Giving Indigenous athletes a leg up

By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

One of Canada’s biggest financial institutions has expanded a program aimed at targeting potential Olympic athletes to Indigenous athletes as they prepare for the 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).

The RBC Training Ground program will work with provincial delegations to host custom testing events with a number of provincial delegations — including Alberta and Saskatchewan — as those athletes prep for the 2023 NAIG competitions. 

RBC is also in discussions with other provincial associations – including Quebec – and it would involve taking the testing to them “to make it accessible as possible,” RBC spokesperson Brianne Somerville said.

“Each provincial team gathers its athletes several weeks before the actual games, for an orientation session to help them prepare. These gatherings are where we will set up RBC Training Ground testing, with the same equipment and sport officials as at other testing events happening across the country,” she said. “This will of course be free and specifically for the athletes who will be representing their province at NAIG.”

The CEO of the NAIG host society said he was glad to have the corporate support for Indigenous athletes competing on the national stage.

“We are pleased to welcome RBC as a major partner of NAIG 2023,” said NAIG host society CEO Brendon Smithson. “The games help Indigenous youth to realize their collective potential of their bodies, minds and spirits. We’re appreciative of RBC’s commitment to help improve the quality of life, and overall health and well-being of Indigenous athletes, individuals and communities.”

An RBC vice-president said helping Indigenous athletes chase their competitive dreams is key to the company’s mission.

“We recognize that Indigenous athletes in Canada experience barriers to participating in sport. We hope that by bringing RBC Training Ground to regional NAIG events, we’re making it easier for Indigenous athletes to chase their Olympic dreams,” Shannon Cole said. “We truly believe in the power of sport to unite and inspire our communities, and we look forward to working with new sport partners and communities to continue to develop the next generation of Team Canada.”

RBC Training Ground is an athletic talent identification program dedicated to finding and funding Canada’s future Olympians. Thirteen athletes who were discovered and funded through RBC Training Ground have competed at the 2020 and 2022 Olympic Games, including three Olympic medallists. It was developed in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee .

At each qualifying event this year, participants will perform speed, strength, power, and endurance benchmark testing in front of National Sport Organizations (NSO) partners. New NSO partners Boxing Canada, Climbing Escalade Canada, Triathlon Canada and Wrestling Canada Lutte join other partners such as Cycling Canada and Rowing Canada to discover athletes for their national teams.

Following the national final later this year where 100 hopefuls will compete, the top 30 athletes will be selected as RBC future Olympians to receive funding, mentorship, and other resources to pursue their Olympic dreams.

“RBC Training Ground has proven to be a valuable incubator for Team Canada,” said Canadian Olympic Committee chief sport officer Eric Myles. “Alongside our sport partners, we are so proud to be part of this incredible program. It’s important that more athletes from Indigenous communities get the opportunity to compete on the national and international stage, and we’re looking forward to watching this next generation of athletes pursue their Olympic dreams.”

Since its inception in 2016, RBC Training Ground has tested 12,000 athletes across Canada, with more than 1,600 athletes being identified by National Sport Organizations as having Olympic potential.