What We’re Watching in 2014

Published February 5, 2014

Last year in February we wrote about what we were watching in 2013 and this year we thought we would do the same. But this year we also wanted to highlight some of what we accomplished over the past twelve months.

Rachel: The NFP Act has been a major issue on the radar of every National Sport Organization (NSO) and federally incorporated non-profit for the last three years. Finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel! We have assisted over 70 organizations with their transition process and nearly everyone is proceeding on schedule. Please contact us if you are struggling with anything so we can be sure you get it done in time.

Of course with so many governance changes across sport I will be focusing some of 2014 on how these organizations are operating in new ways. Some groups have elected directors for the first time ever and many other organizations are getting their heads around the new task of actively seeking out and nominating qualified individuals to director positions. The rewrite of member classes has also triggered a need to review and rewrite a lot of other policies. Governance work will continue well beyond the October 2014 deadline.

To this end, and as part of my own professional development, I am becoming certified as a Parliamentarian and I am excited for the new knowledge that this designation will allow me to offer our clients.

Separate from the governance question, I am distressed to see that many smaller Multi Sport and Service Organizations (MSOs) are facing new funding challenges as government moves towards more and more 'targeted investment'. Sport Officials Canada, AthletesCAN, Coaches of Canada and CAAWS, among others, have seen funding reductions and will have to find new ways to continue operations. One amalgamation is already underway and more may follow as smaller organizations try to find themselves a new place to call home.

Lastly, I see 2014 as a Big Games Year. I am concerned for the safety of our team members in Sochi but I am also intrigued to see how Putin's Games will play out. I also look forward to my time in Scotland this summer, where I will be Team Ombudsman at the Commonwealth Games, in an environment very different and much more welcoming than Sochi, Russia.  RMC@sportlaw.ca

Steve: This year saw a sharp increase in the number of organizations I helped with their employee engagement and human resource issues. Even though emotion or circumstances might call for immediate dismissal of an employee, there are certain standards that must be respected - and I’m pleased to see organizations contacting us for assistance with their employment-related questions.

This year I’ll be watching how the ONCA affects Ontario-based not-for-profits. Not only in terms of governance restructuring but also in terms of sport groups understanding that well-drafted policies work in tandem with an organization’s governing documents. Too often we see clubs that combine their legal bylaws with their organization’s policies and even their playing rules!  Learning how to separate these distinct documents can help organizations manage their operations and better serve their members. We can help!  SJI@sportlaw.ca

Hilary The importance of the recent NFL and NHL concussion lawsuits revolve around what these leagues knew about the possibility of concussions occurring, how they dealt with ‘return to play’ issues, and if rules and practices of the game in fact enhance the occurrence of concussions. These are major issues for both professional and amateur sport.

I have suggested in the past that we are seeing a shifting standard of care for sport organizations – not just football and hockey - but any sport in which head trauma can be an issue. This shifting standard will be critical to all levels of sport and ‘on field’ conduct will have to be judged in this light. Organizations will need to ensure they have relevant polices and ways to ensure the policies are being followed. This affects not just the organization’s employees, volunteers and directors but also its coaches, officials and, indeed, parents of athletes, who all need to be part of a solution to the dangers that concussions pose.

This is not a new issue, but it is one that has now filtered to the consciousness of all sport organizations. Even so, many organizations have not fully embraced it but societal standards have shifted and organizations will be expected to have addressed it.

The other major trend I’m watching focuses on the need for sport organizations to be nimble in their understanding and reaction to an evolving landscape driven by electronic media. Social media has meant individuals and organizations must do business differently. But there are other forces impinging on this environment: changes to Canada’s Copyright Act (which very much impacts the way we use social media), new anti-spam legislation, which does impact not-for-profit groups, and the global reach and instantaneous communication of electronic media all play a significant role and we all need to be on top of what this means. HAF@sportlaw.ca

Dina In 2013 we hosted a number of risk management workshops and I led some major strategic planning initiatives with some very progressive organizations. These challenges are always exciting and I am always thrilled to see a reborn organization at the end of the process.  I am also happy to report that over 450 copies of my book have been distributed to sport organizations throughout the country. Activating values are vitally important to the success of any sport organization.

As part of my own personal values – a commitment to lifelong learning – I am currently enrolled in an Integral Coaching program that will further my knowledge in the areas of leadership, executive coaching, and mentoring. I see ‘Human Resource Capacity’ as a major theme of 2014. As sport organizations begin to focus on their values, they will be able to empower their Directors, Employees, and other personnel and find new leaders and capacity within their own organization. DBL@sportlaw.ca

LeeAnn: Like Steve, I am also watching the introduction of the ONCA into the board rooms (or clubhouses) of Ontario not-for-profit organizations. I have already assisted some groups with their bylaws and presented on the ONCA in front of collections of sport groups.

My interest in accessibility standards persists and, although it is not flashy, organizations need to be aware of the legal requirements around providing access to individuals with disabilities. The issue of ‘accommodation’ is very prevalent in the education realm but that discussion in sport is still only based on the law.  We can be much more proactive about inclusivity.

I will also be closely watching the new anti-spam legislation and what effect this will have on the distribution of information to the members of sport organizations. Your number of newsletter subscribers is about to get a lot smaller unless your organization can be very proactive complying with this new legislation. I am always available to connect with people on any of these issues.   LLC@sportlaw.ca

Kevin: With the ONCA and the renewed interest in governance across sport has come a realization about how sport groups impose restrictions on their members. Simply, if you want to be a member of the organization – you have to abide by the organization’s rules. But you also gain power to question the operations of the organization if your rights as a member have been affected or if you have been wronged by another member. I am carefully watching how problems are resolved internally and I’m eager to assist even the smallest sport club with creating working policies that can help avoid emotional and contentious disputes.

I also continue to recommend that organizations have a social media policy that works together with their existing Code of Conduct, and alongside expertly-produced guidelines for social media use. I have started working more closely with organizations as they develop their strategic plans and include their proposed social media engagement. Why do we tweet?  What is the purpose of our organization’s Facebook? Social media should be used intentionally and for purposes outlined in your organization’s strategic plan. Starting with that base will give your organization a strong foundation for all its social media engagement. I can help your organization make those connections.  KRL@sportlaw.ca

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