Sochi 2014: Crowdfunding fuels Olympic dreams


Toronto Star by Morgan Campbell | January 31, 2014

Sport-focused sites help athletes with talent and expensive dreams but slim budgets.


Canadian skier Larissa Yurkiw during a training session in Val d'Isere, France. She has used crowdfunding platform to help finance her training for the 2014 Winter Olympics. (PHOTO: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Alpine skier Larissa Yurkiw knows the cost of pursuing an Olympic dream. Two months before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, she suffered a crash that sidelined her for those games and forced her to spend two more years rehabbing.

But after paying the physical and emotional toll of overcoming serious injury, the 25-year-old athlete learned that the financial cost of becoming an Olympian is even steeper. Earning a spot in Sochi meant paying $20,000 in national team fees, and Yurkiw didn’t have quick access to that much cash.

Instead, she had a network of willing supporters, a compelling back-story and a web platform that allowed her to monetize both. Using the Canadian sport-focused fundraising site, Yurkiw surpassed her goal, raising $22,476 on contributions from more than 2,300 fans.

She also became one of a growing number of athletes competing in Sochi who crowdfunded their way to the games.

Related: Crowdfunding site gives Olympic hopefuls chance to realize dreams

Eight Canadian Olympians used to fund their campaigns, while six more covered costs with help from Montreal-based Make a Champ. And when the Jamaican bobsled team learned earlier this month they had qualified for a spot in Sochi, several crowdfunding campaigns instantly materialized, raising more than $180,000 toward their expenses.

As crowdfunding has grown more common, sport-specific platforms have emerged to help fill a financial gap for aspiring Olympic athletes who are serious enough to incur hefty training expenses but often lack the profile and sponsorship income to defray them.

“When athletes are moving away from the Bank of Mom and Dad and into the real world, that’s when they need the most support,” says co-founder Julia Rivard. “We want to connect Canadian fans to really, really fantastic high-performance athletes with a dream.”

Related: How to Write an Effective Crowdfunding Pitch

Rivard, a former Olympic kayaker, and business partner Leah Skelly, a former gymnast, run tech development firm Norex Web Strategy, where they give employees a day each week to create their own initiatives. Shortly after the London Olympics, an employee proposed a sports-based crowdfunding site, and by October 2012, the not-for-profit was online.

Make a Champ was also co-founded by an athlete. Two years ago, Canadian judo competitor David Ancor returned to Montreal from the World Junior Championships with a torn knee ligament and a $4,000 invoice from Judo Canada for the trip to the competition. A brainstorming session aimed at paying the bill led to the creation of the crowdfunding site, which launched in September 2012.

“We realized a lot of athletes were going through the same issue: trying to build a website (to) get them money,” Ancor says. “We needed to fix the problem not just for myself, but for everybody else.”

Related: Ten of Canada’s most successful crowdfunding campaigns in Canada

Depending on the platform, athletes keep between 85 and 90 per cent of the cash raised through crowdfunding sites in general.

At the end of their campaigns, athletes pay a five per cent fee to a payment processing company, 10 per cent to and keep the remainder. Fees for athletes raising funds through Make a Champ total 12.5 per cent of the campaign goal, Ancor says.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada crowdfunding hub providing education, advocacy and networking opportunities in the rapidly evolving crowdfunding industry. NCFA Canada is a community-based, membership-driven entity that was formed at the grass roots level to fill a national need in the market place. Join our growing network of industry stakeholders, fundraisers and investors. Increase your organization’s profile and gain access to a dynamic group of industry front runners. Learn more About Us |Prezi or contact us at



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