A Thunder Bay hockey coach says he hopes some positive changes will come out of the Hockey Canada scandal.
The organization, which is the national governing body for the sport of hockey in Canada, is under fire for allegations of sexual assault by its players, and paying out millions of dollars in settlements to 21 sexual assault complainants dating back to 1989.
In October, Hockey Canada announced its entire board of directors, and CEO Scott Smith, were stepping down.
“When we’re on the ice, and we’re coaching our players and our kids, we tend to take an opportunity when there is a major error or a problem to identify it as a teachable moment, and to say let’s take this as an opportunity to change, to grow, to learn and to adapt,” Sutherland said during a recent interview on CBC Thunder Bay’s Superior Morning.
“I really didn’t really see anybody saying that this is a good opportunity for us as leaders, as I said, to step up and to do the things that we talk about with our players.”
Sutherland said he believes a “significant change” in governance is needed at Hockey Canada.
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“By that I mean we have to really change the way that we are leading our sport on the ice,” he said. “Behind the bench, we tend to move towards what’s called athlete-centred leadership, and I think that we need to do that as well in the boardrooms and in our policymaking around the sport.”
“Everything we should do should be focused on the athlete,” Sutherland said. “We should be trying to serve them, and we need to create programs and structures that are unambiguous, transparent, so that the other stakeholders in the sports, the parents, the guardians, the administrators know exactly where money is going, how it is being spent, so that we can create these strong management structures for our game.”
The issue of supporting athletes was also raised by Thunder Bay’s Katie Weatherston, who won a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics as part of the Canadian national women’s hockey team.
In Weatherston’s case, she suffered injuries at Team Canada training camps.
“I thought for sure this is something that should have went towards paying my medical bills,” she said of the Hockey Canada settlement funds. “Then I find out that they paid for the cover up [of] these scandals.
“These things didn’t happen on the ice, they didn’t happen at Team Canada camp,” Weatherston said. “It’s mind-boggling how they’ve dealt with this stuff.”
Weatherston said her first injury came during a bike race with her team in 2005.
“I got cut off and I went head first into the pavement and I went into shock,” she said. “They had to call an ambulance. I lost my three front teeth at that time. I do remember they were a little, I’d say, annoyed or upset because we didn’t have accidental dentals on the female side, because we wore hockey cages.
“They had to pay out of pocket for that claim, around $6,000.”
Then, the next year, Weatherston was hit from behind during a training camp, and went into the boards head-first.
“In between periods … I went over to the to the Team Canada doctor, and I said ‘maybe you should check me out,'” Weatherston said. “She put me back in the game, and that that cost me.”
“I’ve had post-concussion, a traumatic brain injury for 16 years now and I’ve been struggling,” Weatherston said. “Anyone who has post concussion knows you get chronic headaches. It’s hard sometimes to get out of bed. Low energy, a debilitating headache.”
Weatherston said she was also told there was a $10,000 limit on what Hockey Canada would pay out for insurance claims.
“iIt was a challenging time for me and, I just felt like I didn’t really have the support,” she said. “And then when you find out, oh, they really had the funds for you, they just chose to cover up scandals instead. It was extremely disappointing.”
Weatherston said she wants to see change in Hockey Canada leadership.
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“I wanna see diversity on the board, and diversity of the employees at Hockey Canada,” she said. “I want those people held accountable who were in charge … when these payouts were made.”
Sutherland said other changes should be made, as well, such as reducing the cost of playing hockey.
“I think ethics, values and more of a holistic benefit in sport is required,” he said. “I think we have to really look at how do we address the barriers? How do we get people that are marginalized in the game, those that can’t afford it, those that aren’t privileged?”
“How do we reduce the total cost? Like hockey is a very expensive game and [that’s] one of the things that drives people away from the game.”