Amid low ticket sales, a spate of sponsorship and a national sexual assault scandal, Hockey Canada appears to be trying to “save” its World Junior Championship, says an expert.
The tournament kicked off Tuesday in Edmonton, Alta. with thousands of tickets still available. It was postponed late last year due to the rise of the Omicron variant.
In the months since, the national organization has been embroiled in condemnations and controversy over its handling of the allegations. As a result, regional tourism organization Explore Edmonton suspended promotion of July’s tournament to Global News.
“As the host city of the upcoming tournament, we continue to be in discussions with Hockey Canada officials about their plans to address the need for changes,” said Traci Bednard, CEO of Explore Edmonton.
That’s no big surprise to sports culture expert Dan Mason.
“Hockey Canada hurts because they lack the sponsorship and the usual funding that they get. I don’t think they necessarily want to do that given the circumstances they are in,” said Mason, professor of sports management at the University of Alberta.
“I think they’re just trying to take this opportunity to get some development from the players.”
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The World Juniors is the international championship for players aged 20 and younger competing for spots on national ice hockey league teams.
It is run by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which confirmed last week that it is now among a growing number of official bodies investigating Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault allegations. The Zurich, Switzerland-based World Ice Hockey Federation said it wanted more information amid an ongoing storm of criticism and condemnation that has shaken Hockey Canada to the core.
“These are deeply disturbing incidents that the IIHF takes extremely seriously,” the organization told Global News on Aug. 1.
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TSN first reported in May that Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit in which a young woman named “EM” alleged that she was sexually assaulted by eight hockey players, including members of Canada’s 2018 World Juniors team, after a gala organized by the organization been.
In the months since, Hockey Canada has come under scrutiny, including: three parliamentary committee meetings focused on the matter, a funding freeze ordered by the federal secretary for sport, a financial audit, a criminal re-inquiry by London, Ontario police, and an NHL Probe.
The organization has lost several major sponsors for the World Juniors tournament, including Tim Hortons, Telus, Canadian Tire and Scotiabank, and faced a revolt from provincial hockey organizations who vowed to withhold funding. The chairman of the board of directors is gone – although the president Scott Smith remains. Former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell is leading a governance review due in November.
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Whether Smith will remain in the role after this review remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, Canadian parents are furious, particularly over the revelations of a slush fund that was used to pay off sexual assault plaintiffs by using signup fees paid by parents for their children to play what is Stompin’ Tom Connors once called “the good old hockey game”.
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Mason said he expects the impact of the revelations to have an impact on youth enrollment numbers.
At the same time, some locals who had planned to attend the World Juniors said they trust that the problems in the organization will be solved and do not want to disadvantage the players.
Randy Thompson spoke to Global News outside the Rogers Center in Edmonton. He said he plans to watch a few games and after years of being disrupted by COVID-19, watching World Juniors feels like a return to a “beautiful tradition”.
“I think we’re all thinking about this and we hope there’s a positive resolution to this,” he said of the allegations and the outcry facing Hockey Canada.
“But hockey is still what it is and we shouldn’t let that affect us too much. I think we have to stay true to our hockey culture or hockey tradition and I know the right people will take care of things.”
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The Canadian team meets Latvia in their first game of the tournament on Wednesday.
Team Canada head coach André Tourigny said officials had stressed to players that they were in the spotlight, but kept his comments to the media brief about the outcry Hockey Canada is facing.
“We addressed that. We recognize that steps need to be taken,” Tourigny said earlier this week. “We did a sexual violence thing, we did a code of conduct thing.”
The “code of silence” about sexual abuse is still ingrained in Canadian sport, says the former league chief
Brenda Andress, who served as commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League for 12 years, told Global News she still sees Canadian sport as having a “code of silence” when it comes to sexual abuse and sexual allegations.
She said in an interview last week that many are still struggling to come to terms with the scale of the problem.
“As long as I’m in the sports world, there’s a code of silence. There’s a culture that we’ve created and I think most of us can’t handle the truth that’s out there – that’s really happening in our sports world,” Andress said.
“It’s time we looked at this much more deeply than we are currently doing.”
— With files from Morgan Black of Global Edmonton.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/9047763/hockey-canada-world-juniors-ticket-sales/ Hockey Canada tries to ‘save’ World Juniors amid scandals and low ticket sales.