Episode 22 - Less is more with amalgamations in sport

Episode 22 November 07, 2023 00:28:00
Episode 22 - Less is more with amalgamations in sport
Episode 22 - Less is more with amalgamations in sport

Nov 07 2023 | 00:28:00


Hosted By

Steve Indig Dina Bell-Laroche

Show Notes

Welcome to Sportopia, the place to re-imagine the future of sport! This week’s episode welcomes a conversation about how amalgamating sport organizations could benefit the sport system. Hosted by Dina Bell-Laroche and Steve Indig, partners of Sport Law, this episode brings an abundant mindset where our hosts discuss amalgamating sport organizations to make the sport experience better for participants. Throughout the episode, our hosts discuss the potential benefits of amalgamation, the reasons why amalgamations may fail or why sport leaders are skeptical about amalgamating, and why this is a critical piece in re-imagining the sport system.

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Email us at [email protected] or contact us on social media @sportlawca to let us know what you want us to discuss next. We want to hear from you! Stay tuned for new episodes every two weeks!

Hosts: Dina Bell-Laroche and Steve Indig
Producer: Taylor Matthews 

Learn more about how Sport Law works in collaboration with sport leaders to elevate sport at sportlaw.ca

The Sportopia Podcast is recorded on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. We wish to thank these First Peoples who continue to live on these lands and care for them, and whose relationship with these lands existed from time immemorial. We are grateful to have the opportunity to live, work, and play on these lands. 

