Hockey Canada ousted CEO Scott Smith on Tuesday and the board of directors also resigned due to a series of scandals that have rocked the sport’s national federation to its core.
Smith spent nearly three decades climbing the ladder at Hockey Canada and lasted just three months at the top, unable to survive the fallout related to how Hockey Canada handled sexual assault allegations and how the organization paid out settlements.
Hockey Canada said in a statement that an interim management committee will be put in place to guide the organization until a new board, which is set to be elected in December, appoints Smith’s successor. The organization also said the outgoing board recognized “the urgent need for new leadership and new perspectives” in stepping down.
Federal Minister of Sport Pascal St-Onge called Tuesday’s changes “the right decision” and “a step toward restoring Canadians’ confidence in the organization.”
“The interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter. “We expect Hockey Canada to actively work towards a team whose expertise will contribute to better support and training for players, and an environment exempt from sexual violence and discrimination.”
Former board chair Michael Brind’Amour resigned in August and interim chair Andrea Skinner stepped down Saturday after politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called for leadership change and corporate sponsors jumped ship.
Smith took over from outgoing CEO Tom Renney on July 1 after a succession plan was announced in April. But Hockey Canada’s world started to come crashing down shortly thereafter.
TSN was first to report in May that an undisclosed settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged in a $3.55 million lawsuit she was sexually assaulted by eight players — including members of the country’s world junior team — after a 2018 Hockey Canada gala in London, Ontario.
Police in London later said they would reopen the investigation into the 2018 incident, and the NHL is also conducting an investigation because many of the players from that junior team are now in the league.
Then there was the revelation that Hockey Canada had a secretive fund partly maintained by minor hockey registration fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.
A Hockey Canada official testified in July that the organization had doled out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989 — not including this year’s payout to the London plaintiff. The majority went to the victims of disgraced former junior hockey coach Graham James.
The organization also has said members of the 2003 men’s world junior team are being investigated for a group sexual assault. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Hockey Canada has had its federal funding cut off.
Also Tuesday, Bauer Hockey paused its partnership as the official equipment provider for Hockey Canada’s men’s teams and its sponsorship of men’s tournaments, calling the repeated breach of trust by the national organization’s leadership “extremely disturbing.”
Bauer said Hockey Canada will be able to purchase gear for men’s programs, with profits being invested in hockey programs for girls, women and other underrepresented communities. It also will continue to supply equipment to the women’s programs.
Bauer’s move follows similar announcements by sponsors including Nike, Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons. But it’s unclear whether an overhaul of Hockey Canada’s boardroom and management will be a significant enough change to address corporate concerns.
“It’s really the policy and strategy (change) and a revised charter and focus that we believe needs to evolve before we would feel comfortable jumping back in,” Bauer CEO Ed Kinnaly said in an interview before the resignations were announced.
“If Hockey Canada were a business, they would be failing,” he added. “The number of kids getting involved in hockey in Canada is spiraling downward … but nobody’s talking about that. Instead, people are pointing to national team victories.”
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