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Sprinting icon Donovan Bailey joins bid to buy Ottawa Senators

Sprinting icon Donovan Bailey, the last Canadian man to win Olympic gold in the 100-metre dash, says he’s joined one of the bids to purchase the Ottawa Senators.

Bailey tweeted Friday that he’d joined the bid led by Los Angeles-based producer Neko Sparks and rapper Snoop Dogg to buy the NHL club.

He later confirmed his involvement in an interview with CBC Ottawa News at 6.

“I know for a fact [what it’s like] to fill stadiums around the world. So we’re going to make sure that this is the best team, the best fan base, in all of the NHL,” Bailey promised.

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Now 55, Bailey won double gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, winning both the men’s 100 and 4×100-metre relay.

His time of 9.84 seconds in the 100-metre dash set a world record at the time.

Bailey retired from competitive sprinting in 2001 and has since been inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. He was also appointed to the Order of Canada last year.

A sprinter stands on a track with both of his arms raised. Thousands of people are in the stands behind him.Canadian sprinting icon Donovan Bailey, seen here after winning a race in 1995, confirmed Friday that he’s joined a bid to buy the Ottawa Senators. (Thomas Kienzle/The Associated Press)

Jumped at the opportunity

Monday was the deadline to submit bids to purchase the Senators, who were put up for sale following the death of owner Eugene Melnyk last March.

It’s been estimated the team could be sold for more than $1 billion.

Bailey cited the importance of being part of a Black-led bid for a pro sports team. NBA legend Michael Jordan is currently the only Black majority owner of a major sports franchise.

“People like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan — just to name a few athletes that have turned owners — are people that have always inspired me,” Bailey said Friday.

“So when this opportunity came up with Neko and with Snoop, I jumped at it.”

Sparks is the chief technology officer for Pixel Lime, which describes itself as “a cutting-edge media production and immersive technology” company and lists Universal Studios, the United States Postal Service and the Angry Birds gaming franchise among its clients. 

According to Afrotech, Sparks has dedicated nearly 15 years to various tech sectors, including artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, augmented reality and interactive media.

neko sparks looks at cameraLos Angeles-based producer Neko Sparks, who’s behind one of the bids to purchase the Ottawa Senators, is a ‘fearless entrepreneur,’ Bailey says. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

‘He takes chances’

“I love the fact that Neko is someone who’s a fearless entrepreneur. He’s an investor. He takes chances,” Bailey said.

“He’s trying to encompass so much of the community and doing a lot of things for culture in the purchase of this sports team.” 

The group behind the Sparks-led bid has already met with members of Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg, a First Nation near Maniwaki, Que. The Algonquins of Kitigan Zibi are part of an outstanding title claim filed in 2016 that encompasses a swath of central Ottawa, including LeBreton Flats, where a new NHL arena could be built.

Snoop Dogg has also said part of his motivation for joining the ownership bid is to grow the game among Black youth and launch a youth league in the U.S.

A devoted Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Bailey said it would still be hard to switch allegiances if his bid were successful — particularly when the two clubs face off against each other.

“I’m 100 per cent a Leafs fan today, but I am definitely getting on board with being a Sens fan,” he said. “Because this means a little bit more! A small little bit more.”

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