By Dan Plouffe
As Mathieu Fleury settles into his seat for his first Ottawa Sport Summit as the City of Ottawa’s Sports Commissioner, he wants to encourage all local sports clubs to be engaged with his office and the Ottawa Sport Council.
“The Sport Summit is such an amazing opportunity to crack that involvement,” Fleury says of the Apr. 13 gathering at the Nepean Sailing Club. “So many have done so, but it’s about continuing that conversation, especially at such a crucial time.”
The reason now is a particularly important moment for local sports groups to be heard is because the City is currently starting to review its sports facilities and developing future plans. Determining what size pools, courts or fields should be, what upgrades are needed to current facilities, where new ones should be built, and then determining where they should target funds in the next 10-20 years, are amongst the objectives, Fleury explains.
Once a new community centre in Riverside South opens, the City’s strategy of focusing its funds on projects in major suburban areas will be complete, so it’s time to set the stage for what’s next, he notes.
“In the urban core, where we’ve also seen intensification, we haven’t seen new infrastructure,” adds the third-term Rideau-Vanier ward councillor. “We have that challenge and our infrastructure is outdated.”
Though he’s only been Sports Commissioner for a few months, Fleury isn’t the new guy who needs to be brought up to speed on local sports issues. A founding director with the Ottawa Sport Council – created as an umbrella organization to represent local sports groups at City Hall – Fleury recognized sports facility development needed to be a top priority of his. It represents a bit of a shift for the 5-year-old Sports Commissioner role, initially focused heavily on attracting national and international events in collaboration with Ottawa Tourism.
“(Event attraction) is an important pillar that I own and appreciate,” says the University of Ottawa human kinetics grad. “But you have to work downstream. You have to have the local facilities and the experience hosting local events to be able to aspire for the national ones.
“We saw that clearly with our bid for the Canada Summer Games (Niagara won the right to host the 2021 edition over Ottawa). When we debriefed the bid, part of our challenge is that the facilities just aren’t up to par.”
Fleury has created a small advisory group “to really inform me, make sure that we’re meeting with the right people, and that we’re not working in silos.” The group includes the athletic directors at uOttawa, Carleton & Algonquin.
“I think the fertile ground, in partnership with the City, is our colleges and universities,” signals Fleury, noting the possibility of strategic collaborations to develop facilities that can ensure the Gee-Gees, Ravens and Thunder continue to excel, that can host high-level competitions, and that local sports clubs and the general population can also have access to.
The advisory group also includes representatives from Ottawa Tourism and the Ottawa Sport Council. OSC executive director Marci Morris says she was pleased to see how the Sports Commissioner job has morphed to determine how to make existing sport in the city stronger.
“For us, that’s phenomenal news,” Morris indicates. “It’s what we need.”
She’s also enthusiastic to have Fleury shine the light on the role of sport in the city at the council table.
“There are so many really big challenges in our city and often sport – which helps build the fabric of our community – gets lost,” Morris adds. “Having someone taking that stance that sport is a really positive community-builder, so let’s put some real attention into looking at that, I think is only going to make the sector stronger, which in turn – and most importantly – will make our community stronger.”
Fleury, 33, has experienced the positive impact of sport from his early days playing baseball and hockey, serving as a lifeguard, discovering a wide range of sports during his high school years at Franco-Cité, and volunteering in support roles for Canadian Olympic teams.
He’s eager to connect with many more sportspeople in the near future, recognizing his group of expert advisors could have easily numbered in the hundreds.
“I want to hear from the coaches, I want to hear from the administrators, I want to hear from the parents, I want to hear from the athletes,” underlines Fleury, who has a 1-and-a-half-year-old son named Jacob with his wife Lai.
“I want to be at your event, so let me know if there is an event. I want to see our local kids’, our adults’ and our seniors’ performances so I can understand your needs.
“I’m here to help.”