Sport Law is committed to recognizing, supporting, and advocating for reconciliation in Canada and to actively work against colonialism by amplifying Indigenous voices and increasing our own understanding of local Indigenous people and their cultures.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Speaker A: Hi, it's Steve indigot sport Law. Leave me a message. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. [00:00:07] Speaker B: Hey, Steve, it's Dina. You aren't going to believe what just came across my desk. We need to chat. Give me a call. Welcome to the latest episode of Sportopia. We're so excited to share our knowledge and have conversations about healthy human sport. In a previous podcast, we spoke about system alignment and better ways to address some of the systemic limitations related to outdated governance systems. This episode, we're going to be talking about amalgamations in the sports system. [00:00:48] Speaker A: We believe that amalgamations are beneficial for the sports sector in creating more capacity. As they say, sharing is caring. And we see amalgamation as a way to help share critical resources like volunteer time, money, system knowledge, and more. Before we get into today's episode, Dina, as always, please tell us what is coming across your desk this week. [00:01:12] Speaker B: Yeah. Thanks, Steve. Well, I want to focus on something that just makes my heart sing, and that's when clients reach out and say, listen, I'm exhausted. My people are exhausted. Feels like my whole sport is exhausted. Do you have any solutions? And so it just helps us in those moments, just deal with the person, the human in front of us. And inevitably, they always walk away feeling a little bit more resourced and cared for because someone that they trust has listened to them. So that is happening more frequently, Steve. And I think that what I'm really excited about is the sport came to us last week and asked for our advice beyond governance, amalgamation, and new ways of connecting their governance and supporting the board and senior staff in new way of looking at their system. We spoke about ways to work better together, and so I shared the Nova profile, and this leader had come from a different sport, so he was already aware of the Nova. So hopefully, we're going to be doing work with not only all the staff, but also the coaches and national team athletes. And we now have lots of experience of integrating the Nova profile in these cultures and the impact that it's having, because now people have common language to be able to talk about things like poor communication or they can talk about their needs in a way that's really healthy and holistic and provides clarity and brene. Brown says clear is kind. So I'm just thrilled, Steve, that more people are coming to us to implement proactive solutions. What about you, Steve? What's coming across your desk? [00:02:59] Speaker A: Thanks, Dina. You know that here at Sport Law, we've been doing a lot of headhunting on behalf of clients, particularly at the CEO level. So just recently, we've had some people inquire about our services, and one of them's particularly brought up the fact that they've tried to do it either on their own or through a different organization and didn't receive a lot of applicants. And I think the reason we're starting to see that is people, as you and I have spoke about before, are tired, are concerned, and the reputation of the organization is crucial. So to be able to share with potential CEO leaders that your governance is in order, your complaint management is being maintained, I think will speak a lot about the number of quality candidates that an organization will hopefully recruit and have apply for the job to give them ample options to find the best person for that opportunity. [00:04:00] Speaker B: Yeah, I love that, Steve. I'm hearing a lot of grumblings, as well. I get called from people who are thinking of applying, who have done a search around the sports system and inevitably find our names, and I take their call. I think it's just a good practice to do that. And they're asking me questions like, how much fun is the job? What's really involved? Like, do I get to do the work, or is it all putting out fires? What is the biggest risk affecting the sports system these days? What's the biggest opportunity? So, we have these great conversations, and I think a lot of people now are going in with their eyes wide open, the big Glamorous ideal of being able to go to the Paralympic Games and support the athletes and build lifelong friendships. This is what I experienced when I first started working in the sports system. Now, it's not so much that right now, and you and I talk about this transition being normal, needed, necessary, but it also means that the people inside this ecosystem that we're in are tired and depleted and are looking for proactive solutions so that they can work better together. So maybe, Steve, you and I have spent a lot of time talking about this with clients as we've traveled across the country, and we've been talking about the A word amalgamation, a better way of sharing resources. So maybe we'll start there. How well do you think we're sharing? Are we playing nice, Steve? [00:05:31] Speaker A: I think the first thing, as you've alluded to in our travels across the country, we've been talking about a new way of thinking about the governance of sport. And one of the words that I like to use constantly was amalgamation. And a lot of people, the feedback that we've been given is, well, they don't see amalgamation sometimes as a possibility, but maybe using a different word, being sharing. And, of course, I see those as different definitions. Sharing is, to be blunt, sharing. And amalgamation is a legal amalgamation of two organizations or multiple organizations into one larger organization. So, from a sharing perspective, I would say, bluntly, I don't think we do a very good job of sharing resources and tools and education, and a lot of times, we work in our own Silos. And what else is interesting about the Silo mentality is that there are a lot of them. Do you follow your PSO do you follow your NSO, do you follow your MSO, do you follow your government funding agency? And if they're all giving you different messages or different templates or different educational tools, how do you decide which one to you know, it's interesting to say that sport probably doesn't do a great job of