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Contract Basics for Athletes

By Robyn Jeffries (Case Manager), Brayden Mulhern (Caseworker) & Daniel Torch (Caseworker)

The Sport Solution Blog is written by law students and is intended to provide information and the team’s perspectives on current issues. However, the Blog is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion. Athletes in need of assistance should contact the clinic directly at [email protected]

Contracts are more than just pieces of paper; they are binding agreements that dictate terms of engagement between parties. In the sports world, contracts can govern relationships between athletes, associations, sponsors, and other involved parties. Understanding contract basics is paramount for athletes to protect their rights and interests. Below are some key points every athlete should know.

Contracts in sports are legally binding agreements. Once signed, the parties involved must adhere to the terms outlined in the agreement.

Athletes must pay close attention to the content of a contract before signing. Contracts should clearly outline each party’s rights, obligations, and responsibilities, leaving little room for ambiguity or misinterpretation.

In certain circumstances, a contract can be partially or entirely invalidated. This can occur due to unclear provisions or if the contract is against public policy. However, it is critical for athletes to raise concerns regarding a contract before signing it. Once executed, it is challenging for an athlete to contest its terms. Courts have held that concerns should be addressed before the contract is finalized. In cases where the athlete has little bargaining power, athletes should make formally known any reservations about certain terms of the contract. Without this, the athlete is in no position to complain later on.

Understanding these contract basics empowers athletes to protect their rights and interests in the competitive world of sports. Whether negotiating sponsorship deals or participation agreements, clarity and vigilance are key to ensuring mutually beneficial agreements.

What is a contract, and what types might an athlete encounter

A contract is a legally binding agreement. A contract represents the meeting of the minds of the parties. Contracts in sports are subject to the same principles of contract formation as any other form of employment agreement. There are a multitude of contracts that an athlete may encounter throughout their career. Here are some of the most common ones:

Player Contracts: These are agreements between athletes and their teams or clubs, outlining the terms of the athlete’s employment or participation with the team. Player contracts typically specify the athlete’s salary, bonuses, duties, rights, and obligations, including provisions related to performance expectations, conduct, and duration.

Endorsement Contracts: Professional athletes often enter into endorsement contracts with companies or brands to promote their products or services. These contracts may involve the athlete appearing in advertisements, endorsing products, making public appearances, or participating in marketing campaigns in exchange for compensation or other benefits.

Guaranteed Contracts: In certain sports, such as professional basketball and American football, athletes may negotiate guaranteed contracts that ensure they receive their full salary regardless of injury, performance, or other factors. Guaranteed contracts provide financial security and stability for athletes but may come with higher salary caps or other limitations for teams.

Performance Bonuses: Some athlete contracts include performance bonuses based on individual or team achievements, such as reaching specific statistical milestones, winning championships, or receiving awards and honours. Performance bonuses incentivize athletes to excel and achieve success on the field or court.

Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs): Professional sports leagues often operate under CBAs negotiated between players’ unions and league management. These agreements establish rules and guidelines for player contracts, salary caps, revenue sharing, free agency, and other aspects of player-employer relations within the league.

Insurance Contracts: Athletes may purchase insurance policies to protect against career-ending injuries or income loss due to disability. These insurance contracts provide financial compensation in the event of covered injuries or circumstances that prevent the athlete from playing or earning income from their sport.

These are just a few examples of the types of contracts that professional athletes may encounter. These contracts’ specific terms and conditions can vary widely based on the athlete’s sport, marketability, bargaining power, and other factors.

What are the essential ingredients of a contract?

Six elements are necessary for a binding and enforceable contract in Canada:

Capacity: In Canada, the legal age to enter a contract varies by province or territory, but you must typically be at least 18 years old. The person must also be of a sound mind while understanding all elements of a contract and entering into it. Generally, individuals under the age of majority, typically 18, may still enter into contracts in certain circumstances. However, contracts involving minors are subject to specific rules and limitations.

Offer: This is the manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain with another party. It is usually the first step toward establishing a contract.

Acceptance: Acceptance is an unconditional willingness to be bound by request. Acceptance mirrors the conditions of the offer. If any variation is communicated from the party to which the offer was earlier made, the communication would not be an acceptance but a counteroffer. In the counteroffer case, the party who initially made the offer is to accept or decline the counteroffer.

Consideration: There can be no contract without consideration. Consideration is something of value given in exchange for a promise. A contract would clearly state what is being sought and for what consideration. In a typical athletic contract, the consideration flowing from the offeror of the contract would be a salary or other payments, while the consideration flowing from the athlete would be their athletic performance.

Mutual Agreement: For a contract to be valid and legally enforceable, the parties to the Contract must agree on the same terms in the same sense. If there is any confusion concerning any of the terms, articles, or considerations, where the parties to the Contract interpret it for a different purpose, it could invalidate the Contract.

Legality: A contract is automatically invalid or non-enforceable if any aspect of the contract is not legal. The Contract should be for a legal objective, procured via legal means, and executed legally. Any illegality in the object, procurement, or execution might make the Contract void, which could not be legally enforced.

