Towards Sport 2.0 - A Renaissance for Canadian Sport: Part 2

Published on July 12, 2023

As Sport Law team members, we care deeply about sport, people and dreams. We often find ourselves working alongside leaders when they are feeling vulnerable, scared, frustrated or uncertain. We’ve written about the state of sport for years and how we need to re-imagine a healthier and holistic system that includes, inspires and ignites potential.

On March 31, 2022, we wrote a blog called A Public Accounting is Needed to Save Sport that referenced the Dubin Inquiry as a useful precedent for how to understand and hold people accountable for historical wrongdoings. The Dubin Inquiry implored sport leaders to deal with the ‘moral crisis’ in a proactive and values-based manner. Rather than heed Dubin’s advice, Canadian sport doubled downed on a focus on anti-doping measures that have not resulted in the kind of proactive and holistic culture that ought to be driving the foundation of sport.

Despite best efforts to instil a values-based approach to coaching, leadership, and athlete development, it was seen as a ‘nice to do’ not an ‘ought to do’. There is a world of difference between the two. True accountability means that we will put in place systems, policies, practices and programs that reflect our shared vision and values. Currently, Canadian sport operates on an archaic system that prioritizes outputs like medals and money over morals. We need a new triple bottom line that embeds a healthy and holistic approach.

We want people to thrive because of the system, not in spite of it.

Earlier this year, we expressed our vision for a renewed Canadian Sport system which we named Sport 2.0. We fundamentally believe that our current sport system is on life support and rather than keep it alive through extraordinary measures, we implore decision makers to allow the current system to die so that something new can emerge.

The system and structures that were created in the 1970s are not the ones that we need today. It was never espoused that this newly minted system would be the one that would serve into perpetuity. And let’s be clear: the foundation started crumbling over two decades ago. Our reliance on a depleted volunteer system is our fossil fuel. Outdated mindsets, entrenched worldviews, patriarchy, and white privilege are the invisible taxes that sport, a primarily volunteer led and delivered model, must confront. We simply cannot continue to play a game of whack-a-mole and expect a different result.

In our blogs, we attempt to address macro issues and offer micro solutions. We can’t do and be everything for everyone in our current design. We must ask different questions to invite new possibilities to emerge. Some of the questions we are curious about include:

Legally focused questions:

  • How do we ensure that all sport organizations meet minimum legal requirements?
  • In what ways can insurance providers and funding partners play a pivotal role in ensuring legal requirements are upheld?
  • How do we empower all groups within our community and participants to uphold our commitment to a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment?
  • How do we ensure that Independent Third Parties are truly independent?
  • How can organizations ensure they are having legal needs met using existing resources?
  • How do we minimize the jurisdictional fractures and respect the roles of national, provincial and local sport organizations?

Governance focused questions:

  • If we were designing a sport system today, what might it look like? What shape would the governance structure take?
  • In what ways do our current ‘selection by election’ approaches compare to consensus-style decision-making such as modelled in systems of Indigenous governance? Rather than thinking outside the box, let us be inspired by Indigenous traditions that invite people to think inside the circle.
  • Can volunteers realistically be expected to govern with the growing level of complexity required of sport organizations?
  • In what ways would paying a Director for their service help or hinder the organization? What assumptions are we making about Board remuneration?
  • What might a new definition of governance look like that sees governance as a shared leadership function that extends beyond the Board?

Management focused questions:

  • What kind of leadership ethos is imperative to lead in today’s world?
  • How can we intentionally design our culture in a manner that truly reflects our shared values?
  • How might we expand what we measure to also include paying attention to the lived experience of people?
  • In what ways can we invest in people development throughout their career, so they feel valued, respected, and incentivized to stay?
  • How do we ensure that our culture reflects our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity?
  • In what ways might we become more effective and efficient when we allow our values to guide our decisions?
  • How do we mitigate and manage risks in alignment with our values?

These are some of the questions that we have been grappling with alongside the thousands of sport organizations that we have supported since 1992. Truthfully, it feels daunting, if not frustrating, that the work we do as legal advisors, professional coaches, consultants, and strategists is often at the mercy of the system.

When we share our modern way of seeing the world, we are too often met with resistance or passivity. People are shell-shocked by some of what we believe are mission critical and necessary changes that must be put in place to mitigate risks. And yet, the system itself isn’t equipped or designed to bare the load of our increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

We are in a race for relevance. If we don’t adapt, we will become extinct.

We invite athletes, coaches, thought leaders, policy makers, strategists, economists, lawyers, human development experts, and parents to inform the design of Sport 2.0. A national inquiry into the state of sport will provide the much-needed information and catharsis to make amends, repair and restore relationships, design a sustainable system and renew hope.

To share our views on what a re-imagined sport system could look like, we designed a Platinum Standard for Canadian Sport that is founded on the following fundamental commitments:

Commitment 1: We have adopted a Management by Values ethos within our culture that is supported by sound policy and practices. We commit to identifying, defining, measuring and communicating our promise to manage and lead in accordance with our values including complying with relevant codes, legal requirements, and societal standards.

Commitment 2: We invest in our people through proactive and customized learning experiences that support their professional development and personal fulfillment. As a minimum, we provide training to our staff and volunteers so they can thrive, ensure our volunteer Directors are trained in their fiduciary responsibilities, update employment practices and expectations, provide mental health first aid, and enhance communications strategies to resolve tension and conflict respectfully.

Commitment 3: We have endorsed the True Sport Principles as our promise to uphold our commitment to safe, inclusive, and rewarding experiences for athletes, coaches, officials, and volunteers. We believe that when sport is healthy on the field of play, the organizations that support them can thrive.

Commitment 4: We believe that coaches and officials are essential as the field of play caretakers of our values and commitments. Our coaches are self-aware leaders who support an integral approach to human development including the physical, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual, and mental health of those they support. Our coaches are emotionally intelligent tacticians who have a shared passion for sport and embody the knowledge, skills and mindset to support the fulfillment of athletes.

Commitment 5: We ensure that athletes have the knowledge and training they need to advocate for self and others while fostering a sense of pride and belonging. When athletes become a member of the national team, they become ambassadors for healthy sport and are given the tools, compensation, agency and acknowledgement needed to thrive.

Commitment 6: When conflicts arise, we promise to manage them in accordance with our policies, procedural fairness and with an ethic of care that reflects our values. As signees to sport-specific Codes related to maltreatment and anti-doping, we will serve as responsible stewards to navigate conflict in an inclusive, fair, and transparent manner.

Commitment 7: To reflect our commitment to more inclusive and transparent experiences, we will ensure our sport reflects diversity at all levels. Our belief is that decision-makers ought to reflect the diversity of those that participate in sport. To honour this promise, we commit to learning about and embodying culturally diverse practices.

Commitment 8: We commit to structuring our governance model in a manner that reflects leading practices and the needs of the organization. We commit to mitigating conflict, managing risks as they arise, and communicating openly and proactively.

Commitment 9: We commit to renewing our culture by examining our effectiveness, providing our people with voice and choice, and looking for ways to improve. We intentionally monitor and measure what matters most … we want to know how people feel about the environment we are creating. 

Commitment 10: We commit to adding more commitments to maintain relevance and to stay humble.

As always, we are curious what your views might be and hope that these commitments inspire those that are longing to modernize and humanize their practices. We acknowledge the thousands of sport practitioners at all levels who have inspired us along the way through their belief in a better way.

We appreciate your notes letting us know the impact our writing is having on you as leaders. Please continue to connect with us at hello@sportlaw.ca. Sport 2.0 needs a village to fulfill its full potential.

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