sharing, yet there's a lot of looking into those silos for education. [00:06:54] Speaker B: I wonder, Steve, when I think about why is it so hard to have the conversation? Because I've been around for 30 plus years, as you know, and like to tease me about. And I've been around the table when we've had these conversations well over a decade ago. For instance, when we look at the international community FINA, for instance, right, world aquatics, they pull together the aquatic based organizations because they understand that their shared resource called a pool, the infrastructure requires all of them maybe working together to ensure that they have a place to play, right? A place to swim and dive and other sports. So I wonder though, at the domestic level, efforts have been made in the past to bring like organizations together. Kind of like cousins, right? We're all going to stay together in this similar structure so that we have a much better way of pooling resources, dealing with these massive risks that we could never have anticipated back in the 70s when sport was first designed. So amalgamation, what I love about what you've shared is amalgamation is actually a solution to help us counter many of the risks that we saw coming. We had this crystal ball, but now many of the sport organizations are actually knee deep in this. So tell us a little bit more, Steve, when you talked about amalgamation being a legal construct, maybe say a little bit more about some of the conversations you've had more recently about the a word. [00:08:26] Speaker A: I love the you know, I think we all know in sport right now, there are difficulty in recruiting volunteers. And that's the foundation of the sports system, particularly at the board level and potentially at the committee level, there are certain clubs and PSOs and NSOs who I like to say are lucky enough to have staff, which maybe draws a bit of a distinction. But what I love about amalgamation is we are now combining resources rather than trying to divide those limited resources. Talking about, from a financial management perspective, the volunteer time. And also what I like about it is if we are using less people, but also an ability to put people into positions of strength. And that's always been something I've been advocating for a lot the last two years. I'll say for sure is to say get people in positions where they will excel and not everybody excels as being a board member. And I do recognize, particularly at the club level, that is sometimes the way in which we recruit volunteers to do the work. But if we have a larger scale of people, a larger pool of expertise, putting people on the board who have the skill sets of being on the board. And I always like to joke that being a board member is boring unless you like audit, strategic plan, fundraising, risk management, and more directional 30,000ft conversations. Most of the time though, people end up on the board who want to be involved in operations and scheduling and seeing trophies get handed out. And I understand that's more of the exciting part of sport, but I think by amalgamating and sharing resources, we can hopefully have people placed into positions of knowledge, of experience, of strength. [00:10:19] Speaker B: I really love that we're not trying to boot people out of the bus, right? What we're actually trying to do is help ensure that they're sitting in the right seat. And I love what you've shared because too often well, there's a couple of myths I think that we want to debunk as well. A lot of people shrink away from the amalgamation conversation because the number one reason they'll share with me is they're not of me. They have a different culture, they don't get us or they're coming at it from a place of competition, like which CEO is going to get the job, what's the name going to be. And if we start from a place of deficit where we're predetermining all of these things, then we're not really entering into what we call a courageous conversation where we have to let go of existing constraints so we can reimagine a new structure, a new form. And until we can do that, we're going to kind of try and fit these round holes in these square pegs, so to speak. So that would be the first thing. The second thing. Here's my observation, Steve. Really good people who are confident in their position and confident in their skills, they tend to come to these conversations open and curious, not trying to protect their turf. And what we've observed over the more recent years when people have had and attempted, I would say they've made really good efforts to attempt to have an amalgamation conversation. What gets in the way is the ego. Let's just name it here, right? Culture is eating sport for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And culture is people. It's what we tolerate. It's the inherited beliefs and values and traditions and rituals that I don't know that are serving us anymore. And we're seeing that now when we think about sports safety topics, it's a lot of it is inherited practices and rituals that weren't good way back then and are considered illegal if not immoral by today's standards. So I'm thinking that if we really want to open up a collective conversation around amalgamation, we're going to need to really demand that the people that come, the decision makers, are coming in for the right reasons, shared values and letting go of their positions. [00:12:36] Speaker A: I'm smiling because of course, you know, I have A Story. So just recently, Dina, we had two clubs approach us to help assist with Amalgamation where two neighboring clubs were going to become one large club. And we rewrote the bylaws we rewrote the amalgamation agreement. The board was on side. And the last two things that we couldn't agree on or the clubs couldn't agree on was who's going to be the president and who would be the executive director. They each had one. So who would become the new head honcho? And they couldn't agree. And we had spent hours and hours of time and money making this happen and couldn't agree and on something what I think is temporary. Most board members last three to six years and move on. An executive director may have the same span of being employed, but again, it was a bit short sighted to divide the resources in a community that really again, when we look at amalgamation, we're saving on two AGMs, two audits, two accountants, multiple board meetings. The resources that you'd