Most sports contracts are express contracts. An express contract is a contract in which the agreement of the parties is evidenced by their words, whether spoken or written. There are virtually no more implied contracts in the sports industry. An implied contract is a contract in which the agreement is not evidenced by written or spoken words but by the acts and conduct of the parties. Regardless of whether a contract is implied or explicit, if one of these six essential elements is missing from a given contract, then either party may have legal grounds for repudiating the contract or arguing that a valid contract had never been formed in the first place.

Besides missing one of these six essential elements, there are other grounds for a contract to be deemed invalid or non-enforceable. While there are many grounds for this happening, some of the most common ones are listed below:

Misrepresentations: When one party to the contract, typically the offeror, makes specific intentional misrepresentations about facts or terms of the contract that are essential to the contract.

Mistakes: These are unintentional but can still invalidate a contract. An example would be an athlete’s contract stating that the athlete is signing up to play for a team in British Columbia when in reality they were meant to play for a team in Manitoba.

Undue Influence: When a party to the contract is pressured by either the other party(s) to the contract or by other outside sources, and the only reason they signed the contract was due to the pressure imposed on them, the contract will be invalidated.

Duress: Similar to Undue Influence, if a party to the contract only signs because someone else is making them feel as though they have no choice, and otherwise, consequences will follow, they have signed under duress, and the contract will be invalidated. Signing under duress typically means that someone has threatened violence against you or someone important to you or severe intimidation was used against you. However, there are other forms where someone can claim they signed a contract only under duress.

A Frustrating Event: When some external event occurs that is through no fault of either party to the contract, the contract may be invalidated. An example of a frustrating event could be what we saw in Canada with the COVID-19 pandemic, where many people could not perform their contractual obligations due to a multiplicity of factors brought on by the virus.

What are an athlete's rights as the offeree?

When an athlete is offered a contract, it is imperative for them to understand the nature of their rights and obligations as the offeree.

Request for more information or clarification: The athlete may request any details or clarifications required to satisfy the “mutual agreement” requirement. All parties to a contract must understand its terms and conditions before acceptance, as the contract then becomes legally binding.

Counteroffer: If the athlete disagrees with a term in the contract and wishes to have it clarified or altered, they may present the offeror with a counteroffer. This may also take place in the form of negotiations. A counteroffer will nullify the previous offer and transfers the right of acceptance to the initial offeror, who may then accept or reject the counteroffer or issue another counteroffer to the athlete.

Acceptance: The athlete may accept the offer. Accepting the offer renders the contract legally binding. Thus, acceptance should be deferred until the athlete understands and agrees to all terms of the contract.

Rejection: It is important for an athlete to understand that, when offered a contract, they retain the right to reject the offer entirely or in part.

Things for an athlete to be aware of:

Expiry of the offer: It is important to be aware of any timelines attached to the offer.

Revocation before acceptance: The offeror retains the right to revoke an offer at any point prior to the athlete’s acceptance.

Irrevocability after acceptance: An athlete must remember that once an offer is accepted, it becomes a legally binding contract, and they may become liable for breach of contract for failure to adhere to its terms.

Key Takeaways

  • Be sure to identify what type of contract you are privy to, whether it be a playing agreement, a sponsorship contract, insurance contract, or broader CBA.
  • Keep in mind the elements of a contract, which include offer, acceptance, consideration, capacity, and legality. If any of these elements are missing, there is NO contract/legally binding obligation for either party.
  • Always be aware of your offeree rights to request more information, counteroffer, and accept or reject. Reflecting on contractual defects that may occur – including misrepresentations, mistakes, undue influence, and duress – may aid in seeking a potential remedy.

If you are unsure whether to sign a contract, seek independent legal advice or reach out to Sport Solution at [email protected].

Citations

AthletesCAN, “The Future of Athlete Agreements in Canada” (December 2021) online: <athletescan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/the_future_of_athlete_agreements_in_canada_final_eng_1.pdf>.

Rachel Islam & James Sifakis, “The Future of Athlete Agreements in Canada (Phase II):
Redefining the Relationship” (October 2016) online: <crdsc-sdrcc.ca/eng/documents/The%20Future%20of%20Athlete%20Agreements%20in%20Canada%20(Phase%20II).pdf>.

Sport Law, “A New View of Athlete Agreements” (May 7, 2006) online: < sportlaw.ca/a-new-view-of-athlete-agreements/>.

Sport Law, “Some Basics on Contracts” (September 5, 1996) online: <sportlaw.ca/some-basics-on-contracts/>.

Waddams et al., Cases and Materials on Contracts, 6th ed (Toronto: Emond, 2018).

Yellowbrick, “Understanding Sports Contracts: Key Factors and Negotiation Tips” (November 3, 2023) online: <yellowbrick.co/blog/sports/understanding-sports-contracts-key-factors-and-negotiation-tips/>.

Athlete Rep Spotlight: Byron Green – Wheelchair Rugby

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Byron Green

Name: Byron Green
Sport: Wheelchair Rugby
Position / Event: 0.5
National team tenure: 2013 – Present
Hometown: Comox, B.C.

How did you first hear about and get involved in your sport?

