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'Day of reckoning for sports,' says U of G prof

Professor said sponsors dropping support of Hockey Canada for the upcoming season is a key message to signal their lack of confidence in its leadership
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It's a major statement to Hockey Canada as it continues to deal with criticism of its handling of sexual assault allegations.

Top-tier sponsors such as Tim Horton's, Scotiabank, Telus, Esso and Chevrolet have pulled their support of men's hockey for the upcoming season. Canadian Tire took it a step further, cutting ties with Hockey Canada permanently.

University of Guelph professor Ann Pegoraro said while provincial organizations like Hockey Quebec and the Ontario Hockey Federation made moves to showcase their lack of confidence in the national governing body, it's another to see big named sponsors pull support.

"I think they are the biggest lever that's existing," she told GuelphToday, adding Hockey Canada has always listened to the money from sponsors, and this is a key message.

Pegoraro adds there are multiple levels to all this, not only the removal of funding, but also the fact the sponsors are big parts of Hockey Canada's "marquee event" –  the World Junior Hockey Championships.

"We did just see a World Juniors with no sponsors, really, put on with limited to no attendance," she said, noting the attendance piece could also be a result of the time of year.

"Now we have another one fast approaching. And so I think the hit for them around that event, which then has ramifications with their partnership with TSN for the event as well. I think some of these have multiple domino effects for Hockey Canada, beyond just the immediate impact of loss of funds."

The World Juniors were held most recently in Alberta in August.

Halifax and Moncton are set to co-host the 2023 edition Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

The collateral damage, as Pegoraro called it, is the impact of all this on the women's and Paralympic teams, teams that have worked well and have been successful without scandal, but remain under the umbrella of Hockey Canada.

"From the women's team, we saw a strong statement from players, asking for a new Hockey Canada, asking to have a voice at the table, which leads me to believe that neither themselves or probably the Para team have had a voice at the table with Hockey Canada," she said.

Now, two entities that "already receive less money" are now "struggling to make sure they're not lost in the mud."

Tim Horton's, Telus and Scotiabank all agreed to continue funding women's para and grassroots programs.

Empire, the parent company of Sobey's, said it didn't renew its contract with Hockey Canada when it expired in June, but are exploring ways to continue supporting the women's program.

Pegoraro suggests the 13 provincial organizations need to come together to say while fees are okay to support player insurance, "what's happening inside Hockey Canada in general is not something that is needed in the hockey community."

"The powers of those member organizations, that's who votes in the board, that's who really is the heart and soul of Hockey Canada," she said. "I think more from them would be great."

Earlier this week, Hockey Canada's interim chair Andrea Skinner went on the defense during a Canadian Heritage standing committee meeting in Ottawa.

This, as many call for current leadership to resign to not only allow for culture change in the organization, but also regain the public's trust.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh directed his thoughts toward Skinner, suggesting the board should've quit at the same time former chair Michael Brind'Amour did in August.

"If all of the board resigns, and all of senior leadership is no longer there, I think that will be very impactful in a negative way to our boys and girls who are playing hockey," Skinner responded.

"Will the lights stay on the rink? I don't know. We can't predict that and to me, that's not a risk worth taking."

Pegoraro said that statement shows Hockey Canada doesn't understand its role in the system.

"The lights on local arenas are put on by the local hockey associations, the parents, the municipalities. That's where the heart of hockey still is," she said. 

"I think the impact for (local hockey associations) immediately is not big. I do think they have the right to demand a much better governing organization for the game they love."

And it's not like hockey is the only sport dealing with this.

Pegoraro pointed out reports from other sports, like rowing and gymnastics, detailing the harmful environment athletes are participating in to stay in their sport.

Other sports like boxing, rugby, soccer and alpine skiing have also seen athletes come forward with allegations of abuse, maltreatment and misuse of funds.

Federal sport minister Pascale St. Onge is calling for a public inquiry into sporting organizations in the country, to be conducted by the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner.

She also ordered a forensic audit to determine if any public funds were used by Hockey Canada in a payout to settle a lawsuit with someone in London earlier this year.

Another audit looks to be in the works dating back to 2016 after St. Onge agreed with NDP MP Peter Julian's request.

"I think it's a day of reckoning for sports," Pegoraro said.

"But hockey in Canada is certainly leading the way."


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Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Originally from Timmins, ON, Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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