have available to you when you double your revenue is just extraordinary. [00:13:53] Speaker B: It is extraordinary. And you've kind of migrated us into I call it the juicy part of the conversation. There are so many challenges right now that the sport sector is confronting, and I'm really grateful that we're actually now looking at the system. And as opposed to trying to fit into a system that's really depleted, we are encouraging people, and we're hearing people now start to try and elevate the conversation beyond our current state to how could we actually reimagine a system? And you and I would say that amalgamation is one of those solutions. And we would have to say the system would have to support that. Right? So you can't amalgamate until and unless the System allows for that to be true. That would be one thing. And then encourages people to innovate, to come together. And then over time, they would require it. You can't start with requirement, right? You have to nudge people along a continuum. But I would, you know, keep going with some of the challenges that the sport system and maybe the opportunities of amalgamation maybe share a little bit more about that. [00:15:02] Speaker A: Well, I always find it interesting. Dina, the majority of sport organizations in Canada are not for profit. The fundamental financial piece. It's to make money and put it back into the sports system. So why are we dividing the resources? In potentially small communities, it's usually because a certain individual or a group of individuals weren't happy with the decision that was made and decided they're going to go out and create their own entity. And then that PSO or PTO decides to allow them to come in. And that's a whole other conversation of the eligibility requirements to be a member association. But when we keep making the pie smaller and smaller and I really think, again, where most people like to play is on the operational side of sport. So instead of having 20 board members, we have ten. Now we have those ten that are no longer board members. Maybe we can put them into positions of strength in areas of interest that they want to be involved in. And then we're dividing money and we're dividing grants and we're dividing resources. So I think one of the challenges is to recognize that the idea of a not for profit is to promote its purpose and objectives. Let's pick on any sport. Swimming. The idea of swimming is to get people in the water and learn how to swim and potentially learn how to swim fast. Why can't we do that together? The pool time already exists. The coaches already exist. We're really looking at it more from a governance and administrative perspective of management. One audit, one board, just more kids in the pool under that supervision. [00:16:38] Speaker B: Yeah, I love that. Steve, recently you and I were in Whistler. We were talking to and these were people who were club presidents, right? So they are on the ground and we asked them, what are some of the common risks that are keeping you up at night? And they all kind of pointed to crumbling infrastructure and we need new pools. And when we asked the question, Why do you need new pools? They said, well, because at this current club, they kind of have like, first right of refusal. I'm like, well, who said, and so we've inherited. They're like, Good question. Maybe we could play nice together and we could open up the existing pool calendar and start to work better together. But the reality is, they are our competitor. Do we really want to give up something so that we can allow the competitor to have access to premium pool hours? And then I've said to them, yes, well, what's the risk if you don't? Right. We need to reimagine. What does competition mean? Most of the participants in sport, in organized sport, are under the age of 18. Do they really need that kind of forced competition? You and I know that the sad reality of us not reimagining sport is most of our clients, the participants are leaving organized sport by the time they're 13. 1415. Right. [00:17:55] Speaker A: I'm asking this question rhetorically, Dina. Is the purpose of sport to beat the club down the street or all clubs in the province? Or is the purpose in sport to see people thrive, be successful, be the best athlete or person they can be? And I think we know the answer to that, fundamentally, is that we want to see people thrive. And if they happen to thrive in your club, great, or there's a better club for them to be in, then that's really what we should be advocating for. And I think what gets lost when we talk about amalgamation and sharing is we keep looking in the mirror at how is this going to impact our club rather than how is this going to impact the athlete? And when you mentioned BC and Whistler, I had a chat with a young coach who said, we are really a recreational club. We are here to provide swimmers the opportunity to learn the sport. And if they do want to become serious, then we're going to recommend three or four clubs in our neighborhood that would be a better fit for them. And I love that because it's about the athlete succeeding and not necessarily the club trying to be the best. [00:19:04] Speaker B: Exactly. I love that because you're talking in my language around fit for purpose. Right. We need to ensure that we design our structure around our mission. What's our reason for being a and you call it an offer profit, because that's what the legal language is. But I've been talking about social profits for about a decade now. Why do we compare ourselves to the for profits? We are actually in the business, I think, of elevating the social capital of the communities that we play in. And sport is a tool, as you've said, right? Can we wield that tool a lot more intentionally? So, a couple of things I've been thinking about. What would a mega corporation look like or a mega structure, especially at the community level? And if it was for me, and I know you'll have something to say about this, it seems to me that the price of entry is too low, meaning that the bar to be a member in good standing of any one parent organization or structure that we're similar in, it's too low. So, for instance, if I'm a club, how do I become a franchisee? And right now I would offer that the price of admission is far too low. We do a really poor job of monitoring whether or not the people who hold this franchise are actually executing on that. And I think that's created