Next time you watch the Sochi Olympics, consider what it took for the athletes you see to get all the way to the peak. You could think of the robust physique needed to conquer a sport, but spare another thought for the financing needed to bring an athlete from the beginning of training to the top podium of their sport.
Did you think that corporate and state sponsors shoulder everything for Olympic athletes striving for greatness, or that the Games themselves provide for the athletes?
Think again. The average Olympic athlete needs to spend eight hours a day, seven days a week, to maintain the level of excellence required to compete at the highest level of sport. It is a merciless full-time job that doesn’t pay the athletes very well, as reaching the Olympic Games requires large travel, training, and equipment costs, and the Games do not provide monetary prizes for athletes beyond some local committees awarding performance bonuses for medals—Canada, for example, will provide $20,000 for a Canadian gold medal.
Athletes are therefore dependant on sponsorship to survive. The traditional top-down approach has been that if companies could embed their logo onto your story, or if the state believed you have a good chance of bolstering national pride, money would flow towards you. If not, you were left on your own. Your dream was assumed to be dead.
It is the internet—the empowering force facilitating individual agents acting collectively—that has redefined what options you have once you face nothing more than a dead dream, and a crowd to pitch it to. The famous Jamaican bobsled team went to the Internet and raised enough dogecoins (an alternative to bitcoins based on the infamous internet doge meme) for their trip to Sochi. It was a beautiful bottom-up moment where one crowd-generated meme became a viable means of financial support for another.
A similar consonance resonates with Montreal startup MAKEACHAMP.com, which has sent six Canadian athletes to the Sochi Olympics. It is a crowdfunding startup for athletes, founded by athletes who were looking for a way forward on their dream without relying on government or corporate support.
David Ancor and Michael Shpigelman are top practitioners in a lean sport. Big money follows the big “national” sports, leaving precious little for athletes passionate about anything else. Competing in the highest level in judo was their passion, and with their backs against the wall, they created a crowdfunding platform for their dead dreams, so that they might live again.
David earnestly takes on growing MAKEACHAMP.com and practicing his judo skills so that he remains at the top of his sport. He is helped in this regards by his co-founder Michael, and their veteran CEO David Barkay: the team they have assembled is dynamic, and keenly aware of the challenges facing athletes. David knows above all else the importance of fighting to achieve one’s goals, having steadfastly vanquished his fights in the ring, and outside of it.
In time, with the team’s determination, and hard work, MAKEACHAMP.com has helped many other athletes with that same fight. Starting with a few local crowdfunding campaigns, they have now raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for amateurs starting to explore their dream, and professionals looking to trace their path to the pinnacle. Recently featured on Dragon’s Den, their passion project has continued to shine.
Just a week ago, they raised a record $18,000 for Elli Terwiel, a professional Canadian skier. Only a year after Vancouver, which she spent on the Developmental Team, Elli’s dreams of competing at the highest level seemed to fade as she tore several major muscles, and received a massive bone bruise on her femur. The National Ski Team rejected her, and she was left to fend on her own.
With only her mom and her dad as sponsors for her Olympic bid, she turned to MAKEACHAMP.com to raise the $15,000 needed to cover her national fees. She picked up Tourism Sun Peak as a sponsor, and they helped create rewards for contributors to her crowdfunding campaign. Together with the numerous funders on the MAKEACHAMP platform, Elli raised $18,000, and she is now enjoying the fruits of her hard work in Sochi, her dream revived and ready to inspire a future generation of athletes.
Her dream does not stand alone. The MAKEACHAMP crowdfunding platform has also brought Brianne Tutt, a skater who recovered from a fractured skull, Atsuko Tanaka, one of the first competitors in the new Olympic female ski jump event, Brittany Phelan, a veteran member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, and Jen Olson, a mountain guide who mountain climbs professionally, to the verdant peaks of Sochi. Kelsey Serwa, a World and X-Games champion in ski cross, is aiming for gold at Sochi, and she directed funders towards her bursary fund for high school athletes excelling in both academics and athletics, so that her dream, and theirs, might shine bright.
The profound innovation that marks sports crowdfunding was embedded in all of these examples. These athletes were not targeted, or chosen out of a lineup of different dreams. The MAKEACHAMP team did not approach them explicitly for a Sochi-themed campaign. Instead, they had heard from other athletes about the power of sports crowdfunding, and they organically flowed into the platform to pitch their dreams of making the podium to the crowd.
The Canadian government seeks to own the podium with a top-down approach, without your direct participation. The team behind MAKEACHAMP.com want to work with you to build champions from the ground up. They want you to contribute your money with them, so that funding can be made available to make the dreams of all Canadian athletes live—and there’s really no reason why you can’t start now.