Sport Solution Clinic Blog: The Relationship Between National Sport Organizations and Provincial/Territorial Sport Organizations

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]

National Sport Organizations (NSOs) are the governing bodies for sport within Canada. Among their responsibilities, NSOs work closely with Provincial/Territorial Sport Organizations (PTSOs) to implement policies and promote their sport at the regional / grassroots level. 1 PTSOs are self-governing organizations that are responsible for the development of their sport, providing a competitive pathway for athlete development at the provincial or territorial level, selecting provincial/territorial teams, recruiting and training coaches and officials, and conducting provincial/territorial championships. 2. In working towards these objectives, a PTSO is overseen by an NSO, where the NSO sets out rules that the PTSO must follow. The relationship between an NSO overseeing a PTSO is demonstrated through how a PTSO must align with the rules of their NSO, as well as how funding works between them. Additionally, there are implications to this relationship when a member league under a PTSO decides to break away from an NSO.

Alignment with NSO Rules

In regulating sport at the provincial level, a PTSO must ensure that they are complying with the regulations of their NSO regarding rules of play, competition, scoring, equipment, the field of play, and the requirements set out for athletes, coaches, officials and referees. 3 An example of this is the new policy that Hockey Canada, the NSO for ice hockey in Canada, recently implemented regarding dressing room requirements. Effective as of September 12, 2023, Hockey Canada issued a new “Dressing Room Policy” with the purpose of creating a safe, inclusive and equitable dressing room space. 4 Under this policy, all participants are required to wear minimum attire at all times in a dressing room when there is more than one participant present, such as wearing shorts or compression shorts along with a t-shirt. 5 Additionally, this policy includes the “Rule of Two”, which requires two adults to be present either in or immediately outside the dressing room to ensure that the dressing room environment among participants is free from any discrimination, harassment, bullying, or other forms of maltreatment. 6

With Hockey Canada implementing this policy, PTSOs for ice hockey throughout the country are responsible for ensuring that all of their leagues and member associations are adhering to the new dressing room rules. This demonstrates how an NSO can use their oversight over their PTSOs to regulate their sport down to the provincial level.

Funding Between an NSO and a PTSO

Additionally, there is a funding component in the relationship between an NSO and a PTSO. How funding works between them can be demonstrated by again using Hockey Canada as an example.

Each player in a league operated by a PTSO for ice hockey, which falls under the governance of Hockey Canada, must pay a fee as part of their agreement for participation that goes towards Hockey Canada. 7 Hockey Canada then uses these fees to help fund their operations at the PTSO level, which includes funding programs for grassroot development, as well as development programs for coaches and officials in these leagues. 8 Hockey Canada has many additional sources of funding to finance their operations, such as national and international events, sponsorships, government and non-governmental funding, and donations. 9 Part of Hockey Canada’s operations that this financing goes towards, is providing funding to their PTSOs to help operate ice hockey at the provincial/territorial level. This includes providing funding to PTSOs for matters regarding the development of ice hockey across the country, helping to build and maintain the necessary facilities across the country for ice hockey, and to provide PTSOs with the necessary technological equipment for the sport. 10 As seen from looking at Hockey Canada, an essential component to the relationship between an NSO and a PTSO is the funding provided by the NSO to help the sport be played, regulated, and developed to the highest quality at the provincial and grassroots level across the country.

What Happens When a Member League / Organization / Club Breaks Away from a PTSO and an NSO

Although this relationship does allow an NSO to regulate their sport across the country, there can be instances where a member league, organization or club  under a PTSO breaks away from the overseeing NSO. For example, on June 1, 2023, the Board of Governors for the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) opted out of renewing their membership with Hockey Canada. 11 The move came after years of failed negotiations, where the BCHL tried to persuade Hockey Canada to change some of its policies concerning Under-18 (U18) players. 12 Specifically, the BCHL felt that these policies limited the chances of some U18 players from pursuing the option of playing ice hockey in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 13 As such, out of a desire to create more opportunities for players to play varsity ice hockey in the NCAA, the BCHL decided to not renew their agreement with Hockey Canada. 14

Under this move, the BCHL will also no longer be a member of BC Hockey, the PTSO that governs ice hockey in British Columbia under Hockey Canada. 15 This means that the BCHL will now operate as a fully independent league and will not be subjected to oversight from either BC Hockey or Hockey Canada. Without the oversight of Hockey Canada, players on any team in the BCHL will no longer be able to participate in Hockey Canada events, which include provincial and national championship tournaments. 16

Additionally, players in the BCHL will no longer be able to submit claims of abuse or maltreatment to Abuse-Free Sport and the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) or to Hockey Canada’s independent third party. 17 As a result, the BCHL will need to create their own separate system for safe sport policies and for how to deal with any safe sport complaints, which may not be consistent with the policies in place from Hockey Canada and their respective PTSOs. As seen in this example, the relationship between an NSO, PTSOs and leagues at the grassroots level is essential in an NSO having the ability to regulate and govern sport at all levels throughout the country.


  1.  Sport Canada, “Connection 2021 – National Sport Organization Panel” (2021), online: Canadian Paralympic Committee <paralympic.ca/connection-2021-national-sport-organization-panel>.
  2. “Provincial Sport Organizations” (30 April 2019), online: WAKO Canada <wakocanada.org/news-events/provincial-sport-organizations/provincial-sport-organizations/>
  3. Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, “Sport recognition policy for provincial and multi-sport organizations” (last modified 25 August 2023), online: Government of Ontario <ontario.ca/page/sport-recognition-policy-provincial-and-multi-sport-organizations>.
  4. “Dressing Room Policy” (12 September 2023), online (pdf): Hockey Canada <cdn.hockeycanada.ca/hockey-canada/Hockey-Programs/Safety/Downloads/dressing-room-policy-e.pdf>.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. “Hockey Canada Funding Sources and Use” (2023), online: Hockey Canada <www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/corporate/about/funding>
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. “BCHL to become independent league” (1 May 2023), online: BCHL <bchl.ca/bchl-to-become-independent-league>.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Cameron Hope, “Non-Sanctioned Hockey FAQs” (2023), online: BC Hockey <www.bchockey.net/member-info/what-is-non-sanctioned-hockey->.
  16. “Pathway to Hockey” (2023), online: Hockey Canada <www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/hockey-programs/parents/pathway>.
  17. Ibid.