Hockey Canada’s sponsors reached near unanimity in pulling support from the organization on Friday, as Nike became the last premier marketing partner to suspend its relationship. And the mayors of two host cities for the coming IIHF world junior championship called for “meaningful change” at Hockey Canada before the tournament occurs – adding to a growing backlash over how the organization has handled allegations of sexual assault.
In a joint statement on Friday, Halifax Mayor Michael Savage and Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said they are “deeply concerned” about the organization’s “lack of judgment and professionalism.” Their statement came in the wake of the premiers of both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick suggesting they would consider cutting support for the tournament unless significant changes are made by the national sport organization. Hockey New Brunswick also announced on Friday it will suspend its $3-per-player participant fee to Hockey Canada while the federal association is under independent review.
On the same day, Nike spokesperson Sandra Carreon-John wrote that “substantive action” is needed to transform hockey for the future.
Nike’s announcement follows a wave of similar moves from other major sponsors in recent days, including Tim Hortons, Telus, Esso, and Bank of Nova Scotia, which all cut off support for all men’s events for the 2022-23 season. That includes the world junior championship tournament, Hockey Canada’s signature event of the holiday season.
On Thursday, Canadian Tire went a step further, saying it was permanently ending its Hockey Canada sponsorship.
Many sponsors criticized Hockey Canada for not taking concrete steps to address the crisis. “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.
Nike is awaiting “more information regarding Hockey Canada’s actions to address the findings in these investigations and create a safe environment for all athletes,” Ms. Carreon-John wrote.
The withdrawal of corporate support is a significant financial hit for Hockey Canada, which relied on business development and partnerships for 43 per cent of its revenue last year. The organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the sponsors’ decisions this week.
Hockey Canada has been under fire for its handling of sexual assault allegations in 2003 and 2018 involving junior players, and for its use of a multimillion-dollar fund fed by registration fees to settle claims.
A Globe and Mail investigation in July revealed the existence of that internal reserve, known as the National Equity Fund, which was used to settle a $3.55-million sexual-assault lawsuit for an undisclosed sum. In that lawsuit, a woman said she was sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 national junior team after a Hockey Canada fundraiser. Court documents did not name the players, and lawyers representing them have denied the allegations.
On Monday, The Globe revealed that Hockey Canada built a second multimillion-dollar fund using player registration fees, to protect its various branches from sexual-assault claims. The organization did not inform parents or players about how their money was being used.
After parliamentary hearings in Ottawa this week, at which Hockey Canada’s interim board chair Andrea Skinner argued it had been made into a “scapegoat” for a societal problem, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge both said the organization has lost Canadians’ support. “So I hope that they understand the message and leave before they burn it to the ground,” Ms. St-Onge told reporters in Ottawa Thursday.
The mayors of Moncton and Halifax had been in touch about their “growing concerns” about the situation, they wrote in their statement Friday.
“We look for meaningful changes within Hockey Canada prior to the World Junior Championship taking place in our cities,” the statement said.
On Friday morning, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said he had considered pulling provincial support for the tournament if Hockey Canada doesn’t take “concrete action,” but any decision would be made jointly with Nova Scotia. “All considerations are part of the equation,” he told reporters outside the legislature. “But let’s hope we don’t get that far.”
He suggested changes needed to be made “by the end of October.”
A New Brunswick government spokesperson told The Globe and Mail that the province had pledged $1.25-million in funding, but no money had yet been disbursed. It is unclear how much other city and provincial agencies have pledged in support for the tournament.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston had said he was “deeply disappointed by what we continue to see in Hockey Canada” and that before the tournament proceeds, “we need to see some meaningful changes that respect the concerns of Nova Scotians and Canadians.”
The politicians’ statements add more uncertainty to an already bumpy path for the tournament, with fewer than 80 days to go before the scheduled puck drop on Dec. 26. Hockey Canada named Halifax and Moncton hosts of the 2023 event in early May, after the International Ice Hockey Federation revoked hosting privileges from Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia in the wake of that country’s invasion of Ukraine.