Hockey Canada departures may not be enough as sponsors seek policy, culture change

By The Canadian Press

A leadership change at Hockey Canada may not be enough to bring back its biggest corporate sponsors, with broader concerns over its direction and policies cited as the reason some companies pulled their support in the first place.

The national sport organization’s chief executive and board of directors stepped down on Tuesday after months of controversy over how it handled sexual assault allegations.

The departures came hours after Bauer Hockey became the latest major sponsor to cut ties, saying it would pause its role as the official equipment provider to Hockey Canada’s men’s teams and its sponsorship of men’s tournaments.

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.

RELATED: Hockey Canada’s CEO leaves, entire board of directors steps down

“If Hockey Canada were a business, they would be failing,” he added. “The number of kids getting involved in hockey in Canada is spiralling downward … but nobody’s talking about that. Instead, people are pointing to national team victories.”

Bauer vice-president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier said Hockey Canada’s focus needs to shift from “elite performance to growing the game.”

“This is about trying to do the right thing for families that want to access the game,” said Messier, sister of former professional ice hockey player Mark Messier.

“We need a new structure that will foster inclusivity, increase equity and encourage more Canadians to play.”

Chevrolet Canada spokeswoman Jennifer Wright said it sees the leadership change as “a step in the right direction if Hockey Canada is to now address its culture and organization.”

The automaker will continue to evaluate its support and sponsorship going forward “to ensure this organization, under its new leadership, fits with our values,” she said.

An emphasis on cultural problems was a common thread in many of the statements explaining why companies were backing away from Hockey Canada.

Telus said last week it was disheartened by the lack of action driving “necessary cultural change” and referred to necessary “systemic change” within the sport. Canadian Tire also spoke of “meaningful change” being necessary.

Earlier this year, Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter wrote in an open letter to Hockey Canada that their paused sponsorship would not resume “until we are confident the right steps are being taken to improve the culture within the sport.”

Bauer is currently in the middle of a multi-million dollar, eight-year partnership with Hockey Canada.

The company provides players on national teams with helmets, visors and gloves, with the option of using Bauer sticks and skates.

Hockey Canada will be able to purchase gear for men’s programs, with profits being invested in hockey programs for girls, women and other under-represented communities, Bauer said.

The hockey equipment maker will continue to supply equipment to the women’s programs.

The company’s aim is to drive policy change and not to impact athletes or “paint everyone with the same brush,” Messier said.

“There are so many people doing good work in Hockey Canada,” she said. “There’s a lot of people working in the grassroots.”

Bauer’s move follows similar announcements by sponsors including Nike, Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons.

It also comes after Andrea Skinner resigned as the interim chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors on Saturday.

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