I was first exposed to wheelchair rugby while I was going through rehab in 2001. I broke my neck and it resulted in a spinal cord injury. I spent about a year in rehab and my therapist at the time, a gentleman by the name of Duncan Campbell, introduced me to the sport, of wheelchair rugby. And funny enough, he is actually one of the inventors of the sport, which is super cool. Not a lot of people can say that they were introduced to a sport by one of the creators of it, so I’m pretty proud of that. Duncan is an amazing guy, so I’m really fortunate to have that connection with him. I got involved going through rehab, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later when Duncan reached out again. I had moved to Vancouver for a university and he told me about this new intro to Wheelchair Rugby night that was starting up. And I started going out to that and I was hooked.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

I think it’s important for the Canadian sports system to focus on an athlete-centric experience because really, sports are about the athletes. We’re the ones participating in it, driving it forward, growing the game. And we have a lot of great ideas. And, you know, there’s a lot of great people within within sports across Canada. We have a lot to give and we have some really innovative ideas and ways to grow the game, whatever sport that is. So if we can empower our athletes to to have impact on decisions around everything to do with sports, I think it’s just going to improve the experience for everybody and get more Canadians involved in sport, which is huge. That would be it would have such a beneficial effect across our country. So yeah, I think empowering our athletes it is the way to go.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I’ve been pretty fortunate in my in my experience with wheelchair rugby that I’ve been given the opportunity to have a bit more of a voice. I serve as the athlete rep on our board of directors for Wheelchair Rugby Canada. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some input on the decision-making process at that level and then recently Wheelchair Rugby Canada and myself, we started an athlete council. So we’re really happy with that step and really proud that I could, you know, be a part of that process and creation of Athletes Council that will help support, help steer and guide Wheelchair Rugby Canada moving forward into the future with decision making and trying to improve the experience for wheelchair rugby athletes all across Canada.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

My favourite memory of being involved In that realm of things is to see the impact that I have had at the grassroots level. Just when I can get a new person involved in the sport, whoever that is, and whatever their goals are around the sport, it’s just really empowering to see someone falling in love with with with an activity like, like wheelchair rugby that gets them active it connects them to a group of like-minded peers and it just can have so many beneficial impacts on that person’s life. So that’s why it really stands out to me as that as favorite memory.

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

To surround yourself with good people. Because you know, there’s always so much to do. So if you can really have a good support network around yourself and and enable other people to do what they do best, I think that’s the sign of a good leader. I’ve been guilty in the past of trying to do everything myself and feeling like that’s what a leader should do. But I think it’s as I’ve learned over the years, that is it is the exact opposite. And you should be trying to empower other people to do what they do best and to help achieve a common goal.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

I would really encourage any athlete in Canada that is feeling like they want to learn more about like getting into governance or just having a bit more of a voice to reach out to AthletesCAN. There’s such a wealth of information there, and I know early on in my journey I didn’t have a clue about a lot of things. Right. It’s all about learning and and tapping into people that that can share their experiences with you. And AthletesCAN has a wealth of that. So definitely reach out and either go to one of the annual conferences or just reach out for help. I know that actually back on creation of our Athletes Council, I relied on the terms of reference that AthletesCAN has on their website. And, you know, use that as a starting place and then just modified it to fit for our needs. So yeah, just an example of what AthletesCAN, can do to help out and, and just empower athletes.

Now Recruiting! Intern, Digital Content

AthletesCAN is recruiting for an Intern, Digital Content to join our team for the Summer/Fall on a part-time basis. This paid intern will work closely with our operations and communications teams to develop engaging and high-quality digital content, including graphics, videos, social media, and website posts, graphical templates for AthletesCAN’s social media and website, and help identify and anticipate stories for our target audiences.

This position is ideal for both post-secondary students in communications, marketing, graphic design, or sport management programs, or current or retired Senior National Team Athletes looking for additional experience or part-time work while training or competing. The ideal candidate will possess excellent oral and written communication skills, organizational skills, and a working knowledge of Google Workspace and digital content creation tools such as Adobe Creative Suite and Canva.

If you are interested in applying, submit your resume and cover letter to [email protected] before June 16, 2024, at 11:59 PM PT. Please include “Application – Intern, Digital Content” in the subject line of your email. Applications received after this date may not be considered.

Athlete Rep Spotlight: Alison Levine – Boccia

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Alison Levine

Name: Alison Levine
Sport: Boccia
Position / Event: BC4
National team tenure: 2014 – Present
Hometown: Montreal, Que.

How did you first hear about and get involved in your sport?

I first heard about Boccia because I had played many other sports, many different para sports. So my sport previous to Boccia was wheelchair rugby, and it was Marco Dispaltro of current Boccia athlete who came to a tournament that I was volunteering at. Looking to see if there would be any players that would be eligible to be athletes for Boccia. And I was just volunteering at the time and I kind of saw him with a set of balls and wasn’t so sure, but kind of worked up the courage to go speak with him. And at first he wasn’t so sure that I’d be able to class into the sport. But then when he saw me throw a few balls, he quickly became very interested and told me that I had potential and I think six months later I was on the national team.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

Without athletes, there would be no sport. So having a Canadian sport system that isn’t solely focused on the athletes just doesn’t make sense to me. As athletes, we’re the ones that are putting our health at risk, our body at risk, doing what we do, and we do it because we love it. But we’re the pinnacle where we’re the focal point of sport.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I feel like it’s been very difficult to make any change in my sport, but I feel like I’ve set the stage for changes to be made. I feel like my organization knows that they have to put us first. I feel like while it can be really hard to see major changes, I can kind of see a switch in maybe the mentality or the thinking in terms of let’s consult with an athlete before we make decisions now instead of getting feedback after. I think it’s a very slow process, but one that’s critical and vital. And I do think that organizations and the greater sporting organization Sport Canada are starting to realize that they have no choice and they really have to be listening to the athletes.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

