Corporate sponsors sever ties with Hockey Canada as scandal escalates

Canadian corporate titans are cutting ties with Hockey Canada as the fallout from the sports organization’s mishandling of alleged sexual assaults worsens.

A list of high-profile sponsors, ranging from retailers and coffee chains to banks and carmakers, have thrown their support behind the sport’s national governing body as it ignores growing calls for leadership and cultural change.

The sponsorship accounts for more than a quarter of funding for the scandal-ridden organization which has continued to defend itself against criticism over its handling of alleged sexual assaults and the money paid to settle lawsuits.

“They’re still stubborn about this issue. They’re going to lose a lot of corporate sponsorship, money and brand prestige,” said Simon Darnell, director of the University’s Center for Sports Policy Studies. of Toronto.

“It’s not small Canadian brands that are jumping ship. They are icons of the Canadian economy that have always been closely tied to hockey.”

Canadian Tire Corp., a brand closely tied to the ethos of Canadian hockey, ended its partnership with Hockey Canada on Thursday.

“Hockey Canada continues to resist significant change and we can no longer confidently move forward together,” Canadian Tire senior vice-president of communications Jane Shaw said Thursday.

Instead, the company will support hockey-related organizations that better align with the company’s values ​​of inclusive and safe sport for all Canadians, she said.

Telus Corp., Scotiabank, Esso and Tim Hortons — almost synonymous with hockey in Canada — have all suspended support for men’s hockey programs for the 2022-23 season, including the upcoming World Junior Tournament.

Chevrolet Canada suspended its sponsorship in June, with parent company General Motors saying it had “zero tolerance for abuse of any kind.”

Sobeys Grocery chose not to renew its sponsorship contract with Hockey Canada when it expired in June.

“We have been disgusted by all the allegations and, just as importantly, by Hockey Canada’s reluctance to make meaningful changes to regain the trust of Canadians and make everyone feel welcome and safe when he plays this sport,” said Karen White-Boswell, director of external relations at Sobeys. communications, said Thursday in an emailed statement.

The grocer continues to support the National Women’s Hockey Team and is exploring options to do so “directly without any connection to Hockey Canada,” she said.

The loss of sponsors could have a significant impact on Hockey Canada’s financial results. Sponsorships account for 27% of funding — the organization’s main source of funding, according to its website.

But the loss of sponsors could have repercussions for the entire organization beyond a simple loss of money, and possibly affect hockey programming across the country, said Greg Vanier, chief risk officer of crisis and reputation at Edelman Canada.

“It’s not just about corporate dollars. They face a huge perception problem,” said Vanier, who helps corporate clients manage brand and reputation risk stemming from issues like investigations. on sexual misconduct.

“The damage done to Hockey Canada’s reputation and the perceived poor response – coupled with the nature of the incident and what we are talking about – almost forced sponsors to cut ties.”

Continuing to sponsor Hockey Canada could be seen as an endorsement of their handling of the crisis and ultimately tarnishing their own brand, he said.

Still, suspending support or cutting ties with Hockey Canada altogether was likely a last resort for many sponsors, Vanier added.

“The decision to withdraw funding from the business is never taken lightly. It is likely the culmination of many efforts to see if the organization would change.”

In a statement about her Esso brand’s end of support for the organization’s men’s programs, Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Keri Scobie said the decision would stand until responsibilities and changes significant are provided.

“Imperial has communicated to Hockey Canada that we expect concrete action to address ongoing issues, ensure change and restore confidence. We’re disappointed that we haven’t seen more action yet.

Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since May, when it was revealed it had settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players from the 2018 men’s junior hockey team during a gala in London, Ontario that year.

Among other revelations that followed was Hockey Canada’s admission of dipping into minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.

Calls for a change in leadership at the struggling sports body intensified during parliamentary hearings in Ottawa this week.

Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said it was time to “clean house” while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “there has to be a wholesale change” within the organization.

But Hockey Canada interim president Andrea Skinner said she continues to support the CEO and management, insisting culture change can happen while maintaining leadership stability.

She wondered if hockey rinks could continue to operate if structural changes are introduced at Hockey Canada.

“The suggestion that they won’t be able to turn on the lights at local hockey rinks seems like a real exaggeration,” said Darnell, also an associate professor of kinesiology and physical education.

“As a hockey dad and as a hockey coach, I know that these rinks and associations are made possible by local volunteers. It has nothing to do with the leadership of Hockey Canada. They can and must change their leadership.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 6, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CTC, TSX:QSR, TSX:BNS, TSX:T)

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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