It's no secret Canadians love their hockey. You could hear a collective gasp across the country last December when Hockey Canada cancelled the World Juniors mid-tournament due to the rising Covid cases. Now we're all wondering about the future of this tournament with the brand crisis facing Hockey Canada.
Photo Credit: Unsplash - Markus Spiske
Fans and sponsors were shocked to learn that a woman had filed a civil lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight CHL players in Ontario Superior Court in London, Ontario.
"In the case, the woman says she was sexually assaulted by eight CHL players – including some members of the 2017-18 Canadian World Junior Championship team – in a London hotel room after a Hockey Canada Foundation golf and gala event on June 18, 2018." (Sportsnet, June 21, 2022)
In the Statement of Claim in the case, the woman sought $3.55 million in damages. Hockey Canada settled the suit with an undisclosed amount and investigated for concerns suggesting they used taxpayer money for the payout.
The crisis continues today as Hockey Canada's corporate sponsors are revoking or pausing their support faster than a slapshot. As of June 30, 2022, Tim Hortons (owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International Inc.,) Esso Brand (Imperial Oil Canada), Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Tire and TELUS have all withdrawn support from the World Junior even. A few went as far as making public statements that they were dissatisfied with the management of these allegations.
So how can Hockey Canada respond to re-gain trust?
Apologize. Hockey Canada should start with a public apology for its inactions and lack of transparency. Take accountability for what happened and tell the public how you will implement actionable changes.
Take Action. After acknowledging the issue, take action by inviting an external review of the current Hockey Canada Maltreatment, Bullying and Harassment Protection and Prevention Policy. Give attention to these four areas:
1. Education, Awareness and Prevention: To change the culture within this organization, you need to educate players and coaching staff and increase their awareness of what is considered appropriate behaviour in today's environment. "Education and awareness can support prevention by supporting the changes in attitudes that perpetuate sexual misconduct, social norms, community attitudes, organizational practices and behaviours of bystanders and potential perpetrators." Gov. BC Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy
2. Revise and Update the Hockey Canada Misconduct Policy. Implement a Zero Tolerance Policy that includes written confirmation of understanding of the policy. Be open and transparent about the intent and the balance of consequences for those who violate them. Players must understand the full impact of their actions, and the outcome includes barring from the National Hockey League. Hockey players are role models for aspiring players. Make the penalty count.
3. Identify the Path of Reporting: Clearly outline what is reportable and how Hockey Canada will handle it at all levels of misconduct, harassment, and assault with an organizational chart highlighting who is responsible at each level within the organization.
4. Develop response procedures and protocols. Sexual allegations are a risk in any organization and need to be reviewed by management with the appropriate response procedures and protocols for when a situation arises. Effective policies speak to protection and support for the accuser as a priority, an open and transparent communications posture within the confines of releasable information, and a process for engaging stakeholders as part of the crisis communications plan.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Develop a communications plan that outlines the proactive actions implemented and strategically communicate them to all your stakeholders.
Be inclusive in your approach by using different communication platforms and options for those with visual or oral issues.
Engage your internal audience to ensure players and coaching staff understand their role in supporting your initiatives.
Consider the relationships that need repairing. Regularly engage with partnerships and agencies specific to supporting women, BIPOC folks, and members of the 2SLGTTQ+ community to develop strong partnerships and lines of communications.
The puck stops here with the leadership of Hockey Canada, who need to be more intentional about their approach and acknowledge their role in this crisis.
Hockey Canada now has an opportunity to lead the necessary changes within the hockey culture and be a model for sports organizations across Canada. They can rebuild trust for their brand and the hockey community by owning the crisis and making the required changes.
Time will tell if they come out as champions or remain in the penalty box.