Supporting Canadian Athletes

Dan Thompson

In the early 1990s, current Swimming Canada President Dan Thompson was one of the recently retired athletes who sat around Ann Peel’s kitchen table and created the Canadian Athletes Association, now called AthletesCAN.

A former swimmer and captain of the national swim team, Dan was always engaged in team issues and got involved with AthletesCAN to help give athletes a voice.

“We felt that we needed to be a group that spoke for athletes,” says Dan, who was co-chair of the provisional board with Ann and remained involved with the organization until 1996. “We needed a consistent voice for athletes and an ability to lobby key stakeholders with one voice.”

Once that voice was in place, the impact was immediate.

“We were directly responsible for the athlete arbitration process in Canada,” Dan says. “And we created opportunities for athletes while they were competing and in transition to retirement.”

Born and raised in the Toronto-area, Dan graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in physical and health education.

He began swimming at age 17 when he came off the golf course one day to find a swim meet underway at the club. He jumped in the pool, swam a couple of races and was subsequently invited to join a local swim club. Four years later he made the national team.

“I got hooked,” Dan says of swimming.

Dan’s specialty was the 100m butterfly and he went undefeated in this event in five years of OUAA and CIAU competition. During his career, Dan set 14 butterfly records: eight Canadian open, three Commonwealth, and three Commonwealth Games.

Captain of the 1980 Olympic team, Dan missed out on his only chance to compete at the Olympics when Canada boycotted the Games in Moscow in response to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.

“I was disappointed at the time, but I always tell people not to feel sorry for me,” says Dan. “Sport was a fantastic experience and this was just a bump in the road.”

His international accomplishments include two silver medals at the 1977 World Student Games, two silver medals at the 1979 Pan Am Games, two gold medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and a gold medal at the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

Dan’s contributions out of the pool include being national team captain from 1978-81, board member of the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association and for several years an athlete representative on the board of the Canadian Olympic Association.

Away from athlete leadership for a while, Dan decided to run for the board of directors of Swimming Canada in 2004 after seeing how athletes were behaving and performing at the Athens Olympics.

“It was the ME attitude—the putting yourself before your sport,” he says of what upset him. “Athlete rights can sometimes go too far.”

Dan feels that athletes have a responsibility to not just perform in competition and training, but to reach beyond and give back to the sports and communities that have helped them get to where they are.

“It’s not like it was… athletes are doing okay these days,” Dan says. “It’s not about me the athlete, it’s about me and how I can contribute to sport in Canada. Athletes need to leave their sport giving back what was given to them. They need to create a legacy for future sport generations.”

Dan has observed a real problem with communities believing that sport and sport infrastructure are elitist and feels community outreach is an avenue AthletesCAN should pursue in an effort to help change this perception.

“I would love AthletesCAN to become a catalyst to help Canadians understand the value of sport and how it enriches and develops a person’s character and skills,” he says. “There is a belief that new facilities are built for the benefit of elite sport and not for the community. We need to promote the fact that to have world class communities we have to have world class facilities.”

For Dan, AthletesCAN greatest accomplishment was that its creation changed the whole culture of athletes in Canada.

“It was very neat because it was all very new and it spun a whole new breed of athletes who care,” he says. “Most athletes were just focused on their competitions and it was viewed as a cop out on the pursuit of excellence to get involved and explore their status in the sport community.”

His hope is that AthletesCAN continues to help that culture grow and strengthen now and in the future.

Dan currently works in Toronto and lives in Aurora, Ont. with his wife and two daughters. He has been president of Swimming Canada for the past three years.

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