Game ON: Ontario’s New Sport Recognition Policy - 25-Point Checklist for PSOs

Published September 20, 2016

In our previous post about Game ON, we discussed the policies that Ontario Provincial Sport Organizations (PSOs) will need to have in order to be formally recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Now that the Sport Recognition Policy has been finalized and released, we have a better idea of what PSOs will require. Plus we know the deadline for applications – October 31st, 2016!

Compliance with the Sport Recognition Policy will be necessary for PSOs to apply for government funding. A PSO that does not comply may be provided with an opportunity to correct deficiencies, have funding terminated, or have their recognition suspended or revoked.

In this blogpost, we present some statistics about current compliance rates, review the new requirements, list the twenty-five points for compliance, and suggest a quick step-by-step pathway for organizations to prepare to meet the October deadline for recognition.

Note that for combative sports (such as karate, taekwondo, and wrestling) the checklist has more than the twenty-five points listed below – and the compliance process is slightly different for PSO councils.

Governance and Administration

Here are the materials each PSO will need to provide in this section:

  1. Proof that the PSO’s sport must meet the definition for “sport” as defined by the Policy
  2. A letter of endorsement from the National Sport Organization (NSO)
  3. Proof showing the PSO is incorporated under the Ontario Corporations Act or under the Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA), once it comes into effect
  4. A list of Directors names, addresses, and terms
  5. Documents including:
  • Bylaws, operational, and financial policies
  • Multi-year strategic plan and annual operating plans
  • Budget (current and previous fiscal years)
  • Financial engagement report and/or audit prepared by a chartered accountant
  • Insurance certificate for at least $2,000,000
  • Dates of Annual General Meetings

It should be fairly straightforward for each PSO to meet the definition of ‘sport’, obtain a letter of recognition from their NSO, and submit their certificate of incorporation. Submitting a list of Directors is also straightforward – however, each of the PSO’s Directors must be elected. This is an extremely important change and nearly all PSOs are not currently compliant with this requirement. Many PSOs have ex-officio Directors, such as Past Presidents, or other appointed individuals serving on their Board. Neither the Ontario Corporations Act nor the upcoming Not-for-Profit Corporations Act requires incorporated organizations to have exclusively-elected Boards – but the Sport Recognition Policy does. Governance changes will be necessary across the province.

Included in #5 above are a Financial Policy, Human Resources Policy, and Conflict of Interest Policy. The Financial Policy must address signing authority, financial reporting, budgets, travel expenses, and service fees. All operational and financial policies must be reviewed every three years.

Also included in #5 are three-year strategic plans and annual operating plans. Many PSOs may be accustomed to loosely planning for the future – but the Sport Recognition Policy will require a more formal and comprehensive approach.


The following policies will need Board approval, must be posted on the PSO’s website, and must be made available to all Members.

  1. Code of Conduct for athletes, Directors, coaches, and officials
  2. Discipline
  3. Dispute Resolution and Appeal
  4. Harassment
  5. Concussion and Return to Play
  6. Membership
  7. Selection
  8. Privacy
  9. Accessibility
  10. Inclusion (by April 1st, 2018)
  11. Screening (by April 1st, 2018)
  12. Confidentiality (by April 1st, 2018)
  13. Social Media Guidelines (by April 1st, 2018)
  14. Anti-Doping (by April 1st, 2018)
  15. Code of Conduct for Parents (by April 1st, 2018)

The government has recognized that some policies may be more difficult to create so quickly and/or are not as vital as the other required policies. The last six policies, above, will be required by April 1st, 2018.

There is slight overlap with some of the required policies. For instance, it is our opinion that harassment should be included in the PSO’s Code of Conduct as should the Code of Conduct for Parents.  We prefer one policy rather than suggesting more than one which may cover the same jurisdictions or content. Further, the government has combined the appeal process into the dispute resolution policy. We recommend three separate policies here – a Discipline and Complaints Policy (for complaints about conduct and behaviour), a Dispute Resolution Policy (to be applied when a mediated decision is preferred by both parties), and an Appeal Policy (to challenge decisions made by the organization and decisions that have resulted from the application of other policies).

Rules and Programming

  1. Alignment with NSO rules
  2. Programming for athletes (Long-Term Athlete Development)
  3. Certification of coaches
  4. Certification of officials
  5. Para-sport programming (for Paralympic sports)

PSOs must attest that they follow the rules of play, safety standards, equipment, and competition requirements as outlined by the NSO. In addition, PSOs must attest that they provide programming for athletes, certification of coaches, and certification of officials – in programs endorsed by the NSO. Finally, organizations that are a part of the Paralympic program must ensure that they provide structured programs for para-athletes.


The deadline to submit applications under the Sport Recognition Policy is October 31st, 2016. After submitting everything – in electronic and hardcopy form – PSOs will be given ‘full’ or ‘conditional’ recognition. PSOs with conditional recognition will be given until April 1st, 2017 to become fully compliant. This additional extension will be vital for PSOs that need to overhaul their governance structure (i.e., in order to ensure that all Directors are elected – rather than appointed) and formalize their multi-year strategic planning process.

