By Sophia Wojdak
After a year full of scandal, Hockey Canada may have gotten the penalty they deserve. It was announced this morning that CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors will step down, replaced by an interim committee. This comes just a few days after board chair Andrea Skinner’s departure on Oct. 8.
The overhaul was praised by many, Liberal MP and Heritage committee member Anthony Housefather calling it, “a great step.”
This decision was a long time coming, with Hockey Canada under scrutiny since May, when information regarding controversial settlement money came to light. The lawsuit involved a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight junior men’s team players in Halifax in 2018, with scandals only escalating since.
Executives of Hockey Canada told a parliamentary committee in late July that the money the organization has secretly paid to settle complaints of sexual misconduct amounted to nearly nine million dollars. This staggering amount did not include a secret second fund the organization used to sweep sexual abuse claims under the rug--most of which was funded by the player’s registration fees from provincial counterparts. This second fund was not disclosed to the parliamentary committee and only became public on Oct. 3.
The executive team sweep was certainly not the only repercussion of the public scandal. Hockey Canada has lost its sponsorship support from Nike, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, Esso and Scotiabank, with companies like Chevrolet Canada and Sobeys ending their contracts with the organization back in June. 27 per cent of Hockey Canada’s funding comes from its sponsorship agreements, leaving a huge gap in the budget of the organization.
Sponsorship companies were not alone in publicly condemning Hockey Canada’s leadership. Hayley Wickenheiser, four time Olympic gold medalist and current Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistant general manager, recently spoke out against the organization. Wickenheiser praised sponsors for the message sent by withdrawing support from Hockey Canada. She described the situation as “disgraceful,’ calling for an immediate change in leadership within the organization. It seems now she has gotten her wish.
Wickenhesier’s sentiment was mirrored all the way in Ottawa, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making his own comments on the situation. Trudeau stated that Hockey Canada had, “lost the confidence,” of Canadians, even proposing a brand new Canadian hockey organization to replace it amidst the storms of scandal.
It seems Hockey Canada’s fall from grace in the aftermath of sexual misconduct claims has sent a message to the rest of the hockey world, including the NHL. The scandal seems to have kickstarted a late #MeToo movement in hockey. Tampa Bay Lighting have suspended Ian Cole after allegations of sexual assault and grooming surfaced about the defenceman. Cole is currently under investigation as the NHL looks into the details of the anonymous tweet outlining his misconduct.
The Edmonton Oilers recently severed ties with Jake Virtanen, the former Canucks forward accused of sexual assault from an incident in 2017. The accusations led to the Canucks buying out his contract in 2021. Despite Virtanen being found not guilty during his trial, the continued speculation and controversy surrounding him caused major backlash among Oilers fans. Virtanen has now been released from his PTO with the Oilers.
It seems the World Junior’s gold did not outshine the storm of scandal surrounding Hockey Canada. Lost sponsors, strong criticism from public figures, and a message that the NHL is watching; all a clear sign that Hockey Canada needs to change. The executive overhaul is a move towards progress, but there is far more to go.
Hockey is a sport beloved by Canadians everywhere, and as one of the biggest associations of the sport in the nation, Hockey Canada has a responsibility to continue to stand up and take accountability for its actions.