Ask yourself this question…
How much input, either directly and/or indirectly, do I have or do other athletes have into the decisions that affect me? Are there ways for my voice to be heard when things are decided?
Ensuring that there is a process for the opinions of athletes to be heard and acted upon is an important step in making sure that your sport is focused on your needs and on athletes in general. AthletesCAN believes that the most effective ways for athletes to be heard is through Athlete Representatives, an Athletes’ Council and Athlete Directors.
In support of this belief, we strive to provide sport system stakeholders with the tools and governance structure recommendations necessary to support an athlete-centered environment promoting the holistic development of its participants in a safe and healthy manner.
What is athlete-centered sport?
In an athlete-centered sport system, the values, programs, policies, resource allocation, and priorities of sport organizations place primary emphasis on consideration of athletes’ needs in a holistic sense, and performance goals within that context. Those responsible for leadership and decision-making in sport must include the athletes in both defining the needs and goals of the sport or event, and in determining how to meet them. The athlete should be an active subject, not the object of sporting programs.
As the association of Canada’s national team athletes, we continue to proactively identify areas of risk and opportunity with the potential to impact our members. As a result, we have identified key priorities in which AthletesCAN is consistently working towards system improvement including health and safety, athlete funding, athlete agreements, athlete voice, anti-doping, athlete rights, athlete recognition, and athlete social responsibility.
Athlete Representation Research Project
AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, has a proud history of representing the collective voice of Canadian athletes to ensure an athlete centered sport system. As such the association, supported by an expert working group, undertook a system wide evaluation of athlete representation within the governance structures of our National Sport Organizations (NSO), known as, ‘The Athlete Representation Project’.
A board of directors is the governance centerpiece of a typical NSO’s decision-making power. The Athlete Representation Project aimed to determine how the voice of athletes can be appropriately represented at the board level within these sport governing bodies.
This project, designed to optimize the influence of the athlete voice in NSO decision making, was especially motivated by the enactment of the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (“CNCA”), which endeavored to provide the not-for-profit sector with a modernized statutory framework. As a result of the CNCA, most NSOs were required to make significant amendments to their governance structure and bylaws, which changed long-established practices in the sport sector, and, as a result, the nature of the athlete voice within NSO decision making. The Project involved three phases carried out between 2017-2020 outlined below.
The Athlete Representation Project Phases:
The goal of Phase I (2017) of the project was to explore the implications of the enactment of the CNCA to gain a better understanding of the current landscape of athlete representation in Canada. As part of the process, in collaboration with Sport Solution Program Managers, 49 sets of current NSO bylaws were examined resulting in the identification of 6 models and current considerations around the use of athlete representation.
Phase II (2017-2018) involved the Athlete Representation Project Workshop (“workshop”) hosted at the 2017 AthletesCAN Forum inaugural NSO/Athlete session September 21st in Ottawa. The workshop brought together 90 athlete representatives and sport leaders to discuss their perspectives on the current landscape of athlete representation within NSO decision-making processes. As a result of this collaborative discussion, four key areas emerged including considerations for athlete directors, prominent concerns, areas of consensus and considerations for developing a model for best practices.
The goal of Phase III (2019-2020) was to develop tangible tools to assist the sport community in moving forward with effective, inclusive, and broad-based athlete representation. To achieve this goal, structured interviews with athlete representatives and leaders from NSOs took place to verify key benefits and issues as well as areas of learning. Further consultations were conducted to examine international best practices including athlete representation governance models from USA, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Finally, a framework of resource development was charted based on the learnings from each phase to support the optimization of athlete representation within NSO governance structures.
The findings of each phase of the project were consolidated resulting in the publishing of a position paper, ‘The Future of Athlete Representation within Governance Structures of National Sport Organizations‘ published by AthletesCAN in November 2020.
In November 2015,
After extensive analysis of more than 50 agreements and consultation with legal experts, four recommendations were established and presented. They include: separating commercial obligations from agreements, developing meaningful secondary obligations, facilitating negotiation, and annotating agreements with plain language as part of a risk management strategy.
