Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.
To say that hockey is an iconic and proud part of the Canadian identity is an understatement.
Our country has been nurtured in storied hockey experiences. In 1972, the Canada-USSR Summit Series was not just a battle for hockey supremacy, it was a clash of ideologies. Paul Henderson’s winning goal in the final seconds of the final game is etched in the national spirit.
Canada’s women’s hockey team, led in the past by players such as Hayley Wickenheiser, Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford, have been leaders in the sport, have won numerous world titles and inspired a generation of young people.
How is the beloved national sport doing today? Not great.
Allegations that some members of the 2018 Canadian men’s World Junior hockey team assaulted a woman after a Hockey Canada fundraising gala in London, Ont., in addition to another alleged assault involving members of the 2003 team in Halifax, have put a negative spotlight on hockey. Canadians are concerned.
A new national survey for The Globe and Mail and CTV News by Nanos suggests that many feel there is a sexual-misconduct problem in hockey and people are angry about the use of player registration fees to pay out settlements.
When asked how much of a cultural problem sexual misconduct is in hockey, views differed depending on the level of play in question. One in three Canadians felt it was a problem in recreational hockey, but this rose to 59 per cent in the player development leagues that feed the NHL – such as the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
It’s not a matter of whether a problem exists but rather just how big it is.
Three of four respondents said the allegations of sexual assault and Hockey Canada’s use of registration fees to pay out victims has had a negative or somewhat negative impact on their impression of hockey players, while two in three said it has had a negative impact on the sport itself. A majority of both men and women have soured on hockey, but the intensity of negativity among women is noticeably higher than among men.
People are about 2½ times more likely to believe there is a bigger cultural problem (63 per cent) than see it as something involving an isolated handful of players (26 per cent). Women are more likely to believe this is a bigger cultural problem (72 per cent) than men (53 per cent).
Hockey Canada should be troubled not only by these findings but by the potential longer-term impact on the sport. A majority of people with children (55 per cent) said the allegations will have no impact on the likelihood of their child playing hockey. However, more than one in four parents (39 per cent) said it will have a negative impact.
Disgust isn’t reserved for the players. In the court of public opinion, the use of registration fees to pay out victims puts into question the leadership and governance of Hockey Canada.
Canadians overwhelmingly reject the use of a portion of hockey registration fees to pay out settlements (71 per cent oppose, while 13 per cent somewhat oppose), and 73 per cent said anger is the top feeling they have about the use of fees in this manner.
We are at a place where Hockey Canada has failed both the sport and the players. It is not fair to negatively characterize all hockey players, but it is fair to put a spotlight on hockey culture.
This story is about the victims, above all – the sport comes second. Healing will only start by recognizing the problem. That begins with Hockey Canada. After that, Canadians who love their national sport will need to know what will be done to root out behaviour and ensure that our players are role models both on and off the ice.
Will it be difficult? Yes. Must it be done? Absolutely.
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