Fitting the pieces together (part 1)

February 25, 2013
Stick Figure Graphics of Sports

Fitting all the pieces of the Canadian sport system together is not an easy task. It is unlike any other. It is neither school-based (think US sport system) nor club-based (think European sport system). Our system combines elements of both, but at the community level, our system is largely volunteer-driven and operates in the not-for-profit sector. This produces enormous social capital in our communities through the millions of volunteers who make sport possible – but it also creates excessive vulnerability to the influences and pressures of self-interest. In our communities, we have individual sport organizations which are typically members of their provincial or territorial sport organizations (but not always), and in turn, these provincial and territorial sport organizations are members of their national sport governing bodies.

Governments at the federal-provincial/territorial level attempt to affect what goes on in the Canadian sport system by providing money for areas of sport that they are interested in. While governments can influence priorities by using money as an incentive, it’s the millions of Canadians who are members of our sport system who are ultimately running the system. Whether it be a vote taken at a national sport organization’s annual general meeting or a vote taken at a community sport organization, these decisions drive the system.

Now, I recognize that school sports exist, and in some communities they are even the main source of sport. And I also recognize that private sector interests are becoming more prevalent in certain sports in our communities. But for the most part, the Canadian sport system is volunteer-based and member- driven.

The Canadian Sport Policy 2012 (, approved this past June by the federal-provincial/territorial ministers responsible for sport, provides an over-arching policy framework for our sport system. At its core, the Policy advocates for a more expansive view of the contribution sport can make to Canadian society. It asserts that beyond sport for sport’s sake, there’s untapped value in sport for community’s sake. The Policy goes on to speak about the importance of physical literacy in athlete development, the need to increase sport participation rates and the value of Canadian athletes succeeding on the world stage. For the first time ever, the Policy explicitly recognizes the importance of values to sport, at all levels, including the value of winning.

So if the Canadian Sport Policy 2012 is the over-arching blueprint for the Canadian sport system, how do all the pieces fit together? In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share my thoughts on the topic.