Four-time Olympic gold medallist and Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser is calling for new leadership at Hockey Canada as the organization faces increased scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault allegations.
“I think right now there’s a lack of insight into what the rest of the country is feeling about what’s gone on,” said Wickenheiser, who spent 23 years as a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team, at her induction to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Thursday.
“When you make a mistake, you should own up to it and you should make change. And that’s what we need, is change.”
Hockey Canada’s interim board chair Andrea Skinner staunchly defended President and CEO Scott Smith at a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, and notably asked the committee “will the lights stay on at the rink?” if there are sweeping changes at Hockey Canada.
In response, Wickenheiser said “hockey will go on.”
“Hockey in this country, regardless of what happens in the board rooms, it’s the grassroots, it’s the moms and dads, the volunteers, the Zambonis and cafeteria’s and the rink that keep hockey going,” she said.
“So regardless of what’s happening in the board rooms, the lights will always be on in rinks across this country, and hockey will go on. It’s much bigger than any person or organization.”
There have been widespread calls for a change in leadership at Hockey Canada since news broke in May that the organization settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight CHL players, including members of the 2018 Canadian world junior team. It was later revealed Hockey Canada used a National Equity Fund, made partially of player registration fees, to pay the settlement.
Those calls for change have significantly increased since Tuesday’s parliamentary hearing, with a number of Hockey Canada sponsors (Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, Scotiabank et. al) and member organizations (Hockey Quebec, Ontario Hockey Federation and Hockey Nova Scotia) pulling funds from the governing body.
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made one of his strongest statements yet on Hockey Canada, saying Canadians might want to look at creating a new organization called Canada Hockey if major changes don’t come soon.
“There needs to be wholesale change, they need to do it, they need to realize that if we have to create an organization — get rid of Hockey Canada — and create an organization called Canada Hockey instead, people will look at doing that,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “There is a lack of understanding that they have lost the confidence of Canadians. The sooner they get to that, the better it will be for everyone.”