The paper fostered a system-wide dialogue of the challenges that modern Athlete Agreements create for athletes and NSOs and as a result helped to spur the creation of a PHASE II working group comprised of sport leaders from across the system.
The focus of PHASE II was the creation of standardized and annotated performance and commercial agreement templates to remove barriers to implementation in a way that fosters the high performance relationship between the athletes and NSOs both on the field of play and beyond.
As a part of this process, the working group developed and implemented a set of criteria to evaluate the effectiveness, fairness and balance of today’s Athlete Agreements within the high performance sport environment. More than 50 agreements were then benchmarked against this criteria to identify areas for development and establish best practice. From there, a set of standardized clauses were created in a user friendly format which segmented obligations into areas of focus within the relationship. Finally, the templates were annotated in plain language to address the intent of the agreement in building a mutually beneficial relationship and to enhance the communication and understanding of the often intimidating content.
In September 2017, AthletesCAN hosted the inaugural NSO Stream as part of the AthletesCAN Forum. Leaders from more than 25 sports participated in a workshop which introduced the annotated agreement templates and enabled feedback around the implementation process to address next steps.
PHASE III will aim to develop best practices around the implementation of Athlete Agreements in the area of education and ongoing communication between parties. The findings of this phase will be presented at the upcoming 2018 AthletesCAN Forum – NSO Stream, September 21st in Ottawa.
The current Athlete Agreement template has been adopted to date by five NSOs and is currently being included in Sport Canada’s AAP policy. AthletesCAN is currently consulting on a case by case basis with NSOs and athletes to ensure a smooth transition in the adoption process. We expect 100% of Canada’s NSOs to adopt the AA template by 2020.
A special thanks to the ongoing contributions from the Athlete Agreement Working Group on this important project.
System Participants: Martha Deacon (COC/CGC), Jillian Drouin (Athlete – Athletics), Hilary Findlay (Brock University), Martin Goulet (Water Polo), Brian Hill (Athlete, Swimming), Patrick Jarvis (Former Snowboard Canada), Ian Moss (Gymnastics Canada), Jasmine Northcott (Water Ski & Wakeboard Canada), Ann Peel (Athletics Canada), Bob Price (Former Sport Canada), Russ Reimer (Manifesto Sport Management) and Bruce Robinson (Former Freestyle Ski Canada)
AthletesCAN Participants: Dasha Peregoudova (President), Josh Vander Vies (Past President), Ashley LaBrie (Former Executive Director), Thomas Hall (Past Vice President), Layth Gafoor (Sport Solution Supervising Lawyer), and Rachel Islam & James Sifakis (Former Sport Solution Program Managers)
Athletes maximize their abilities to lead by example, inspire others to excel, and effect positive change where they live, work and play when they are equipped with the necessary skills and opportunities. This is what LEADERSHIP means to AthletesCAN.
AthletesCAN has developed best in class athlete leadership education and resources to build sport system capacity. With the support of the Canadian government, AthletesCAN works in collaboration with system stakeholders to identify gaps in leadership education. Effective training and leadership skill development affords Canada’s national team athletes the opportunity to gain a significant level of confidence, comfort, and knowledge in representing the athlete voice at the decision making table.
Since 1992, we have educated more than 2500 athlete representatives from more than 60 sports to strengthen the athlete voice at decision making tables across the sport system. Several of these board and rep alumni have gone on to lead national and international sport organizations, committees and councils and continue to give back to their athlete community.
Athlete Representation Guide
What does it mean to be an “athlete leader”? How can you, as an athlete, help to direct decisions and influence change within your sport organization? What kind of power do the athletes have in a system of multiple organizations, government policies and accountability? To answer these questions, AthletesCAN has developed a variety of resources to ensure that athlete leaders have the tools and the knowledge to support and further an athlete-centered sport system in Canada.
The Athlete Representation Guide online learning module represents one of the ongoing chapters of a competencies based learning model for athlete leadership development. The leadership modules have been tailored to create a more athlete focused, concise and user friendly learning experience, providing links to more detailed information as required and easily referenced materials to share with your teammates.
