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Lack of financial transparency a barrier to Canada being at its best

When it comes to funding, many athletes are left in the dark. As former Canadian Olympian Jenn Heil writes, many are wondering whether the Canadian Olympic Committee's new president Tricia Smith will transform the organization when it comes to financial transparency.

Many athletes left in the dark about funding

Tricia Smith, shown at right in this 2014 file photo, is the new president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Former Canadian Olympian Jenn Heil says Smith has the "opportunity to transform the organization into a world class institution, in terms of governance, transparency, and accountability. " (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian Olympic Committee has been going through a rough period.

Following the oft-reported sexual harassment scandal and delivery of an independent report into the matter, the COC has taken its first steps, holding various employees accountable and instituting procedures to protect its employees – all of which is part of the process to rebuild trust and morale among its staff and stakeholders.  

Throughout the Canadian sports community, many are wondering whether new president Tricia Smith will seize the opportunity to transform the organization into a world class institution, in terms of governance, transparency, and accountability. Were it to do so, the example would also benefit Canada's National Sport Organizations (NSOs) and athletes.

Currently, a number of imbalances exist across the entire sports landscape caused by a lack of financial transparency and the inability to speak up due to the fear of retribution.

No reason given for funding cut-off

Why are financial disclosures not comprehensive?

Why can we not openly undertake the uncomfortable-but-necessary conversations?

I remember facing a financial challenge at my NSO some 16 years ago. Funding for training camps and World Cup travel was inexplicably – and abruptly – cut off a few weeks before the start of the season.

The athletes found themselves in a financial bind, struggling to raise funds on such short notice.

When we approached our NSO for explanation, they simply answered that the decision had been made. Through Sport Canada's dispute resolution mechanism, a group of us sought resolution, however the Freestyle Ski Association refused to provide our lawyer with answers to our questions on how their funds were being spent.

We were never provided with complete answers and we shouldered the burden. Funding was not returned until new leadership came on board the following season.

I continue to hear from athletes across all sports that a lack of ability to understand how decisions are being made and the perceived inability to speak up is all too common.

Transparency results in more efficient sports system

NSO's are also often uncomfortable to speak up when their own funding parties are concerned. Each of these challenges is a barrier to Canada being at its best.

Financial transparency in the private sector is a manifestation of good governance. Fairness, efficiency, and accountability cannot be fully present without full disclosure.

If the COC decides to lead in this area they can set a gold standard for others to follow and will contribute to system improvement. Financial transparency is an important step towards creating an environment that welcomes dialogue and ultimately leads to accountability and a more efficient sports system.

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