It’s kind of broad, but one of my favorite things is just spreading awareness about Boccia because most people don’t know the sport. And I still remember attending my first AthletesCAN forum and meeting everyone from all the different Olympic sports and Paralympic sports and some people hadn’t heard of Boccia and I was just kind of a little shy and definitely, you know, looked different than all the other athletes there. But we had a a social night where we were just playing some icebreaker games and whatnot, and I kind of just let my personality shine and that’s where I really made connections that are both to this day that were there athlete representations from from Olympic sports that I would have never had the opportunity to interact with. But most importantly, what came through that was really the networking and knowing that the issues that I face and we face in my sport seems to be pretty universal across the board of all the other sports. So being able to feel that support from fellow athletes or athletes that are now retired and being able to reach out to them and be like, Have you experienced this? And if you did, how did you manage it and do you have any advice for me?

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

Being a leader in my sport, I think the most pivotal thing is realizing that just one voice isn’t just one voice. When I speak, I can speak on behalf of my teammates. I can speak on behalf of everyone from the grassroots level all the way up to the elite level. I feel like I’m able to represent the majority of what Boccia athletes are thinking and wanting by reaching out to them, taking people’s opinions. I feel like all the times that I put myself on the line and maybe push a little bit too hard against organizations or, you know, do something that I know maybe there might be a little bit of repercussions, but this is what really needs to be said. I feel like every time I do that, I’m making those changes for maybe not the current, but definitely the next generation of athletes that are going to be coming through the system.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

As an athlete, you you have to take accountability for your sport. You have to know that you are representing it. And it’s not just for you, but it’s for the next generations of athletes coming through the system. So all the hardships and all the times where you were frustrated and thought, this makes no sense. It can make sense for the next the next generation of athletes. Your voice is a tool that you may not think makes a difference, but it creates that atmosphere of letting everyone know that this is the way things need to be. It needs to be athlete-centered. And whether you’re still in your sport or just retired or retired for a long time, you can start making those changes by getting involved. 

A lot of athletes aren’t sure about implicating themselves. They’re maybe newer to the sport or maybe they’ve been in it for a long time, but they just don’t feel that they have they don’t feel that they have a place or they feel like they don’t know enough about the system. And I have to say, when I started, I knew nothing about the system either. And I have had nothing but positive experiences of other athletes teaching me or just learning as as you go and never have I had any situations where where someone’s been like, Well, you should know that it’s always just a learning experience and we want more athletes involved. The more we are, the louder our voice is. So I say, Don’t be shy. And if you’re thinking about it or hesitating, come on in.

AthletesCAN Committee Applications Now Open!

AthletesCAN is looking for 2-3 people to join its Diversity & Equity Advisory Group, and 2-3 people to join its Sponsorship Committee. Participating in these committees requires a time commitment of approximately 3-5 hours per month, including a 1-2 hour committee meeting per month, on a volunteer basis. The exact workload and time commitment may vary depending on the projects each committee is currently undertaking. 

Volunteering on an AthletesCAN committee offers a chance to support Canada’s Senior National Team athletes, engage with a passionate sport community, and develop valuable skills relevant to the work of the committee. Your efforts will contribute to promoting the #AthleteVoice in Canada, and you will build relationships with athletes and fellow volunteers, all while directly impacting the lives of athletes today. This is also a great opportunity for current and recently retired athletes looking to build their CVs with sport industry experience.

Volunteers with the Diversity & Equity Advisory Group will advise on issues of diversity and inclusion and help AthletesCAN set measurable goals for how it can improve the sport landscape with respect to diversity and equity. Volunteers on the Sponsorship Committee will help develop and implement partner engagement strategies and fundraising initiatives, and identify and monitor AthletesCAN’s brand assets. No prior experience is required to apply for these positions.

If you are interested in applying to volunteer for the Diversity & Equity Advisory Group or the Sponsorship Committee, fill out the application form here before June 7, 2024, at 11:59 PM PT. Applications received after this date may not be considered. 

Athlete Rep Spotlight: Shae La Roche – Water Polo

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Shae La Roche

Name: Shae La Roche
Sport: Water Polo
Position / Event: Right Handed Attacker
National team tenure: 2014 – Present
Hometown: Winnipeg, Man.

How did you first hear about and get involved in your sport?

