July 21st, 2024

Independent study makes recommendations to improve Canada Soccer governance

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on June 14, 2024.

Soccer Canada logo is displayed on the sideline ahead of quarterfinal Canadian Championship soccer action in Hamilton, Ont. On Tuesday, May 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

A review of Canada Soccer’s governance recommends that the governing body modernize its bylaws, make changes to its board structure, improve its communication and transparency, and improve athlete involvement.

The independent review was requested in May 2023 by Pascale St-Onge, then minister of sport, and was conducted by LBB Strategies, a sports consulting firm led by sports lawyer Benoit Girardin.

The 48-plage report concludes that Canada Soccer “is, in general, meeting many standards and principles of good governance, even leading in some respects.”

“With that being said, we also found significant gaps in (Canada Soccer’s) governance’s structure and culture that will require courage, innovation, openness, and willingness for change,” it added.

The “critical and most urgent issue is the modernization of the membership voting structure, which will require innovation, trust, openness, and simplification,” according to the report, which notes that the existing board and new CEO Kevin Blue “have made significant efforts in 2024” to modernize the organization’s governance.

Canada Soccer says it will examine the report’s recommendations “and determine next steps, in consultation with CONCACAF and FIFA.”

The review, conducted between September 2023 and April 2024, involved more than 40 individual and eight group interviews with Canada Soccer as well as 20 “supplementary questionnaires.”

The report does not cover issues such as Canada Soccer’s controversial agreement with Canada Soccer Business or the current labour dispute with its national teams.

The report calls for modernizing the membership voting structure or distribution of votes “by eliminating or reducing the power imbalance amongst members.”

“A more balanced distribution of votes will result in a better engagement of all (Canada Soccer) members.”

As for the Canada Soccer board, the report recommends it be reduced in size from the current 14 members. While that size allows for “more diversity and a variety of skills and competencies,” it can also lead to “possible issues such as the board’s effectiveness in decision-making, and directors’ engagement.”

The report suggests a “smaller and more independent” board composed of nine or 11 directors would be preferable.

It also strongly recommends that the role of president be appointed by the directors once they are elected by the members.

“The potential risk with the president being elected by the members is the possibility of political interference or the election of a leader who doesn’t necessarily possess the best skills or governance acumen to lead the board,” the report says.

In examining the makeup of the current board, the report concluded there was a “good mix of diverse skills, experience, and competencies.”

But that was not everyone’s perception.

“The internal and external stakeholders’ interviewees were of the view that the board, as a collective, lacked business acumen, experience, or education in good governance (and not just in FIFA governance), financial oversight, Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), and soccer/football acumen.

“We disagree with the interviewees and believe that these competencies and skills are present on the board. That said, we agree that the directors (and members) shall be much better educated and trained in good governance and on FIFA statutes.”

The report also recommends more exact term limits to the board.

Currently a director’s term is three years with a maximum of three terms, while the president and vice-president are limited to two terms of four years.

“If a director exhausts all three terms of three years, and then becomes president or vice-president, that could represent a total of 25 years if we include two terms as vice-president and two terms as president,” the report said. “Sitting on a board of directors for 25 years is considered too long compared with modern governance practice.”

The review also recommends that the board not be involved in the hiring or selection of national team coaches, saying it is “contrary to good governance practices and principles.”

The “search, selection and evaluation” of national team coaches should be left to the general secretary/CEO.

“This is an operational decision,” it concluded.

The review says Canada Soccer “shall involve athletes in other committees or task forces when deemed appropriate to ensure their voices are heard.”

And it urges more transparency and communication.

“The fact that no minutes, updates, or reports are posted on (the Canada Soccer) website or communicated otherwise, combined with the uncertainty with the (general secretary) transition and the issues associated with the CSB and the national teams’ CBAs, contributed to some level of mistrust with (Canada Soccer’s) overall leadership,” the report said.

It concludes by saying Canada Soccer has “demonstrated courage by conducting this independent review and making it public.”

“With its completion, it is time for decisive action, enabling (Canada Soccer) to become a more engaged, modern, and progressive organization.”

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2024.

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