Supporting Canadian Athletes

Athlete Agreements

paper

Executive Summary

After doping, the majority of disputes in the Canadian sport system are team selection and carding eligibility cases.[1] These cases are often closely tied to the construction or enforcement of Athlete Agreements. Athlete Agreements (“AA”), adopted systemically in Canada, govern the daily relationships and mutual obligations between athletes and their National Sport Organizations (“NSOs”).

Disputes related to AAs, like any formal or informal dispute in Canadian sport, are distractions to the performance of Canada’s athletes and, ultimately, to reaching the goals of the Canadian Sport Policy. These disputes need to be minimized to optimize interactions between athletes and their NSOs and create high performance relationships that add value to the sport system and enhance the athlete experience.

It is for these reasons that in 2014 the AthletesCAN Board of Directors struck a working group to assess the current state of the AA in the Canadian sport system and, where necessary, propose possible interventions. This paper, titled The Future of Athlete Agreements in Canada, is a summary of that research and findings. It reviews the evolution of the AA from its origins in the early 1980s to the present, and examines the impact changes during that time have had on the rights of athletes.

This paper aims to begin a national conversation on changes that could help both National Sport Organizations and athletes better use AAs to manage their interdependent relationships. It aspires to improve sport performances in Canadian sport, through a targeted and measured modification of existing practices.

The first section discusses how the AA has changed as Canadian sport has evolved into a more sophisticated high performance system. In the second section, four emerging issues within the AA are identified: provisions regarding self-funded athletes, the integration of anti-doping provisions into AAs, use of social media clauses and relocation requirements. In particular and through these issues, the commentary focuses on an increasing power imbalance between the parties that has made the enforcement of AAs difficult to predict and has restricted athlete input into these and other pertinent matters. Concrete examples from the archives of the AthletesCAN Sport Solution Legal Clinic and published SDRCC decisions illustrate how particular instances of these issues have affected athletes and NSOs.

The third section explores the structures and experiences in other similarly situated jurisdictions, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The final section proposes specific solutions to identified issues, including separating commercial obligations from the main agreements, developing meaningful reciprocal obligations within the AA, facilitating negotiation, and annotating agreements in order to help both NSOs and athletes better use the AA to meet their respective and mutual needs.


[1] Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, “10 Years in Review,” Report on the Operations of the SDRCC 2013-2014 (31 July 2014) online: <http://www.crdsc-sdrcc.ca> at 4.

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