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A new advertising contract puts army recruiters at all national championships and awards banquets. As Canada expands its international role, the military says student athletes are the ‘perfect fit’ for its officer core, writes Josh Wingrove.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport is close to signing a $500,000 advertising and recruiting agreement with the armed forces.

The contract guarantees the military the opportunity to advertise and recruit at any CIS event and has sparked outcry from professors who say athletes are “sitting ducks” for recruiters.

The military tendered the request for a sole-source contract this month, looking for an “organization that can supply advertising to CIS athletes,” said John Williston, director of marketing for the Canadian Armed Forces. The CIS is the only body that can meet the demand, but the contract was put out for bids in the interest of transparency, said Capt. Dwayne Steckley, a staff officer for planning with the Canadian Forces recruiting group headquarters.

Peter Metuzal, CIS director of marketing, said he expects the contract to be signed as soon as the window for offers closes on Oct. 31.

The military’s marketing campaign aims to recruit smart, physically fit student athletes into service as officers.

“It’s a perfect fit… those are the kinds of people that we want to attract and who we need,” Williston said.

The three-year contract won’t force athletes to sit down with recruiters, but will give recruiters a spot at every national CIS event.

“The (Canadian) Forces people will be there at banquets, giving out awards. They will be there at games… to sit with athletes — those who want to — and discuss possible opportunities with the Canadian Forces,” Metuzal said.

But Ryerson sociology professor Fiona Whittington-Walsh said the contract will make athletes “sitting ducks” for well-trained recruiters.

“They seem to be very vulnerable to the lure of the military. They can finish their studies and have a wonderful job and all this. Meanwhile, our soldiers keep coming back in body bags from Afghanistan,” Whittington-Walsh said.

“It shows that obviously our stay in Afghanistan is not a short one and they’re in desperate need of providing more disciplined bodies… I don’t think the military should have any place on campuses for recruitment,” she added.

Since 2002, 42 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, including Pte. Mark Graham, 33, a Hamilton native and Canadian Olympic track star.

“It’s sort of sad that for a little bit of money they’d be delivering athletes to the military,” said Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

The CIS is abusing its monopoly on access to Canada’s 12,000 student athletes in signing the contract, Turk said.

“What’s offensive here is the CIS has privileged access to Canadian university athletes… In bidding on this contract, the CIS is saying ‘we’re prepared to deliver to the military our captive audience of university athletes so they can be recruited,’” Turk said.

Such a contract exploits student athletes, especially if the CIS is, as Turk said, “providing opportunity for people to sign up to be killed.”

The money will subsidize both team travel costs and production of the 25 nationally-televised CIS games.

Dave Dubois, program director of sports and recreation at Ryerson, declined comment on the contract but confirmed recruiters would only be at CIS events, not Ryerson league games.

Students have a choice in the matter and won’t be duped, said Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.

“I don’t have difficulty when the Canadian government wants to recruit on campus. I believe that all of our students make choices. They’re not coerced into it,” Levy said.

“Students can ignore it if they wish,” he added.

Men’s volleyball player Nic Beaver said he doesn’t mind the recruiters if Ryerson teams receive extra funding.

Tanya Blazina, communications officer with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, declined comment, saying it’s a deal between the miltary and the CIS.

Students can already enroll in the Regular Officer Training Program, which pays tuition, books and a salary in exchange for five years of service after graduation. Each campaign recruits both behind-the-lines personnel and soldiers, Metuzal said. Today’s recruiters need all kinds of people, a need they’ll soon look to fill on campus.

“One would have to assume that athletes are savvy enough to know that if they want to listen, they can listen,” Metuzal said.

“All we’re doing is opening the door. It’s up to them to go through it.”

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