Canadian Tire Corp. has permanently ended its sponsorship of Hockey Canada, and a provincial hockey association called for the resignation of both the board and executive team, amid an intensifying backlash over how the organization handled an alleged sexual assault involving Team Canada players.
A number of sponsors publicly distanced themselves from Hockey Canada on Wednesday and Thursday, including Tim Hortons, Bank of Nova Scotia, Telus, Esso and BFL Canada, which all announced they would not be sponsoring any men’s events for the 2022-23 season. That includes the world junior championship tournament, a signature Hockey Canada event being held this winter in Halifax. A number of other sponsors also confirmed that earlier decisions to suspend support for Hockey Canada are still in effect.
The moves by sponsors mean a significant hit to Hockey Canada’s finances, though some companies said that they continue to support para hockey, women’s and youth events. The organization relies on corporate support for a large portion of its revenue: 43 per cent came from business development and partnerships last year, according to the organization’s annual report. Government assistance amounted to just 6 per cent of the revenue. Canadian Tire was the first international sponsor to announce a decision to permanently cut off support for the organization.
“In our view, Hockey Canada continues to resist meaningful change and we can no longer confidently move forward together,” Jane Shaw, Canadian Tire’s senior vice-president of communications, wrote in a statement on Thursday.
After the Canadian Tire announcement, Recipe Unlimited Corp. (which owns Swiss Chalet and The Keg) said that it had decided to cancel all sponsorship activities with Hockey Canada related to men’s hockey. In a statement, spokesperson Nicolette Garito wrote that the company would continue supporting women’s hockey for the rest of 2022. “At this point, we will not be engaging in any partnership discussions,” she wrote.
Sobeys parent company Empire Co. Ltd. said on Thursday that it chose not to renew its Hockey Canada sponsorship when the deal expired in June. Sobeys’ sponsorship was limited to the women’s national hockey team, and the company is exploring how to continue that support directly without involving Hockey Canada, spokesperson Karen White-Boswell wrote in a statement.
“We chose not to renew our sponsorship because we were disgusted by all of the allegations and, as importantly, Hockey Canada’s unwillingness to make meaningful change to earn back the trust of Canadians and ensure everyone feels welcome and safe when playing the sport,” Ms. White-Boswell wrote.
Nike is the only “premier marketing partner” – the top tier of Hockey Canada’s sponsors – to remain silent this week. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Globe on Wednesday and Thursday.
Hockey Canada is also facing growing pressure from provincial hockey associations. On Thursday, Hockey Manitoba asked the organization’s leadership team and board of directors to step down after an emergency meeting it held the previous night.
Hockey Manitoba is the first provincial hockey body to call for changes at the top of the organization. That followed a decision by Hockey Québec to immediately withhold player registration fees from Hockey Canada, while the Ontario Hockey Federation began laying the groundwork for a similar move. At an emergency board meeting on Thursday, Hockey Nova Scotia also voted to withhold a portion of the fees it usually sends to Hockey Canada for the 2022-23 season.
At federal hearings in Ottawa this week, MPs criticized Hockey Canada for failing to properly investigate allegations made by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 national junior team after a Hockey Canada fundraiser.
A Globe and Mail investigation in July revealed that Hockey Canada used an internal reserve built by player registration fees, known as the National Equity Fund, to settle a $3.55-million sexual-assault lawsuit for an undisclosed sum. The players were not named in the court documents, and lawyers representing them have denied the allegations.
On Monday, The Globe and Mail revealed that Hockey Canada created a second multimillion-dollar fund, built from player registration fees, to protect its various branches from sexual-assault claims. The organization did not disclose to parents and players how their money was ultimately being used.
At the hearings Tuesday, Hockey Canada’s interim chair Andrea Skinner defended the organization and told members of Parliament that it was being treated as a “scapegoat” for a societal problem.
Many sponsors first suspended their support in June in the wake of the allegations. PepsiCo, Chevrolet Canada, Bauer Hockey and BDO Canada all said on Thursday that the decision remains in effect.
For its part, Canadian Tire plans to redirect money it spent on the Hockey Canada sponsorship to “hockey-related organizations that better align with our values,” Ms. Shaw wrote. One of them is the Respect Group, an organization dedicated to preventing bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.
Bell Media-owned networks TSN and RDS, which broadcast the world junior tournament and remain Hockey Canada broadcast partners, declined to answer questions from The Globe about whether their broadcast plans for the upcoming event have changed, or whether they had begun selling advertising for those broadcasts. The company also would not specify how much its revenues fell for the last world junior tournament in August. TSN first revealed the details about the existence of the 2018 lawsuit and Hockey Canada’s settlement in the spring.
“As broadcast partners, TSN and RDS urge Hockey Canada to enact meaningful change to deliver a hockey environment built on a culture of respect,” spokesperson Rob Duffy wrote in a statement.
On Thursday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that Hockey Canada’s position on the issue is “nonsensical.”
“It’s not like there’s something extraordinarily special about the people at Hockey Canada that means they are the only people in the country that can run an organization like this,” Mr. Trudeau said. “…They need to realize that if we have to ... get rid of Hockey Canada and create an organization called Canada Hockey instead, people will look at doing that.”
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge echoed that sentiment on Thursday, saying Hockey Canada’s leaders have lost the support of sponsors, Canadian families and their own members.
“So I hope that they understand the message and leave before they burn it to the ground,” Ms. St-Onge told reporters in Ottawa.
Hockey Canada once again faces the prospect of presenting its marquee world junior tournament with big-name brands noticeably absent. Companies that have pulled support for this season will have no presence at the event, including pulling their brands from rink-side boards, as an example. Tim Hortons and Bank of Nova Scotia both confirmed they also will not be buying ads during the broadcast of the tournament on TSN and RDS.
Other men’s hockey events in the 2022-23 season that will be affected include the world Junior A challenge and the Centennial Cup, which is the national Junior A championship.