I was about 14 and at my school, my teacher that year, her husband was the head coach of our club so she knew I was involved in any sport I could be at the school. And so she said to my mom that it would be a cool sport for me to try. At first I sounded a little strange, like a sport. It was, you know, it’s a bit obscure. It’s not the most common sport you hear. But yeah, I tried it and I instantly fell in love with it. And from there it kind of just became my maybe my main sport and continued on to went on scholarship to the states for university. And now I’ve played pro and I’ve stayed with the national team. So since that age it kind of just became my life.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

I think an athlete-centred experience is super important. We’re the ones in the sport playing it. So just from our perspective, we can just see things different from like our coaches or directors or parents, anyone. We really can just see things that maybe they’ll miss. And it’s not ill-intentioned or anything, but it’s just that, you know, we have that unique sense of what we need and where we are. And I think adding that together with the help of everyone else I just named, combining all those perspective can just really get us to the best we can in our sport. In my sport, for example, we’re pretty strong with having an athletes’ council and our federation, we’ve worked with them for years and they really respect our point of view. I know that’s not the case in every sport. So I think that I’m coming from a sport that has set a pretty high standard and I just hope for that with every other sport. We have this with our national teams. I think that it’s important for that to be at every level too, and that takes athletes wanting to stay involved in their sport. At every level, be it recreational or competitive moving forward, starting at the grassroots and taking the steps forward that we need to build our national teams. I think it can be a little too late sometimes when it’s only national team, obviously speaking from the perspective of my sport, but it’s just getting into that conversation at every point we can and that’s how it’s going to help build forward and develop our sport.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I first started getting involved with our Athletes Council. I was a lot newer to the national team at that point, so I thought that it just sounded, you know, interesting. I’m someone who likes to speak my mind and I think I can be quite good at kind of representing the different points of view within our team as well. That was definitely a different story. You know, ten years ago when I was newer to the team. And I think now, now that I’m more veteran of it, I kind of know the different levels of not only competing but just being involved with our federation. I think that it’s just really given me a platform to bring any issues forward. And conversely, because I’ve built those relationships and like been there kind of using my voice, it’s made it so that our federation respects what we say too. And so at this point, they’ll come to us as well with, “Hey, we’re looking for your input on this”. And I think just by keeping not only me, but it’s the past athletes that have kind of started this movement like we’ve had great athletes involved who have been like, “okay, our voice needs to be heard on both the men’s and the women’s side”. It’s just kind of years of us kind of putting our foot in the door and then now they’re reciprocating that. So we’ve had athletes involved in different decision-making processes along the way, be it having someone on the board for hiring different levels of coaches or whatnot, especially with like the youth and junior teams and everything, and just having our point of view when there are bigger things happening in our federation. So yeah, there’s been a lot of instances where our director or CEO or coaches have been surprised at our point of view, which has been just really positive to make them think that from our perspective, you know, it’s just they’re not in our shoes. So even no matter how hard they try, they can’t always understand our perspective. So yeah, I think it’s been really positive for us to just be able to bring issues forward and issues positive things to. It could be sometimes we’re like, You know what? You guys made this change and we really appreciate it. Like this design that needs to stay.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

I think I wouldn’t say it’s one big specific memory, but it’s every time that I have one of my teammates or someone involved. You know, it’s been juniors, it’s been parents even coming up to me and thanking me or just acknowledging like what you do is important and it impacts people. And sometimes it’s just small conversations you have with the Federation or just like showing that you support those athletes and feeling that especially from an older person on the senior team like just feeling that I could help them and better my sport in some way. Yeah, I think it’s all those little moments that come together that make me really like thankful for the position I do have and want even more to just kind of keep breathing our sport and giving back.

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

I think I’ve learned to just bring forth my point of view or the point of view from our team as well. You know, sometimes there’s athletes who will come to me with like, “Hey, I think this should happen or this is an issue”. And even if it wasn’t something that I didn’t feel, but if it’s something that the team has felt that obviously needs to come forward and I’ve just learned like there’s no harm in doing so, I think we can be a little bit hesitant at times to kind of speak your mind. In the past with different coaches, especially, you know, growing up we had a lot more like kind of old school coaches, like, it’s my way, this is what we’re doing. End of story. And we’ve evolved a lot beyond that. And again, we’re a sport this lucky to have worked really hard like our coaching staff is very responsive to us and yeah, they’re really adaptable, which is positive for us because that gives us the space to and like the confidence to be able to move forward. And it doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to everything we have to say. You know, we’re like, it’s not for us to kind of say that everything, but I’ve just learned that if it’s something that we really feel like matters to us, bring it forward. Like you can’t expect it to change if we don’t try to change it.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

I think it’s just if we want to see change and we want to see the sport develop positively, in the way we envision it, we have to get involved. You know, like I kind of touched on before, we can’t expect something to move the way you want it to. If you kind of don’t stand up and get involved a bit and we have the chance to shape sport into what we want it to be. And I think that being involved in this life and you know, I’m very aware of how amazing of a lifestyle we have getting to play the sport we love, getting to, to travel, to represent your country. And it’s like we can make it an even more positive experience for everyone else coming up, too. Like, I think we’re moving forward and we’re developing and and changing and why not just make it better for everyone else, you know? So I just see such a positive light moving forward. And I just want us to bring that to everyone.

Athlete Rep Spotlight: Bo Hedges – Wheelchair Basketball

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Bo Hedges

Name: Bo Hedges
Sport: Wheelchair Basketball
Position / Event: Guard
National team tenure: 2007 – Present
Hometown: Fort St. John, B.C.

How did you first hear about and get involved in athlete advocacy?

