Hockey Canada’s Pitfalls Leading Up to Allegations

Hockey Canada’s Pitfalls Leading Up to Allegations

Hockey was a major part of my life when I was a young. Every year growing up my dad made a rink in our backyard.  When I was on the ice, I felt like I was Wayne Gretzky.  In my heart hockey was a synonym for everything good – national pride, teamwork, and sportsmanship – it was pure as the driven snow.

As I got older and played the game more competitively, I realized hockey was a far from pure.  Throughout my playing career I witnessed (and endured) the bullying of players, the ire of bag skating coaches, witnessed the mess of hockey politics, and more.  I gave up competitive hockey at 15 not because I didn’t want to continue to play the sport, but because I didn’t want to be involved in the culture that came with playing the sport at an elite level.

When the allegations about Hockey Canada began to emerge, frankly I was surprised that everyone else was seemingly unaware of what had been going on within the sport.  I really couldn’t figure out how it was surprising, as it was simply the logical extrapolation of the confluence, of money, power, and inept governance structures.

[If you haven’t heard about the Hockey Canada saga here is a summary.]

The allegations made against Hockey Canada speak for themselves, and I am not here to analyze them – many have already done that.  What is important is placing some emphasis on practical safeguards – regardless of which sport – to ensure bad behaviour is safe to call out early, so things don’t spiral out of control.  In fact, such practices not only apply to the sporting world, but in work life as well.

Investigations Specialist Answers Questions About Abuse within Hockey Canada

The following are some questions I’ve posed to my friend Jeff Bzowey, CFE, CPP, a professional investigator and the founder of Root Resolutions, a firm specializing in investigations for sporting organizations and workplaces.  I have posed these questions to Jeff as a father and retired/concerned member of the hockey community.  [Jeff’s responses are in blue below]

  • What are some of the critical errors Hockey Canada has made over the years in handling reports and allegations as they came to its attention?

Policy

“Historically, there was no policy outlining the process for how complaints were to be handled. Concerning the allegations at the centre of the scandal, it was revealed that participation in investigations was not mandatory, hence, severely limiting the effectiveness of any inquiry”.

Lack of Transparency 

“Hockey Canada did not disclose to member federations that a significant percentage of money collected from player registration fees was going into a reserve fund to settle uninsured and underinsured settlements made with victims. Moreover, Hockey Canada was obligated to notify member federations of potential settlements greater than $500,000 and failed to do so on multiple occasions.” 

Entrenchment

 “As the scandal widened, government funding was stopped, corporate sponsorship was pulled, and public trust in Hockey Canada leadership was lost. Despite this, the Hockey Canada executive and board refused to resign and put the survival of the organization at risk.”

  • It’s clear there were some very deep systemic challenges present in hockey in Canada and at the Hockey Canada organization.  What do you think should be the first priority for Hockey Canada’s new leadership?

Hockey Canada needs to be transparent about the process it took to select each new executive and board member and explain why each leader was chosen. The new management needs to reflect Hockey Canada’s values and the diversity in the player population as well as diversity in thought. With this, leadership will more effectively identify and respond to risks facing the organization.”

  • What lessons can organizations of all stripes take from this terrible situation? 

Organizations need to have policies in place so that allegations are properly dealt with. Organizations also must be open and transparent in how they handle complaints and have leadership with diverse perspectives to better identify and respond to risks.”

  • What 3 tips do you have for parents, coaches, and players?
  • Education: Parents, coaches, and players should be educated on what behaviours are acceptable and what are not.
  • Talk: Parents should have ongoing age-appropriate conversations with their players about acceptable and unacceptable behaviours – how they are treated and how they treat others. Parents need to listen and support their athlete when their children bring any concerns forward.
  • Speak-Up: Whether a victim, a bystander, a parent, or a coach, every individual needs to know how to speak-up and make their concerns known.
  • In hockey, everyone loves a ‘hat trick’, so in closing Jeff, what are your top three things Hockey Canada and other sporting organizations should focus on as they move forward if they want to keep people safe.
  • Prevention: Education is key to preventing unwanted behaviours and organizations should make training mandatory for parents and coaches.
  • Detection: Those who are aware of inappropriate conduct need to have various channels through which to report. A third-party reporting platform is a safe mechanism for individuals to report and document concerns.
  • Deterrence: When concerns are identified, they need to be investigated in a timely, thorough, and ethical manner by investigators that stakeholders trust.

Organizations of all Sizes Must Pay Attention to the Hockey Canada Situation

It’s tough to do the right thing and many organizations do not have systems in place that allow reporters (whistleblowers) to speak up in a safe and anonymous way.  Hockey organizations are not properly educating officials, parents, players, and staff about what signs to be on the lookout for, just as many organizations and other employers are not educating their workforces properly about the need to speak up about misconduct they experience or witness in the workplace. Furthermore, many organizations simply do not have the structure in place to receive and react appropriate to reports.

If you’re looking to inquire about Syntrio’s mobile enabled eLearning solutions to help members of your organization understand the signs of inappropriate behaviour, a Speak-up/Listen-Up platform to enable confidential or anonymous reporting; or whether your organization needs to level up its DEI and governance structures, Syntrio has you covered.

Syntrio has helped over 6,000 organizations enhance up their governance game and we’d love to hear from you if you’re shooting to improve one aspect, or aiming for the entire prevention, detection, and deterrence ‘hat trick’

We look forward to partnering with you to creating safer sport for our youth.

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