to the sport, and keep them.

"If we don't build out the bottom of that pyramid, how can we develop and nurture the next Damians and Andres and Marissas?" Gentes said.

Damian Warner, of course, won decathlon gold, and sprinter Andre De Grasse won gold, silver and bronze at last summer's Tokyo Olympics, while Marissa Papaconstantinou captured bronze in the 100 metres at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Gentes, formerly Athletics Canada's COO, was a big part of the organization's revamped strategic plan through 2028 that was announced a year ago, and much of the work now, he said, is around funding.

"Looking at things like, how do we improve our (merchandise) program? How do we make our events more profitable? Fundraising is something that we haven't really done much of, so can we look at some fundraising models that can help bring some more money into the sport?" he said in a phone interview Thursday.

"So that's kind of my focus right now is looking at that structure and seeing how to bring some additional dollars in so we can address some of the gaps that we have. It's not an unsimilar refrain than where a lot of other sports find themselves in. As they say misery loves company, but the idea is to come up with some outside-the-box thinking to solve that riddle."

Gentes was appointed interim CEO in January after Dave Bedford resigned days after complaints about his sexually graphic Twitter exchanges.

He first joined Athletics Canada in a media relations role in 2005.

"It's nice to see an (national sport organization) and a board of directors support somebody internally through the years to lead an organization, there's always a tendency to go and get the shiny thing somewhere else," Gentes said.

Canada's track and field team has enjoyed success in recent years, capturing eight medals at the 2015 world championships and five at the 2019 worlds. On the Olympic stage, Canada won six medals in both 2016 and 2020.

Gentes said because track and field "is such a finicky sport," there's no medal goal for 2024 in Paris; the target is to finish higher than last summer in Tokyo, where the Canadian team was fifth overall on the placings table.

"With injuries and just the level of competition in the lineup in the 100 metres — there's like literally 200 other countries vying for those three medals — we typically are trying to do better than the last time."

At the 2017 world championships in London, Canada won zero medals after De Grasse withdrew from an injury, and about a dozen athletes were hit with a stomach virus, including Warner.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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