Athlete Council Guide
Athletes’ Councils are one of the most effective mechanism by which athletes can influence change and champion athlete rights in high performance sport at the national team level. By providing information to the board of directors, coaches and the leadership team of an National Sport Organization, Athletes’ Councils ensure that the voices of athletes at all levels and disciplines are represented in a collaborative, professional and effective manner.
The Athlete Council Guide online learning module represents one of the ongoing chapters of a competencies based learning model for athlete leadership development. The leadership modules have been tailored to create a more athlete focused, concise and user friendly learning experience, providing links to more detailed information as required and easily referenced materials to share with your teammates.
Athlete Director Guide
Over the years, athletes have become increasingly involved at the decision making table and more specifically at the board level. Through invitation, election or appointment, athletes continue to join boards and high performance committees of numerous national and multi-sport organizations. AthletesCAN has recognized the need to develop a specific toolbox of leadership skills to ensure these athlete representatives are effective leaders for their sport.
The Athlete Director Guide is a web based leadership tool to help Canada’s athletes develop the expertise they need to be strategic leaders in the boardroom. From technical to tactical, this online learning tool presents information in a user-friendly manner that enables athletes to be effective leaders at the decision-making table.
Building on the traditional Athlete Director, Athlete Representation and Athletes’ Council guides, the new Athlete Representation Training eLearning modules transform each guide into a digital, interactive format.
Each module is led by an AthletesCAN member and features engaging exercises, educational videos and short quizzes, aimed at supporting athletes who wish to represent the athlete voice to their respective National Sport Organization (NSO).
International Athlete Rights
AthletesCAN, founded in 1992, is the only fully independent and most inclusive athlete organization in the country and the first organization of its kind in the world. In the early 2000s, AthletesCAN began to work with a UK group to build their own association, known today as the British Athletes Commission. Late 2017, a group of German athletes from the German Olympic Sports Confederation AC organized to build an independent association, to be known as Athletes Germany.
As the athlete rights movement grows, more of these independent associations are being developed to provide athletes with a voice to represent their interests and a seat at the decision making tables of sport. This is nothing new to professional sport but a welcomed trend in the high performance athlete community.
World Players Association
The World Players Association (WPA), the leading voice of organized players in the governance of world sport, brings together 85,000 players across professional sport through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries. AthletesCAN, now an associate affiliate of the WPA, is one of the only ‘amateur’ athlete associations under its umbrella where athletes are not recognized as employees. With player association giants such as the NHLPA, NFLPA, FIFPro, NBPA, WNBPA, FICA, IRPA and more leading the WPA’s mission, AthletesCAN continues to leverage the valuable experience and expertise of these organizations in building a better system for our members.
On December 14, 2017, the world’s leading player association executives collectively representing more than 85,000 players and athletes announced a Universal Declaration of Player Rights (UDPR) in Washington, D.C. The Declaration addresses the persistent, systemic and long-standing violations of players’ fundamental rights in sport throughout the world. It is the first framework ever to explicitly articulate the internationally recognized human rights of athletes globally. AthletesCAN was there to sign onto the Declaration on behalf of Canada’s national team athletes.
“Sport is among the ecosystems encountering the challenges of today’s world, while also having its own unique issues which threaten to undermine its integrity,” says Dasha Peregoudova, former AthletesCAN President. “At the same time, sport has the unrivaled ability to set standards for a world where dignity, equality, and excellence rooted in diversity prevail. To continue to do so, it must first and foremost protect and celebrate its main stakeholders, the athletes,” she adds. “The rights of athletes need to be recognized in the administration, participation and delivery of sport. AthletesCAN is proud to be part of this extensive collective effort to embed fundamental human rights into the fabric of sport, and we believe the Universal Declaration of Player Rights is a foundational piece necessary in achieving this objective. We commend and support the WPA’s work on the UDPR, and look forward to building a stronger athlete-centered sport system in Canada and across the world. We believe this work will not only benefit the athletes, but also their communities, supporters and the sport movement at large.”
For more information on the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, click here.