A new non-profit organization will support the sport sector in the Kootenays.
PacificSport Columbia Basin was formalized in October but is doing its public launch this week.
Executive director James Brotherhood of Rossland says they want to encourage participation by underrepresented groups in athletics and to support athletes from the grassroots and all the way up to the Olympics.
It’s one of nine similar organizations in the province that belong to the Regional Sport Alliance, six of whom are also branded PacificSport,. They are primarily funded by viaSport and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sports to grow and develop sports sector
“We want to make sure athletes from our region have every opportunity to achieve success,” Brotherhood says. “We know the benefits of sport participation are well proven, so how do we make sure more people can experience those benefits, especially groups that are traditionally underrepresented in sport?”
Brotherhood says their goal is to decrease barriers that prevent those groups from participating, including girls, who drop out at much higher rates than boys during adolescence, as well as LGBTQ+, First Nations, and newcomers.
“All of these groups can certainly benefit and do benefit from sport participation,” Brotherhood says. “If we can increase the number participating, our communities will thrive, as will they.”
He says their priorities include working with local sports organizations on policy, coach training, and securing access to gyms and other facilities for high-performance athletes.
There are about 75 high-performance athletes within the region, five of whom attended the Beijing Olympics last year.
“We’re punching above our weight on a per capita level with the rest of the province,” Brotherhood says. “We had a great winter with lots of Nordic skiers and alpine skiers having excellent seasons.”
He says about 65 per cent of the athletes in question are excelling in winter sports. Freestyle skiing hotbeds are emerging in the East Kootenay, while alpine skiing has a rich history throughout the region, and the Nordic skiing scene in Revelstoke, Kimberley, and Rossland is “producing a ton of talent.”
However, he adds there are plenty of summer sports in the mix with many track athletes and Castlegar and Nelson emerging as boxing centres. A few triathletes are also on the cusp of achieving international levels.
Their first community partnership was secured recently with Trail, which will provide its facilities at the aquatic and leisure centre free to targeted athletes. Brotherhood said they are hoping to develop similar partnerships across the region.
Three-time Olympian Emily Brydon, an alpine skier from Fernie, is the vice-chair of PacificSport Columbia Basin.
“I firmly believe in the power of sport to enrich communities and changes lives,” she said in a news release. “I am thrilled to be involved in this important organization and look forward to the positive impact we will have on children, youth and communities through our work.”
PacificSport said nearly half of kids in Grades 5-8 in the Columbia Basin participate in organized sports delivered by over 250 volunteer-led sports organizations, 82 schools, and more than 1,700 coaches and officials.