The summer Olympics will soon commence in Beijing, and excitement is already building for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. As in the past, the University of Toronto will send several athletes and coaches to both events – a testament to our strong and proud Olympic legacy. At a recent Varsity Centre celebration, Brian Williams, the dean of Canadian sports broadcasters, introduced some 50 U of T athletes, coaches and medical staff who together had participated in every Summer Games since 1936. Over the past century more than 400 U of T community members have participated in the Olympics, winning a total of 94 medals, including 37 gold – a truly stunning record.
The Varsity event affirmed the university’s commitment to providing the best athletic facilities for all students. At the core of this commitment on the central campus are the new Varsity Centre andthe planned Goldring Centre for High-Performance Sport. The Goldring Centre has been very generously supported by the Goldring family of AGF fame with an $11-million gift. In late 2006, the University of Toronto Mississauga opened the Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre (RAWC), a spectacular facility with great sightlines and workout spaces. The University of Toronto Scarborough is now headed in a similar direction. Its playing fields already host the Varsity Blues baseball team, but a major fitness and recreation centre is very much on the radar of the U of T Scarborough leadership team. Why invest in athletics and recreation? The reasons are varied.
First, hosting nationally and internationally competitive athletes is a great way for the university to give back to its community. The Varsity Centre has a world-class track and playing field, and the new Goldring Centre will offer top-tier athletes access to outstanding coaching, sport specific and cross-training facilities and the David L. MacIntosh sports medicine clinic. As well, our Varsity Blues teams foster a sense of community and school spirit, engage students in campus events, and galvanize broader participation in sports and fitness. These young athletes can be great role models. Since 1995, nine Varsity Blues have won Rhodes Scholarships. And compared to the rest of the student body, U of T athletes are significantly more likely to achieve honours standing.
More generally, our students, staff and faculty all deserve up-to-date and welcoming athletics facilities. Working out is a great antidote to the stresses of university life and the sedentary nature of academic work. A vibrant and varied athletics program, including strong intramural teams, is a wonderful wayfor students to connect with each other and strive for excellence outside of the classroom.
In that regard, it’s important to remember that, whether at U of T Mississauga’s RAWC, the Goldring Centre or the Varsity complex, the vast majority of people who will use the new athletics facilities will be U of T students and community members, not top-tier athletes. These facilities will host a huge range of intramural sports, including badminton, lacrosse and Ultimate Frisbee, to name a few. We are already seeing students, staff and faculty incorporating workouts into their daily routines at U of T Mississauga. Downtown, our plans call for another way to engage students. Next to the Goldring Centre will be the new Student Commons, an exciting initiative led by the undergraduate student union. By aligning these facilities, we anticipate that many students will visit the Goldring Centre after class to work out, grab a bite to eat at the Student Commons, relax with friends, and then come back to the Goldring Centre to watch a volleyball or basketball game at the internationally certified field house. (We’ve received a wonderful benefaction to support and name that field house; stay tuned!)
On one level, of course, the university is simply upgrading out-of-date facilities to meet the needs of our intercollegiate and intramural programs. U of T has long boasted one of the largest and most successful university sports programs in North America. Today we have 45 men’s and women’s intercollegiate teams competing in 26 sports. (The university has been one of the forerunners in providing opportunities for women’s sports and was the first in Canada to create a gender equity program in athletics.) Recent football troubles notwithstanding, U of T teams have excelled in numerous sports for a long time. Our Varsity Blues swimmers hold the record for most consecutive championships – 32 – of any swim team in Canada. And since 1972, the women’s ice hockey team has captured a league-topping 17 Ontario conference championships.
The addition of the Goldring Centre and first-rate track and field at the Varsity Centre speak to a new level of commitment. We are proudly stepping up to help put Canadian athletes on medal podiums in the Summer Olympics. But here, too, we have history on our side. Olympic excellence is in U of T’s bloodstream. Many alumni will visit Uof T in June for convocation ceremonies. We hope you will take the time to visit Varsity Centre or RAWC and see for yourself what your university’s renewed commitment to athletics is all about.