I got involved with kind of being the athlete voice and being an athlete rep through Wheelchair Basketball Canada back in the early 2010s. I guess somewhere around there I got nominated to be the athlete rep, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into and then from there I got to go to an AthletesCAN form and that kind of stoked the fire and kept me going from there till now.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

I think that’s important so that athletes are, you know, helping to dictate where they organization is going and actually how their training is. Things have changed a lot. A lot of athletes are very knowledgeable and as well, a lot of the people on the organizational side were athletes at one time, but they’re so far removed that they don’t necessarily know what’s going on at the ground level. And so the concerns and the challenges there and what the athletes would like and I think if everybody works collaboratively. It’s it’s a much better system and everybody comes out further ahead.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

For me, using my voice mainly comes through being an athlete rep and being on the board for AthletesCAN. And then also I’m on the board of directors for Wheelchair Basketball BC in my old home province and I chair that board. And so I try as an active athlete to speak to all those different levels, the different groups that I represent. Overall, I think it’s just about trying to talk to everybody. I speak to people within those groups and organizations and make sure that I’m hearing what other athletes are feeling and take that to those positions. To speak to those points is the main piece for sure. And for me, it’s just after I did it for a while and that it became rewarding. And I enjoy those conversations with other athletes and my peers and seeing what’s going on and trying to help is, is the key there, in trying to help everybody have a better athlete experience.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

For me, I think my favourite memories go back to being at an AthletesCAN form. My first one, the next one, and all of them are of being great. The in-person version is obviously a little better, but even the online version still has a special feeling to it. The one that I ran to to join the board for the first time, that was a pretty cool experience. Those types of interactions with athletes from all different sports, Paralympic and able, they’re in the same room having conversations and that sort of thing is, is very rewarding.

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about being a leader is, is having the conversations sometimes are not easy conversations. You need to have all the conversations with all the different athletes and get to know them and then be able to have the hard conversations on the other side. So it’s a lot of listening, but then it’s a lot of, you know, just that motivation to once you have the knowledge, to speak to it and not be afraid to raise your voice to the organization, to whoever it may be, the coaches staff and just say, “Hey, this, we need to change this or this needs to happen. And this is what the athletes are thinking.” 

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

I think the more you can be involved with AthletesCAN, and learn how sport and the sport system works in Canada and how sport organizations should function, the better able you are to make a change within your organization and take that knowledge and and help the organization. It’s not about saying, you’re doing this wrong. It’s about I think we can do this better. And so by being involved with AthletesCAN, you gain that knowledge, gain that confidence and that ability to then speak to different items and help move the needle within your organization.

The Challenges of Competition Manipulation that Athletes face due to Sports Gambling and How to Address this Problem

By Nic Spagnuolo (Case Manager), Eli Hutchison (Caseworker)

The Sport Solution Blog is written by law students and is intended to provide information and the team’s perspectives on current issues. However, the Blog is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion. Athletes in need of assistance should contact the clinic directly at [email protected]

Throughout Canada, there has been a dramatic shift over the years with respect to sports gambling. The Senate passed Bill C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, on June 22, 2021, which gave provinces the ability to regulate single-event sports betting. 1 Ontario then passed laws on April 4th, 2022, to allow sportsbooks to provide single-event sports gambling services within the province.2Single-game sports betting has been very profitable for the Ontario economy. Within the first year of legalized single-event betting, overall revenue from the province’s regulated sector was over $1.4 billion.3In 2023, it was estimated that the legal sports betting market in Ontario contributed $1.56 billion to Ontario’s GDP, and is expected to contribute up to $2.9 billion to Ontario’s GDP in 2024.4.Although sports gambling has been widely accepted, with 1.6 million active players, 45 gaming operators and 76 facilities offering sports gambling services in 2023 in Ontario alone 5, an underreported aspect of the acceptance of sports gambling has been the additional problems that Canadian athletes are facing as a result of the increasing prevalence of sports gambling in the country.

Sports Gambling and Competition Manipulation

A problem that sports gambling poses for Canadian athletes is the temptation to engage in competition manipulation. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Canada is behind other countries in how to deal with and protect athletes from engaging in competition manipulation. 6 Additionally, athletes who are under-funded and under-resourced are more susceptible to engaging in competition manipulation. 7

Competition manipulation has been an increasing concern globally. For example, Sportradar Integrity Services, a global sports technology company that monitors betting behaviour 8, observed an increase in the number of suspicious matches by 34% in 2022 compared to 2021.9 In total, there were 1,212 suspicious matches detected in 92 countries on five continents and across 12 different sports. 10Suspicious matches are those with unusual betting activity and can be indicative of competition manipulation. 11 As sports betting becomes more prevalent throughout the country, athletes in Canadian sports, especially those who are under-compensated and under-funded, can be at an increased risk of engaging in competition manipulation.

