Fire Woman You’re To Blame

If only Katherine Stewart-Jones, Maya MacIsaac-Jones and Cendrine Browne could have failed miserably, we wouldn’t be where we are now. In the midst of a leadership crisis at Nordiq Canada.

by pierre shanks

But no, those darn resilient athletes had to come up with Canada’s top performances in the latter part of last season, and that ended up costing his job to CEO Shane Pearsall while his acting replacement, Stéphane Barrette, is digging the hole even deeper.

Tom Holland has not been replaced as High Performance Director and the Federation, more than ever, badly needs one.

Nordiq Canada must be the only sports federation in the world whose National Team (NST) does not feature its best athletes.

In a recent video on the Federation’s Facebook page, Barrette offered laborious explanations. He talks about the National Team criteria writing process being lead by “our High Performance Director”, a vacant job as of now, but also of a “committee made up of a lot of people (…) that represent the community. So as a matter of fact it’s a democratic process (…) Those people come from different horizons across the country” and so on.

Let’s stop right here and check the High Performance Committee’s mandate within Nordiq Canada:

The Committee’s role is limited to providing advice and support to the High Performance Director and the CEO. For greater clarity, the High Performance Director and the CEO shall not be bound by advice from the Committee. The Committee shall endeavour to make recommendations by consensus.

We don’t know precisely who sits on this 18 member committee (Barrette gave the number in his stand up in french), there is no public list, but we have learned that there is no consensus on the decision to exclude from the senior women’s team three of its best four skiers. Ultimately, the decision rests with the High Performance Director or in his absence, the CEO, in this case… Stéphane Barrette.

Barrette goes on to state that “for the Senior National Team, our goals are not just with respect to the Canadian level that is to have necessarily all the top Canadians on the National Ski Team. As a matter of fact, our goals are more international if you wish (…) The bar is set high for all sorts of reasons.”

Confused? So are we.

He goes on: “Those goals are really based on international level of performance and it may be possible that in certain circumstances that being the top Canadians may just not be enough in terms of reaching those high performance goals or the potential to reach those goals.”

So what does this say about the National Team that will represent Canada at the 2022 Olympic Games?!!!

Nordiq Canada has created “performance development curves” based on age to determine what athletes “deserve” to be on the NST towards the ambitious long-term goals of two medals at the 2026 Games and top 6 in the 2016 overall World Cup ranking, women and men. “It’s a challenge to be able to compare all of these athletes to see if they merit a position on the National Ski Team and benefiting from Nordiq Canada and the National Ski Team again”, says Barrette. “We compare the performance of each of these athletes given their age in comparison to a gold medal profile curve (…)” The bolding is ours.

Katherine Stewart-Jones - (photo: Skiplus)
Katherine Stewart-Jones – (photo: Skiplus)

The result is mind blowing. At the end of this curves process, Nordiq Canada, in the pre-Olympic year that is starting, was withdrawing its confidence and crucial financial support to three of the four best skiers in the country. Two now that Katherine Stewart-Jones has won her appeal against the Federation.

This system is based on negativity. Once they get to 23-24 years old, the athletes lose their spot on the NST if their results dont fit into the “gold medal curve” made up for them. Unless they achieve that “bar set high for all sorts of reasons.”

And how are three women paying the price for this decision? Here’s the deal: since last year, Nordiq Canada has decided to group all juniors, U23 and seniors into one National Team, making it easier to adjust gender equity within the team.

This decision of grouping the categories is nebulous. Several sources told us that of the 18 members on the High Performance Committee, there is really only one woman. There is a second, the NST athletes rep (Katherine Stewart-Jones), but understandably she is not involved in any NST selection discussions.

That leaves 16 men for 1 woman. How about that for a “committee made up of a lot of people that represent the community, from different horizons across the country.” Nordiq Canada and Skiplus have very, very different views on diversity.

In any case, that decision dates back to last year and sources told us that when the criteria drafts were sent to committee members for feedback, the decision to group the ages had already been made and it was not discussed within the committee.

That’s how Nordiq Canada ended up with a senior NST of 5 men and only 2 women. Nothing sexist in that, because they placed 5 women against 2 men on the National Junior Team! Et voilà, the global NST is therefore perfectly balanced! All of it presumably through a “democratic process” with a committee of 16 men for 1 woman.

With Stewart-Jones winning her appeal, the senior team now has a 5 men-3 women ratio. A 3rd man recently “appeared” in the junior team to bring it to a 5 women-3 men ratio.

Other important fact to consider. Katherine Stewart-Jones, Cendrine Browne and Maya MacIsaac-Jones were all on fire in the second half of the season last year. Personal best performances, best Canadian results of the year, the three of them were knocking on the door of the World Cup top 20 when the pandemic ended the season prematurely. Nordiq Canada chose without logical explanation to ignore this impressive “progression curve” even though the last races were to be held in Canada and that the three had worked to reach their peak accordingly.

Cendrine Browne - (photo: Mario Walker)
Cendrine Browne – (photo: Mario Walker)

The Federation’s Board of Directors, made up of brave volunteers, did well in dismissing Shane Pearsall, whose biggest mistake has been to not put Pierre-Nicolas Lemyre under contract as High Performance Director. Lemyre (who has since suffered a stroke), a doctor in sports psychology, would never have orchestrated such a disaster. Unfortunately, the Board replaced an autocrat with a technocrat.

It would have been so simple for a new CEO to fix the mess. By understanding that we cannot bypass the 2022 Olympic Games in preparing 2026. Not if you care about the athletes who dream about 2022 and who work their heart out to represent Canada with dignity, even though they won’t get on the podium.

By understanding that you build a team with what you have, not what you think you might have in 6 years.

And by understanding that the way to establish leadership is to draft a plan that will rally the troops around common and realistic goals in the short, medium and long term.

Instead, Nordiq Canada chose confrontation, as evidenced by the appeals of Stewart-Jones and Browne (she also appealed and we await the decision). The Federation is alienating those it will likely be forced to support at the 2022 Games. How good is that for team morale? Those eminently unproductive “death curves” are not the way to bring the NST forward.

Rejected by the National Team, Canada’s top female skiers are brought down into a fight against their own federation to continue their journey.

Shameful.

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