Hockey Canada executives overshadow moment of triumph for women's team

Canada and the United States faced off in yet another gold medal game at the women’s world championship, culminating in Canada winning gold in Denmark. The win was a triumphant moment for Canadian fans, but it was a semifinal intermission appearance by Hockey Canada’s interim chair of the board Andrea Skinner, and a postgame appearance at the medal ceremony by Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith, that drew the ire of Canadians.

Repeatedly called upon to resign from his position, Smith’s appearance handing out gold medals to Team Canada moments after defeating USA received backlash from fans and media.

“In what should have been a moment of pure elation and celebration, Hockey Canada somehow deemed it fitting for embattled CEO Scott Smith to hand out gold medals today,” Frank Seravalli, president of hockey content at Daily Faceoff and president of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association tweeted following the incident.

“Yes, hand them out to the very team that in July called for a new Hockey Canada. Tone deaf? Beyond that. It was a middle finger from the ever-arrogant Hockey Canada to victims of sexual assault and violence, along with anyone who has been rightly critical of HC’s lack of leadership and decision making. Was not one other person available to do the honours?” Seravalli continued in a thread.

Hockey Canada’s interim chair of the board Andrea Skinner made an intermission appearance during the gold medal game at the women’s world championship. (BO AMSTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
Hockey Canada’s interim chair of the board Andrea Skinner made an intermission appearance during the gold medal game at the women’s world championship. (BO AMSTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images) (Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima)

Seravalli’s Tweets referenced the statement Canada’s national women’s hockey team released only weeks before the tournament declaring they “intend to be part of the fight for the truth,” and continued saying “There is much more work and action needed to fully address the underlying issues in order to ensure that a new Hockey Canada emerges from this crisis.”

Canada’s women’s national team also called for “women sitting at the table as this process evolves.” Less than two weeks after their statement, Hockey Canada did just that by appointing Skinner as the interim chair of the board of directors. Skinner’s first move, however, was to pledge support for Hockey Canada’s leadership, saying “Scott Smith and the executive team have the support of the Board of Hockey Canada.”

Days later, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rebutted the statement, saying “It’s fairly clear that both the government and Canadians in general have lost confidence in the leadership at Hockey Canada. And the longer it takes for Hockey Canada to realize that, the more difficulties they’re going to face."

Despite this, during an intermission interview with TSN’s Tessa Bonhomme, Skinner doubled down on her support for Smith.

“...we think we have the people in place that are able to execute on our action plan and the other key priorities for Hockey Canada,” Skinner said, again asserting her position that Smith and the rest of Hockey Canada’s leadership are capable of solving toxic issues within the sport.

Skinner continued her defence of Hockey Canada, calling the criticism the board of directors and executive leadership had received “unfair,” and claiming that Canadians have “misperceptions” around what happened during settlements following the alleged 2018 group sexual assault by members of Canada’s World Junior roster. Skinner also called discussions claiming Hockey Canada covered up the 2018 sexual assault and other historic sexual assaults reported to the organization “absolutely untrue.”

Perhaps the comment drawing the most contempt from onlookers, however, was Skinner’s claim during her on-air interview that Hockey Canada’s board of directors were due gratitude for their work.

“I regret that there hasn't been recognition or attention paid to some of the good work that that our board has been doing,” she said.

Skinner’s comments, similar to Smith’s presence at the medal ceremony, caused instant backlash among sport equity and safety experts including hockey’s preeminent LGBTQ+ advocate Brock McGillis.

“This interview reinforces my belief that these folks are either unable or unwilling to make tangible change,” McGillis tweeted. “So long as those who have reinforced this culture remain in charge there is little hope that it becomes a safe and equitable space.”

According Dr. Courtney Szto, who co-authored a policy paper on anti-Racism in hockey earning praise from The Hockey News and hockey experts across the globe, Skinner’s interview was another misstep by Hockey Canada. “...having Andrea Skinner on for the intermission segment did not make things better for Hockey Canada,” Szto wrote in a tweet. “Her responses were exactly the kind of corporate speak that does not carry any weight against the egregious concerns that have been raised.”

In a moment of triumph for Team Canada, repeating as women’s world champions, Skinner and Smith’s actions overshadowed what should have been a bright moment for the athletes. “ all reads as damage control as opposed to genuinely rooting out the problem people and the institutional problems to ensure this never happens again,” Dr. Szto, who serves as an assistant professor at Queen’s University told Yahoo.

While Hockey Canada claims confidence in their own staff and abilities, according to Szto, perhaps Canadians are looking for something else: change in the form of modesty, “…the only reasonable measure is to clean house and start over again. Perhaps part of what Canadians want to see is a relinquishing of power simply as a show of humility.”

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