Some day, the collected statements of Hockey Canada will be collated, ring-bound and given to MBA students to go over in ‘How to Destroy a Business in a Few Easy Steps.’
First, do something wrong. Second, keep it a secret. Third, obfuscate once it has been discovered. Fourth, handcuff yourself to your desk and refuse to leave.
This is sordid stuff, but not rare. Hockey Canada has done some strong work, scandal-wise, but it will have to try harder if it wants to get bumped up to the Nixonian big leagues. But given the past couple of turns in this story, you cannot say that Canadian institutions lack ambition.
A story on Tuesday by The Globe’s Grant Robertson gives the broad strokes of Hockey Canada’s so-called National Equity Fund.
This was an off-the-public-books account that held money in reserve in order to pay out legal awards. According to an affidavit by a former Hockey Canada vice-president, some of that money was used “to cover potential uninsured liabilities.” Those liabilities included “potential claims for historical sexual abuse.”
The fund was seeded in part using registration money paid by amateur hockey players across the country, from little kids to grown men and women. Millions of dollars, just sitting around waiting for something to happen that was too hot to be put through an insurer.
It’s not clear if the fund was used to pay the woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted in 2018 by members of Canada’s world junior team. But that is why it existed.
So if you or your children play organized hockey in this country, it is possible you helped pay that settlement. Through no fault of your own, you might be implicated.
I am hard-pressed to come up with something that better qualifies as a mass-resignation event. What’s Hockey Canada’s most recent take? ‘Give us a break here, we’re trying.’
Hockey Canada’s last communiqué was entitled ‘An Open Letter to Canadians.’ When you’re used to keeping your partly publicly funded business under wraps, any letter meant to be read by the people who pay your salary becomes an “open” letter.
The crux of it – that Hockey Canada is really sorry and it’s not leaving. Having done one investigation, it will now do an even bigger investigation. After that, one assumes it will investigate the investigations and then investigate how to do investigations as part of its Celebrating 10 Years of Investigations charity gala.
Let us imagine how something like this might work in your world. You get caught using the neighbourhood’s yard-sale money to settle a debt. You do your own investigation, signed off on by your dog, who is a fully independent, third-party household pet.
The neighbours won’t let it go so you call a meeting and promise to do further, deeper investigating, possibly involving new dogs. When they get angry about where the money comes from, you say, ‘Let’s keep our eye on the important thing here – how none of this is really my fault.’
This sort of logical razzmatazz would get you laughed out of town in the real world. But somehow the people who run sports organizations feel exempt from common sense.
Through sheer boldness, it sometimes works. But not here.
If it’s gotten to the point where people are digging around in your books and beating you with headlines over what they’ve found there, that’s it. The gig’s up. Nobody wants to hear you argue the fine points of corporate banking. There is no fixing it.
No arms-length investigation backstopped by an “adjudicative panel of current and former judges” is going to do the trick. You could hire an exorcist to call up the spirits of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Hammurabi and it’s not going to make anyone feel better. You have lost your way and can no longer be trusted to lead.
At this point, the greatest argument for dismantling Hockey Canada is ‘Get a load of Hockey Canada right now.’
At this rate, in a week we’re going to find out it was shipping arms to Yemen in exchange for a bulk deal on goalie pads. It is difficult to imagine a way in which this story might continue to surprise us.
Yet it does. It does so nearly daily. Which in turn leads one to suspect why Hockey Canada is so determined to remain the prime mover in any investigative process.
The Hockey Canada mess has passed the point of good excuses, or even bad excuses for good reasons. At a certain point, people stop caring why you did something. They just want you to put your hand up, admit you were to blame and go away.
Let others sort out what went wrong and why and how it should be fixed. You had many chances. You blew them. Accept it.
Recent history suggests Hockey Canada can’t do that. It is too far into weeds it itself planted. It has become so tangled that it can no longer see the only way out – clean, ruthless cuts.
Now the scandal risks migration from an administrative body into the thing it administered. Hockey Canada is enthusiastically promoting this line when it bangs on about the game’s “toxic culture.” The implication – that it can’t be blamed for the way it raised the sport, since it was born bad.
Enough with the cute press releases filled with talking points pulled from TikTok.
Let’s try starting with two basics: Many things have gone badly wrong here; the people who were in charge when the bad things happened should not be the ones in charge of figuring out how to fix it.