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CIS appoints Lafontaine as new chief executive officer

TORONTO — Pierre Lafontaine wants to keep more Canadian athletes at home.

The former Swimming Canada CEO and national coach was named chief executive officer of Canadian Interuniversity Sport on Thursday. Lafontaine, 56, will assume the post March 1 and said one of his priorities is ensuring more of Canada’s top high school athletes attend university on home soil than head south of the border.

“We need to be, we need to stay, we need to become the destination of choice for high-performance athletes in the country,” Lafontaine said during a news conference at Rogers Centre. “We don’t need to go to the U.S. to be great.

“(There are) so many stories in my sport that our best athletes actually stayed in Canada (and went) through the Canadian system and that’s one of the great strengths of the CIS. It’s way more flexible than the NCAA, it works with the clubs, it’s not just the NCAA kids. If I was a CIS athlete I could work post-grad, I could work with clubs . . . I think we have so many plusses in the CIS system to reach our potential.”

A major selling point of NCAA schools is they can offer Canadian athletes full athletic scholarships and the opportunity at a free education, which could easily amount to US$50,000 annually. But in Canada, the maximum a student-athlete can expect is to have tuition and compulsory fees covered in an academic year.

“I do think the whole discussion about scholarships needs to be addressed,” Lafontaine said. “I think our coaches need to be great recruiters.

“There’s nothing more magical than being wanted and so we need to get our high school kids feeling wanted by our college program.

“We’re going to lose kids to the U.S., I have no problem with that. But I want to make sure they have a choice.

“When you lose a kid you lose an alumni, you lose a leader, you lose a catalyst of the program, you lose so much. You lose their kids. That’s why we have to repatriate our talented individuals.”

Lafontaine will assume Canadian university sport’s top job from Marg McGregor, who had held the post for 12 years before resigning June 1. The native of Beaconsfield, Que., is no stranger to university sport, having served as an assistant coach at the University of Calgary from 1988 to 1992.

Lafontaine has been the chief executive officer and national coach of Swimming Canada since 2005. During his tenure Canadian swimmers earned consistent podium finishes internationally, including three Olympic and 39 Paralympic medals.

Lafontaine said there’s definitely a place for para-athletes in Canadian university sport.

“We need to find a way to incorporate them into some of the sports that we’re able to do,” he said. “For us, it’s going to happen.

“It might not happen tomorrow, it might change some of the championships but we have to work with them.”

 
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