Calls for cultural change at Hockey Canada trigger a period of judgment for the sport

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Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press



Posted Saturday, October 15, 2022 1:31 PM EDT




As sponsors distanced themselves from Hockey Canada over the past few weeks, it became clear that they wanted to see more than just a change in leadership.

The need for a radical overhaul – via phrases such as “necessary cultural change” (Telus), “improve culture” (Scotiabank) and “meaningful change” (Canadian Tire) – was a common thread in many explanations from the companies that backed down from Hockey Canada after months of scandal over its mishandling of alleged sexual assaults.

Even after Tuesday’s resignation of the entire board along with the CEO, corporate partners stressed the need for further steps before they return.

Yet changing deeply ingrained beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors — what some describe as an invisible, unspoken force that governs an organization — isn’t easy. Experts say this requires a complete top-down rebuild and a transparent restructuring of governance, policies and guidelines.

The organization needs to come to terms with its problems before it can begin to rebuild and change its culture, said Geoffrey Leonardelli, professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“Changing the culture of an organization begins with dissatisfaction with the status quo,” said Leonardelli, also academic director of the school’s executive programs on negotiations and leading change.

“There has to be motivation for change.”

The voices calling for such a change grew louder last week. In addition to major sponsors and some of Hockey Canada’s provincial member organizations, the premier spoke on Tuesday.

Justin Trudeau says the executive departures have taken too long to materialize and are just a “first step” on the road to transforming the sport.

“There is a culture to change,” Trudeau said. “There is a tremendous amount of work to ensure that the structures and systems that Hockey Canada has in place protect employees, protect Canadians, protect our children when they play hockey.”

And in a 103-page interim report and memo released Thursday by Hockey Canada, a former Supreme Court justice said “there can be no serious debate” that Hockey Canada management had lost stakeholder confidence and that a major dismantling was required.

Judge Thomas Cromwell is in the midst of a comprehensive governance review of Hockey Canada, which he was tasked with earlier this year after it was revealed the organization had reached an undisclosed settlement with a woman who alleged having been sexually assaulted by eight players, including members. of the country’s 2018 World Junior Team. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

If Hockey Canada is to succeed in its rebuilding, Leonardelli said, it needs to be clear about its mission and values.

“You need to develop a vision of where the organization needs to go and then identify the means to get there,” Leonardelli said.

Along with the headline-grabbing allegations, some observers have pointed to the more insidious ways that hockey culture has kept kids off the ice.

“Minor hockey in Canada has become a bit of a beast,” said Charlene Weaving, professor of human kinetics at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

“It’s very expensive to participate and it excludes a lot of people,” she said. “It’s also become ultra-competitive at a very young age and that may also discourage some young children from participating.”

Indeed, Bauer Hockey highlighted declining turnout as a major concern earlier this week. He asked Hockey Canada to focus on elite performance and national team wins to grow the game.

Weaving said the new board leadership had the opportunity to include new voices and strengthen equity, diversity and inclusion within the organization, saying it needed a “reality check and a total overhaul”.

“There needs to be a big shake-up at Hockey Canada and the answer is not just to flood the board with women,” Weaving said.

“We need more diverse voices on the board, and that includes more women, but also people of color and new Canadians,” Weaving said.

Canada’s women’s team, winners of the 2022 Olympics and world championships, said in a statement that the resignations from Hockey Canada were a positive first step, but that a board that “truly embodies diversity of our country” is essential.

“We ask for equal representation with a seat at the table, as we continue to promote and develop women’s football globally, that we can contribute our perspective and feedback to ensure that the governing body of our sport is evolving into a body that truly represents all Canadians and protects its participants,” they wrote.

Going forward, Hockey Canada will need to do a cultural audit, said Jennifer Walinga, a two-time Olympian and professor of communication and culture at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia.

“It starts with who we invite to take on roles and responsibilities as board members and executives,” she said. “It starts with teaching them how to build an effective culture.”

Rugby Canada recently commissioned an independent review of its high performance programs after complaints were filed. That organization’s response charts a potential way forward for Hockey Canada, Walinga said.

“Rugby has just gone through a huge revolution and now an evolution. They’ve got great leadership on the board. They’re doing the right things. They look at themselves authentically and honestly. They’ve lifted that mirror and embraced a very scathing report which they released transparently to all of their members.”

Culture is important, she says, because it exists in every fiber of an organization.

“It’s the rules of engagement and it shows in the governance, the policies, the behavior, the words, the interactions and even the architecture. It shows in the aura of the arena.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 15, 2022.

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