Recommendations to Combat Competition Manipulation: 2023 Symposium on Competition Manipulation and Gambling in Sport

In May 2023, the McLaren Global Sport Solutions Inc. (MGSS) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) co-hosted the second Canadian Symposium on Competition Manipulation and Gambling in Sport. 12 The symposium was attended by key stakeholders of Canadian sport including athletes, national sport organizations (NSOs), government bodies, professional sport leagues, sport integrity units and law enforcement agencies.13Following the symposium, the MGSS and CCES published the takeaways of the event, as well as five key recommendations for how to handle competition manipulation and gambling in Canadian sport. 14

The first recommendation was to develop a national policy to be adopted by all national and multi-sport organizations that would be supervised by an independent body. 15 This recommendation is currently being carried out by the CCES and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC). 16The COC and the CCES have partnered to develop a harmonized policy for the Canadian sport community by using the International Olympic Committee Code to draft a national policy in conjunction with NSOs, multi-sport organizations and athletes across Canada.17Once published, the policy will be administered by an independent organization and will outline the prohibited behaviours and consequences for failure to follow the policy. 18The policy will also outline the mandatory education that athletes must undertake, as well as how to monitor suspicious betting activity. 19

The second recommendation was to develop educational programming for athletes, coaches and other participants involved in Canadian sport to reduce the harms of competition manipulation. 20 With the advent of the legalization of sports gambling, athletes, specifically younger athletes who may not be aware of competition manipulation policies, are at a heightened risk of being taken advantage of to engage in competition manipulation. 21As such, educating athletes is necessary to protect them from the dangers of engaging in competition manipulation. 22

The third recommendation was to create a national working group to advise on implementing policies against competition manipulation throughout Canada.23The purpose of the working group would be to ensure that regulations are consistent across Canada and that communication is easier among all stakeholders involved in Canadian sport and sports gambling. 24

The fourth recommendation was to develop a revenue-sharing system from the proceeds of sports gambling to ensure that money is being put into Canadian sport to help combat competition manipulation. 25 Although provinces are benefiting from the additional revenue from sports gambling through taxation, it is unclear how or if any money is flowing back into sport or being used to benefit sport organizations and athletes. 26 As such, a revenue-sharing system would allow for sports organizations and athletes to benefit financially to reduce the likelihood of engaging in competition manipulation, as well as financially supporting initiatives designed to prevent competition manipulation. 27

The final recommendation was to encourage the Government of Canada to become a party to the Macolin Convention, which is the only rule of international law on match fixing in sport, in order to prevent, detect and punish match fixing. 28

The Future of Sports Gambling and the Effects on Canadian Athletes

Since the time in which single-event sports gambling became legal in Canada, there has yet to be a competition manipulation scandal in Canadian sport through the Canadian gambling market. However, as outlined at the 2023 Symposium on Competition Manipulation and Gambling in Sport, stakeholders should be implementing measures to ensure that Canadian sport has the proper infrastructure in place to prevent, deter and handle any potential competition manipulation scandals in the upcoming years.

Key Takeaways

  • While legalized sports gambling has increased provincial revenue in Ontario, it has also increased the risk of athletes in Canadian sport being susceptible to engaging in competition manipulation.
  • Following the 2023 Symposium on Competition Manipulation and Gambling in Sport, the McLaren Global Sport Solutions Inc. and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport developed five recommendations for how to address the threat of competition manipulation in Canadian sport.
  • Although there has yet to be a competition manipulation scandal in Canadian sport through the legalized Canadian gambling market, stakeholders should be implementing the proper measures to prevent, deter and handle any potential competition manipulation scandals going forward.

Citations

Athlete Rep Spotlight: Rob Law – Lawn Bowls

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Rob Law

Name: Rob Law
Sport: Lawn Bowls
Position / Event: Fours and Triples
National team tenure: 2018 – Present
Hometown: Winnipeg, Man.

How did you first hear about and get involved in athlete advocacy?

I started at Forum in I want to say 2019. That was the last in-person one before COVID, I was recently nominated or elected as the athlete rep for the Bowls team and then was given the opportunity to go down to Toronto and really got involved in the athlete advocacy side of things. Sitting in Forum, that was a particularly inspiring moment for me and a pivotal moment. So I sat in that and that was what inspired me to apply to Board of AthletesCAN. But that first forum was, what opened my eyes to what athlete activism can be and what it can accomplish.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

Athletes are the heart of the sport system or any sport system. Without athletes, the system is really not there to serve anyone. And that goes from grassroots right up to our high-performance level. So prioritizing that athlete experience and making sure that the athletes are heard is so essential to making sure that the system is effective in serving who it was designed for.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

There are probably two ways to approach this on a day-to-day level. I think the athletes can provide so much more than just the athlete perspective but can provide real value. And so I’m often involved in discussions and problems revolving around strategy, the kind of NSOs in general, but then also our high-performance program. And it really gives you a whole new perspective of what the athletes journey is and what the bigger picture is. So I’ve been involved in strategic planning and using your voice in maybe a wider setting.

I’ve also been involved in scenarios through AthletesCAN where you had to speak up in a lot of room and in a medium or a hostile environment. And in that case it’s really shaped the confidence as an athlete to know what we stand for and our principles and then apply those. It gives you a new sense of kind of purpose behind that and a new sense to just when you go out and play what it means to play for your country and kind of play the sport and be a part of that sports system.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

Certainly my maybe most memorable, it certainly wasn’t my favourite memory at the moment, but was definitely the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton AGM that took place in 2022. I want to say that was the one that made CBC eventually and was quite controversial at the time. But that was a moment where I felt like in my sport journey I had never really witnessed someone kind of try and take advantage of athletes so blatantly or what felt like so blatantly. And I won’t kind of go into or kind of speculate on intentions behind that, but to watch that and to feel like there was a real injustice happening in the room and then to be able to stand up and use the experience I had learned in my own athlete advocacy through my work with AthletesCAN to be able to stand up and make a difference in that meeting was an experience and a thrill that I will never forget for sure.