Compliance Statistics

We reviewed the websites of 63 currently recognized PSOs in Ontario. We did not look at the websites for combative sports or multi-sport organizations. We also could not find websites for three PSOs.

Based on the information available on each PSO’s website, here is the percentage of PSOs that have the required policies:

  1. Code of Conduct – 48%
  2. Discipline – 30%
  3. Dispute Resolution – 13%
  4. Harassment – 38%
  5. Concussion Management – 33%
  6. Membership – 41%
  7. Selection – 8%
  8. Privacy – 43%
  9. Accessibility – 6%
  10. Inclusion – 21%
  11. Screening – 30%
  12. Confidentiality – 14%
  13. Social Media Guidelines – 11%
  14. Anti-Doping – 22%
  15. Code of Conduct for Parents – 10%

The PSO that had the most of the required policies was the Ontario Soccer Association. Other highly compliant PSOs included Swim Ontario, Synchro Swim Ontario, Freestyle Skiing Ontario, Ontario Sailing, Golf Ontario, Ontario Football, Ontario Rugby, and Softball Ontario.

It is possible that some PSOs have some of the above policies but do not have them online or easily accessible to members. The Sport Recognition Policy requires that the policies be available for Members to read and use.

Pathway to Compliance

Compliance seems daunting. There is so much required – and so little time to get organized. Also, many summer sport organizations are just ending their seasons – while many winter sport organizations are just getting their seasons started. It is a very busy time and a challenging for volunteer and staff capacity.

Here is a step-by-step plan to get your PSO moving forward:

Step 1 – Form an ad-hoc Sport Recognition Compliance Committee

We recommend a small committee of three individuals. The Committee will need to meet frequently and have open lines of communication with the entire Board and the organization’s staff.

Step 2 – Prepare a Budget for the Committee’s operation

For many organizations, there are a large number of new policies to develop and possible governance changes ahead. In many cases, a PSO’s volunteers, Directors, and staff will not have the capacity or expertise to introduce so many new elements into the organization before the deadline. A budget for outside consulting, legal, or financial assistance will likely be necessary.

Step 3 – Review Administration

The Committee should first review the status of the PSO’s bylaws to determine if all Directors are elected into their positions. If not, amendments to the by-laws will be required. The Committee should also collect the other material necessary for this section (e.g., insurance certificate, proof of incorporation, endorsement from the NSO, budgets, and audits) and investigate whether the PSOs has any recent strategic or operational plans.

Step 4 – Propose By-laws amendments (if necessary) and call a special meeting of the members

We hope that the government will be the most lenient (assigning “partial recognition”) to those organizations that appoint some of their Directors. Governance change is an involved process and should not be rushed. It would be problematic for organizations to rush through a governance change before October 31st, 2016. Still, PSOs should prepare to revise their Board structure, plan to amend bylaws at the next AGM and, if the AGM is not already planned for a date before April 1st, 2017, call a special meeting of the Members before April 1st, 2017 for the purpose of revising the elections process – in order to prohibit the appointment of Directors.

Step 5 – Review current policies

A policy inventory would collect all existing policies from every source – including physical handbooks, website caches, and office staff computers. It is important to know what policies have been previously approved and are currently in use – even if the members (or Directors) are not aware of their existence.

Step 6 – Update current policies, and prepare and approve new policies

We recommend engaging an external consultant for this stage of the process. The Ontario government provided a ‘Sport Recognition Resource Guide’ which linked to policies currently in use by some PSOs as well as to external resources. The Sport Law & Strategy Group was directly cited in the guide and many of the linked policies were written by our group. We have prepared tailored policies for organizations and we can do so quickly for PSOs.

Step 7 – Initiate strategic planning  

Organizations that do not have a strategic plan in place will find it impossible to initiate and complete a full strategic planning process before the October 31st, 2016 deadline. Again we hope that the government will be lenient in this section and provide “partial recognition” with full compliance in this area expected by April 1st, 2017. Strategic planning is deep and involved and should incorporate member and participant feedback. Starting the membership engagement process ASAP can allow the PSO to have a completed multi-year strategic plan by April 1st, 2017. External consulting should be strongly considered in this area as well.

Step 8 – Plan for the future

Full recognition status must be maintained and each PSO will want to leave a legacy from this process. The Committee should record how they met provincial sport recognition (in cases modifications are needed in the future) and a small part of the organization’s budget should be allocated to the organization’s continued health and progress. The PSOs strategic and operational plans should indicate how the organization will grow and succeed –and governance and operational stability is a vital component. Future planning for necessary governance changes (such as the transition to compliance with the upcoming ONCA) and operational benefits (such as risk management workshops) will be advantageous for the organization.


The Sport Law & Strategy Group is experienced in helping organizations with all aspects applicable to the recognition process. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like assistance with anything we discussed in this post.

Steve Indig -
Kevin Lawrie –
LeeAnn Cupidio –

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