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Concussions among top sports business stories to watch in 2016

Money at Play expert Deidra Dionne says concussions, government funding and Rio stars will be three sports business topics to watch in the new year.

Head injuries can have major financial impact

Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard filed a lawsuit against the USTA after suffering a concussion in 2015. (The Associated Press)

As we look ahead to the stories that will be dominating our pages in the new year, I'm taking this opportunity to raise three topics to watch in the world of sports business:

1. Concussions

No medical topic has dominated the sports headlines the past few years like that of concussions. Expect that to continue in 2016. Concussions (and more generally, litigation related to brain injuries) in sport will continue to be litigated in various forms in the coming year. Don't expect much clarity, however. 

The process will be long, drawn out and costly before a clear account of liability is ever established. That is, if it is ever established.    

Expect more stories along the lines of Eugenie Bouchard battles the United States Tennis Association and Veronika Bauer vs. the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association. My bold prediction – the list of lawsuits will continue to grow in 2016. 

But expect to also see some preventative policies and partnerships. Rowan's law, the creation of an expert advisory committee to Ontario's Premier on implementing concussion related legislation, will spur other Canadian provinces into action. Increasingly, innovative partnerships like the recently signed deal between Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and the Greater Toronto Hockey League will continue to shift the conversation from liability to prevention, awareness and management. 

2. Government Sport Funding

New government means new priorities, including how sport is funded.

With Olympic sports' heavy reliance on the Government of Canada for funding, 2016 will be an important year for the next quadrennial of athletes. Carla Qualtrough, an accomplished Paralympic athlete and renowned lawyer, is charged with leading the sport portfolio for the Trudeau government. 

The conversation around sport has changed from the previous leadership. The mandate is now about recreational infrastructure, a national strategy on concussion awareness, celebrating athletic achievements, promoting activity and health among youth, and leading the preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics/Paralympics.

Sport critics are acutely aware of the absence of the word, "excellence." The high performance sport system is bracing itself for how this may change funding allocation. 

The tone represents a shift from the brash goals of being a world-leading winter sport nation, increasing overall medal count and supporting excellence. This year should bring some clarity on how the change in language will affect the paycheques for each sport federation and its top athletes.

3. Rising Rio Stars

With Rio 2016 just months away, watch for some new names to hit the Olympic podium and the national sports conversation for the first time. With most of us now familiar with rising star Andre De Grasse, my prediction is that two other track and field stars will steal the show in Rio.

I expect Melissa Bishop (800m) and Brianne Theisen-Eaton (heptathlon) to achieve breakthrough performances in Rio.  Both women stood on the podium at 2015 world championships in Beijing, each winning a silver, and have consistently risen up the ranks of their respective events.

With all of Canada focused on De Grasse, I believe these two women will take advantage of the lack of media attention in the lead-up to the Games. They are both capable of owning the Olympic spotlight and becoming household Canadian names. 

As my friend, and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Marnie McBean has always said, "People don't remember who was on the cereal box before the Olympic Games, it's who's on the box after the Games that matters."

About the Author

Deidra Dionne

Deidra Dionne is the Director of Partnership and Business Strategy at Cimoroni & Company, a sport marketing and consulting company. She brings unique perspective as an Olympic medallist in freestyle skiing aerials who has gone on to work as a lawyer. She provides an inside look at the business decisions affecting the athlete, the sports and the system.

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