When Hockey Canada was first confronted by the reality of its connection to an alleged sexual assault, it was affronted that anyone expected it to defend itself.
“We have settled this matter and as part of that settlement, we will not be commenting further,” the organization said in a statement five weeks ago.
“Hockey Canada is on a journey to change the culture of our sport and blah blah blah values blah blah inclusive blah blah changes …” – you could write this gibberish from memory by now.
One never understands if corporations write these things because they don’t have better ideas, or because they genuinely think they will work. What ever happened to an old-fashioned mass resignation?
Amidst the now daily call and response – people call on Hockey Canada sponsors to pick a side; they respond by running away screaming – there is the overarching question of morality.
How could a moral organization find itself lumped in with Hollywood sex predators and the former president of the United States – the sort of people who run around wallpapering over crimes with cash?
The answer is that large corporations are neither moral nor immoral. Once they reach a certain size, they are amoral. They exist only to protect and propagate themselves. This process is accelerated if the mission is a holy one.
Hockey Canada was born more than 50 years ago out of one petty motivation – to beat the Soviets by any means necessary.
Canada’s loosey-goosey amateur approach was fine for safeguarding the spirit of hockey, but it wasn’t any good for foreign wars. Time to bring in some hard, pipe-smoking business types to get medieval on the Commies.
Unlike most visionary measures backed by the federal government, it worked. It worked so well that Hockey Canada began to sprawl.
The next step was as inevitable as the grave. Created to do one thing, Hockey Canada began to believe it should do everything.
They weren’t just a bunch of good ol’ boys there to say, “Hey, Wayne Gretzky’s pretty good. What if we put him on Team Canada?” and then sell a few sweaters. No, they were on a pilgrimage to bring hockey to the masses.
It didn’t matter that the masses already had hockey up to their necks. What mattered was convincing people they could do what had already been done, only better.
Since everyone involved is Canadian, nobody told them they were doing a job no one needed. Half a century on, we’re still pretending they have a real function – like a mechanic or a bus driver. But what does Hockey Canada do, really?
Administer the game? The game was administered long before it showed up and it will be administered when it’s gone. All it did was slap a capital ‘a’ on administer. The result is that nearly half of Hockey Canada’s budget is spent on “Administration.”
Grow the game? This country was supersaturated in it long before Hockey Canada showed up. Growing hockey in Canada is like growing snow in the Arctic. All that’s happened under its watch is that hockey’s gone from a pastime played by everyone to an obsession dominated by a moneyed elite.
Support the game? The game has plenty of support now and always has. What Hockey Canada introduced into the mix was sponsorship. This is where companies give it a bunch of money, it comps those companies all the seats in the lower bowl and the companies make TV ads about regular people celebrating at hockey games they can’t afford to go to. In economics, this used to be called greasing the pig. You are the pig.
Manage the national team? Are you kidding me? You could manage the national team. A monkey with a laser pointer could pick the team and you could say, “Maybe we should start Poulin at centre?” and, boom, Olympic gold medal. Great job, monkey. Great job, you.
Also, and I say this with all due reverence for the sacred rites of winter, who cares? I need Canada to win the world juniors like I need another Tim Hortons ad about Sidney Crosby working the drive-thru. If the goal of these treacly Canadian hockey ads is making me want to root for Sweden, they’re doing amazing work.
So while playing for Team Canada may be hard, picking Team Canada is not hard. Managing Team Canada is not hard. Marketing Team Canada is not hard. It’s Canada. Anyone could do it.
(If Hockey Canada wants to start Hockey Ecuador instead, I’m willing to reconsider my opinion.)
But it’s boring to talk of the work of hockey, of which there isn’t enough to fill an eight-hour day. It’s much more fun to talk about mission statements and visions.
According to the “Mandate and Mission” page of its website, Hockey Canada’s current vision is “World Sports Leaders.” That’s it. Just “Vision” and, under that, “World Sports Leaders.”
Like, it sees them, or it is one, or it wants to be one or what? Doesn’t say. I guess its mandate does not include copy editing.
Its mandate doesn’t include a lot of things – transparency, responsiveness, sports leadership, sound judgment, common sense of the most instinctual, self-interested sort.
Even an idiot knows when he’s in trouble. Through its communiques in recent weeks, Hockey Canada does not appear to have the sense of an idiot. It is whistling its way into the institutional graveyard.
As usual when it comes to scandals of this sort, what actually surprises is that anyone’s surprised. People are nimble, but corporations are thick. They seize up under pressure. Right now, Hockey Canada is a lobster issuing press releases while the water around it boils.
One supposes there are many ways to reform Hockey Canada, and that a whack of public money is about to be spent exploring them.
There is one simple, cost-efficient way to manage the job – blow up Hockey Canada. Atomize it. Scatter its ashes across the nation.
You want “grassroots” sport – a word Hockey Canada waves around the way villagers wave crosses at vampires – then let’s do that. Allow real people in real places to husband the game where it lives. Leave the suits out of it altogether.
This ought not be done just because of a single scandal. It should be done because the institution is no longer fit for purpose.
Hockey Canada was created to make this country the greatest hockey nation on Earth. Mission accomplished. Now its primary goal is ensuring the survival of Hockey Canada. The last few weeks are an example of where that sort of thinking gets you.