Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash
Content Warning: Discussion of sexual violence
The 2022 Women’s World Hockey Championship concluded on Sunday, Sept. 4 with Canada claiming their second straight gold at the tournament. This was the first time Canada has won back-to-back Worlds in 18 years.
The game was a tightly fought 2-1 affair with yet another face off between the bitter and long time rivals of Canada and the United States. This victory marked the Canadian women’s third straight first-place finish in major tournaments after their Olympic gold in Beijing and last summer’s World Championship in Calgary. These all came after Canada dropped to No. two in the world rankings, a placement they were not content with and looked to change.
Brianne Jenner scored both goals for Canada in the second period, while Abby Roque was the lone American goal scorer. Canadian goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens stole the show by making huge plays down the stretch, including a flurry of saves with less than a minute to go, sealing the victory.
Unfortunately, the person who really took the spotlight after this instant-classic was Hockey Canada president and CEO, Scott Smith. In a questionable decision, Hockey Canada sent Smith to hand out the medals at the final ceremony.
Hockey Canada has recently become embroiled in scandals both in sexual assault allegations against member players, and for the organization’s subsequent handling of their investigations.
Concerns were raised when it was revealed that a London woman had alleged that she was assaulted by eight members of the Canadian World Junior Hockey team following a Hockey Canada Foundation gala in 2018. These allegations were not uncovered until this past May, while the identities of the players remain unknown. The investigation closed without compelling team members to participate or Canadian Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge ever being informed of the proceedings.
Upon TSN’s Rick Westhead breaking the story, St-Onge ordered an audit of Hockey Canada’s use of federal funds. Then-CEO Tom Renney along with Smith testified at a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting about their handling of the investigation. Hockey Canada’s explanations were met with widespread criticism. Shortly thereafter, Hockey Canada’s funding was frozen, along with many of their sponsors pulling out. Renney stepped down as CEO with Smith taking his place. On June 22, The House of Commons unanimously approved an independent investigation into Hockey Canada.
It was revealed on July 18 that Hockey Canada has maintained a National Equity Fund taken from minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities. Its use included settling $8.9 million dollars in damages for 21 sexual assault allegations dating as far back as 1989. Days later, it was announced that Canada’s 2003 champion World Junior team was being investigated for a separate group sexual assault allegation in Halifax.
Despite many calls for his resignation, Smith has refused to step down from his position and has received continued support from the board of directors.
Unfortunately, Hockey Canada’s imposition on the tournament began before the finals even began. During the first intermission of a semi-final game between Canada and Switzerland, recently elected interim chair Andrea Skinner defended Smith, as well as making other inflammatory comments, claiming that some of the criticism of Hockey Canada’s executive team was “unfair.”
“I regret that there hasn’t been recognition or attention paid to some of the good work that our board has been doing,” said Skinner.
Regarding the “National Equity Fund,” Skinner said, “I hope we can correct and move on from the mis-perceptions around that.”
“There’s a lot wrong with Hockey Canada; the perceptions are not one.” said Dr. Taylor McKee, a Brock professor in the department of applied health sciences, who studies sport and its societal Implications. “Missing from this entire process has been humility. They’re not showing humility. Nothing has been addressed from June, from May, from March. They’re almost impatient that the cycle hasn’t changed,” said Dr. McKee
To many, this signaled that Hockey Canada had learned little from their scandal and were unwilling to significantly change.
This view was reinforced by the decision to have Smith —likely the most embattled of the remaining Hockey Canada executives from the scandal— as the person handing out medals at the ceremony.
“The decision to send Smith is such a stern message of recalcitrance,” said Dr. McKee. “If they’re digging in…if they’re hoping to bask in that glow [of the Canadian win], it’s incredibly concerning.”
“If it was in Toronto, it would be one thing. Every dollar a non-profit spends means something. Every single dollar is accounted for. Every dollar that’s spent on a flight to Denmark is one that can’t go to a reffing clinic. So we can’t pretend like this is a meaningless expense; every single dollar sends a message when you are a non-profit. And these guys know that. We can’t give them ignorance…but my heart is leaning towards malice,” said Dr, McKee.
The further issue is the lack of recourse for athletes. Even if they wanted to protest Smith’s presence or speak out against it, they were left in a tough situation.
“Unlike these NHLers who have a ton of leverage, when [the women] centralize to play for these teams, they are ostensibly Hockey Canada employees…so they are not incentivized to speak out,” said Dr. McKee.
The fact that Smith made that trip to Denmark, and that Skinner so publicly continues to back him as well as Hockey Canada’s processes speaks volumes about their position; they are out of touch. It’s concerning that the Hockey Canada executives thought that this scandal could blow over and that what they have done is enough. Their antagonistic PR approach to their continued criticism is even more concerning. It’s not the “mis-perceptions” that are the problem, it might be the people that are still in charge.