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

I think the biggest thing for me is looking at the whole picture. Understanding that sport is is not just for me, it’s not just for you, it’s for everyone. And the collective we, it’s about building this system that serves everyone and doesn’t leave anyone behind. It’s kind of shaped how I view sports, how I view our own program.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

I think AthletesCAN is a great way to just build confidence. And at the end of the day, your sport journey is what you make of it. So getting involved in your interest helps you guide that. I always take the opinion that you really can’t complain about something unless you’ve tried to try to help with it. Getting involved in those conversations, being an active part of your Athletes Council or Athlete Committee or just volunteer committees, etc., it just shapes how you can look at your sport, the experience you have and it makes it so much richer. AthletesCAN is the perfect way to build the confidence, find the skills, the resources to make sure that your athlete experience is exactly what you want it to be at the end of the day.

Athlete Rep Spotlight: Amy Burk – Goalball

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Amy Burk

Name: Amy Burk
Sport: Goalball
Position / Event: Right Wing
National team tenure: 2005 – Present
Hometown: Charlottetown, PEI

How did you first hear about and get involved in athlete advocacy?

When I first became a part of our national team, we had a few good role models on our team and one of them, one of my teammates, kind of guided me and took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. She was the athlete rep who sat on our board of directors. I got to see a little bit of what she did and how she brought athlete concerns to the table. When she retired in 2008 after the Beijing Paralympics, a bunch of teammates retired. And that was kind of like a calling for me. Even though I was still a rookie on the team, I was going to take on more of a leadership role. When the call came out that they needed a new female athlete rep, I was like, “You know what? This is something that I do want to kind of get my toes into. I’d like to see the organization side and to make sure that the athletes are being heard.” And so, I ran for the position and then I was voted among my teammates. And then I got appointed to the board of directors. And that’s where I kind of got to see, I got to bring the athlete voice to the table. And it was nice because they weren’t always aware of what was going around. You know, they handled the behind-the-scenes and the politics, so it was great to to be heard in that sense.

I did take a step back in 2014 after my first son was born. I had a hard time with handling the board of director position, full-time training, and being a new mom. But then when I finally got into a really good routine, I started seeing what the Canadian Paralympic Committee Athlete Council was doing. And it was incredible to see the work that they were putting in to help push the Paralympic movement in Canada. And, you know, I talked to a couple of members and I was inspired by what they were doing. I knew they started kind of from how I did. I started asking some questions and trying to to see if this would maybe be a fit for me and one of the members, Chelsea Gutierrez, actually kind of pushed me to put my name in for the running. I sat on it for a little while, and I’m trying to decide, you know, is this something that I think would benefit the sport system and, you know, still on the fence. But I thought what’s the worst in trying and so I did I put my name forward to run for the Athlete Council and lo and behold my peers have full faith in me and believe that I could be a good addition. And they voted me in! I was completely blessed and surprised. I just really like seeing what athletes could do for the sport system and it’s just something that I just really hope that I can help contribute very thoroughly.

Amy Burk

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

I think it’s so important to have an athlete-centred experience because, you know, our main job is to train hard, and compete at our best. And I think the best way for us to excel is to have an athlete-centered environment. We don’t care about the politics behind the scenes. We just want to go, and as cliche as it sounds, we just want to go and have fun and that’s when we are at our best. So I think if we can continue having a great athlete-centred environment and just increasing that as we continue, moving forward, I think you’re going to see the stress of things just falling off the athletes and just getting to perform and do what they want to do and succeed and just enjoy the moment and enjoy what we’re doing.

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I have a very good working relationship with our high-performance staff and our team. They know that and I’m very vocal and I’m very keen on stressing the importance of the athlete voice. My teammates and peers in the organization know that they can come to me in a safe, non-judgmental, respectful environment and that I will bring their concerns, their feedback, their opinions forward. Not only does that help our organization and our program, but it also helps team cohesion, just knowing that your voice is being heard, that people are taking you seriously and that it is just a safe, non-judgmental space.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

There’s been just a lot of little things, and I don’t think one can stand out is like my favourite memory. But one, it’s just knowing that my teammates know that I have their back and that, if something is going on that’s not good, we will get to the bottom of it and we will fix it. Or if it’s just something that is like, this is a good idea, this will benefit our program. Just knowing that my teammates believe that I have their best interests at heart, I think that really goes a long way.

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

Bringing the athlete perspective to the table really goes a long way. We have so many moving pieces within the organization or our program in general. And while everyone has the best interests at heart on wanting to succeed and be at the top of the podium, they’re not necessarily sure how one decision could impact an athlete and so, you know, having that working relationship, it really does help. Getting the perspective from not only the athletes but everybody. It’s just you put that whole thing together, it’s like a giant puzzle. You put all those pieces together and it’s just incredible to see how much better a system and a program can run.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

To just advocate for yourself and for your teammates and for your sport, I think can really go a long way. You know, one person’s perspective on something might not be the same as somebody else’s. So if we can get all of those different opinions, and feedback perspectives together, we can be great. There could be so many more things that we can accomplish as a sports system. The sport system is so welcoming now and we just want everyone to come and voice their concerns. Voice your opinions, and you’re going to get great feedback. We’re just making huge gains forward. We’ve come so far as a sports community already and I can just see it keep moving forward.