A Call to Inspired Action

For the past decade, the team at Sport Law has sometimes felt alone on an island, speaking about humanistic and values-based approaches to leading, competing, and coaching in sport. Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of connecting with hundreds of thoughtful, caring, and committed leaders who believe in a better way for sport. Through our exploration and research, we have repeatedly triangulated the same three root causes:

While we don’t feel lonely anymore because of the volume of people asking for the same thing, we have made an intentional commitment to not focus on what is ailing the sport system. There are too many armchair quarterbacks and people with opinions about what is needed to restore health to our depleted sector. Rather, we’d like to focus on inviting thought leaders, sport enthusiasts, athletes, coaches, and committed stewards to signal a new era for sport. We can’t rush through this transition and pretend like we can re-engineer a new future without first understanding what has given rise to the moral crisis we are reckoning with. Our sector, the one we’ve grown up in, is an interconnected ecosystem that requires a coordinated, thoughtful, and values-driven approach.

The mindset that got us here, is not the mindset we need to get us to where we want to go next. Our next blog will share how a self-transforming mindset is needed to support a holistic foundation that is both strong and pliable – a super resistant base that can adapt to an ever-increasing complexity and that supports a new ethos of caring leadership.

What we do believe is warranted in the immediate, is an acknowledgement that the sky is falling to borrow a phrase from Disney’s Chicken Little. And that includes acknowledging a system that is well past its best before date.

For sport to thrive, we need a new imagined future and we need brave leaders who are willing to acknowledge the pain of what has been allowed to fester for far too long, work through decades of systemic oppression that has caused so much harm to the disenfranchised (especially to people of colour, Indigenous people, people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and those that didn’t have the means to pay to play).

A sector that holds so much promise to forge stronger alliances in communities and to foster national pride, needs our help. Will we come together as a community to solve this wicked problem?

We need to re-imagine sport. It’s not by pointing fingers and blaming each other that will lead to greater trust. It’s by acknowledging the sins of the past, accepting our part in keeping sport struck, and resolving to make it better.

We have been spending considerable time reflecting on what is needed and as I reviewed the 500+ blogs that team members from Sport Law have penned across our three decades in sport, I was struck by the prescience of some of our earlier writings. Much of what is needed is already alive within the sector: empowered athletes who are demanding greater voice and choice, a softening of the singular focus on money and medals, and an acknowledgement of our outdated system. What is missing is a coordinated effort and inspired leadership to lead the way. It’s unfair, punitive and irresponsible to shame sport leaders in one breath, while pretending that the reward system that has been in place for nearly 50 years hasn’t contributed to the hot mess we are now in.

In 2020, inspired by a Simon Sinek quote of “what will we become?” I wrote a blog that invited us to re-imagine a new way of being for sport. As an integral coach who specializes in grief and loss, I know the effect of a powerful question and I also acknowledge that not everyone is ready yet to gaze to the future. When we’ve been abused, harassed, discriminated upon, and exploited, we first need to have our experience acknowledged. Traumatic experiences need to be processed before we can grieve. And grieve collectively is what we must do before we move towards a holistic environment where sport can thrive.

I believe that the sport sector is more at risk today than it ever was. I was among the very first few who believed in a better way for sport following the Dubin Inquiry. We called it True Sport and I’m heartened to see that the Power of Sport is acknowledged through the True Sport Report.

Earlier this month Sport Law published a blog that called for a Public Accounting to Save Sport. Over the past year, we’ve held dozens of conversations with thought leaders, politicians, policy analysists, researchers, parents, athletes, lawyers, social justice reformers asking for their opinion on what they feel is needed to restore health in our broken sector. All of the conversations have three things in common and speak directly to the three root causes that we opened this blog with: Fix the System (by acknowledging and learning from past failures). Measure what Matters (by expanding our singular focus on money and medals to also measure culture). Demand Holistic Leadership (by training today and tomorrow’s leaders to be emotionally intelligent and values-driven).

Here's one way to think about some of the shifts that need to happen to ensure that what we move towards is well-resourced, sustainable and holistic.

Moving FromMoving Towards
Defeatist attitudeResourced leadership
BlamingDeepened curiousity
Shaming Acknowledging prior harm
DisengagingListening and engaging
What's wrongWhat happened
SilenceOpen Dialogue
Confirming biases and assumptionsExpanding our minds and hearts
What I know and can proveAdopting multiple intelligence: what I know, feel, and trust
What am I teachingWhat am I learning
Management by instruction and objective Management by instruction, objective, and values
Power overPower with
Measuring money and medalsMeasuring what matters most: money, medals, and morals

As we all prepare to take a much-needed vacation to pause, reflect, and recharge, here’s something to reflect on. Sport Law is looking for brave leaders who want to work with us to restore health and hope to the sport sector. If you are interested in what that can look like, send an email to Dina at dblaroche@sportlaw.ca so that we can figure this out together. It’s going to take a village to get us through the next phase of this transition, soul intact.

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