so many of the risks because we actually don't have control over the domain of any one sport, not to the extent that we need to. So we fail to keep our promises. We can't ensure that the participants are having a safe, welcoming, inclusive experience. And then we put well intentioned volunteers who are often well over their head right. Who don't understand their fiduciary responsibility into positions of power, who are well intended, but often ill equipped to run the organization. So for me, if we reimagine or when we reimagine the delivery of sport and community, it's going to require this massive shift where instead of having 34,000 sport organizations and it keeps growing for the reasons you said earlier. I think we need less organizations who have clear sense of purpose, who have a really solid infrastructure, who have people who understand how they can contribute, who have paid professional staff, who know how to run organizations. And then the linking documents that connect the club to the provincial organization all the way through to the NSO have been elevated. So know together the tide is rising, so to speak. [00:21:45] Speaker A: We've talked about this on previous podcasts where I agree with you. I think simply filling out an application form and paying your membership fee or your registration fee makes you a registered club within a PSO does have to change. As I always like to say in sport, the Poop runs uphill. So if a club does not have the ability to manage their Poop, then the PSO or Tso is going to have to deal with it as well as the NSO. So I'm a big advocate, Dina, as you've alluded to, what does it mean to be a sanctioned club and really putting value in that and starting to educate the community and parents and athletes what it means to be sanctioned? Well, it means you provide screen coaches and trained coaches and professional coaches. It means your governance is in the 21st century. It means that you have financial accountability. It means you can manage your complaints internally with due process and procedural fairness. And that leads me to what I would call policy alignment. So if there's policy alignment, we're all singing from the same songbook, we can build expertise, we don't need so many people to be involved if there's consistency throughout that particular sport. So I'm a big advocate for everything you're saying. And again, it doesn't necessarily have to always be amalgamation. I do think that's definitely a positive option, but just even sharing is super important. So we have consistency in our particular silo. [00:23:16] Speaker B: I would add some additional considerations and why the organizations we've either supported or we've observed where it's failed. It's about culture, right? So when you bring these different sports who have a shared either infrastructure or in the case of snow sports, let's say, right, they're all sharing the snow, so they have more in common than less. What we would often see, where it starts to break down is the culture. People aren't doing the hard work first and that is asking people, why are we even here? Why do we feel amalgamation is a worthy topic for us to explore? And if we can get people aligned around the eye, then that gives us some food for thought. It builds trust. We start to build relationship between and among the decision maker. And I find like in indigenous governance, they often will keep going around in circle. And we talked to one of the indigenous leaders a while back about indigenous governance practice where you've got the talking stick and people are fully listening and decisions are made in a way that really supports the whole and we stay in the conversation, we don't walk away. So there's trust, I think, amongst the people that I can actually say anything and people aren't going to turn their back on me. That's not how we do things. So I think we can learn from other cultures. We have a certain approach to governance, which is informed by colonial practice. And as we start to reform our systems and structures to make them more 21st century compliant, I think we have to remember that the culture that got us here is also the culture that created some really nasty experiences for people. So while we need to modernize the system, we have to modernize the culture. And underneath that culture are the shared values. How can we use our values more intentionally to frame how we want to be in the conversation of amalgamation? So those would be some particular considerations, Steve, that I think people must address even before they come and start to whiteboard and exercise and start to put some people in the seats of this proverbial bus we were talking about. [00:25:35] Speaker A: I agree wholeheartedly. And then I would also challenge our PTSO and NSO leaders to start thinking about things a little bit differently and maybe at least start having the conversation of how can we eliminate levels of bureaucracy? How can we make things smoother? How can we save money on board meetings, financial reporting and AGMs? I really think there's a lot of money that could be saved that could put back into the system just by eliminating the financial management under one roof rather than two, three, four, or five. So what I liked about today's podcast, Dean, is hopefully people will think a little bit differently and maybe start looking at their club, at their PTSO or NSO and saying, how can they simplify some levels? [00:26:24] Speaker B: I love that, Steve. And what I'm grateful for is this abundant mindset that you've introduced. If we come into the conversation not from a depleted mindset, but acknowledging there's enough money, there are enough people, there's enough, hopefully, goodwill to figure this out, that abundant mindset is going to support us when we start grappling with some of the stickier issues. So thank you for that, Steve. In the episode notes below, you're going to find some sport law blogs where you can find more information related to our conversation about amalgamation in the sport system today. Thank you so much to everyone for listening. We're so grateful to share our vision of Sportopia with you as we look to elevate sport together. [00:27:09] Speaker A: As always, to have your say in Sportopia, email us at hello at sportlaw CA or on social media at sportlaw CA to let us know what you want to hear next. Stay tuned for our next episode.

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