Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an NSO (National Sports Organization) and why are its governing documents important?

A: An NSO is a not-for-profit organization that has been recognized by Sport Canada to serve as the governing body for a particular sport in Canada. For example, Alpine Canada, Athletics Canada, and Volleyball      Canada are governing bodies for each of their respective sports. An NSO is required to govern its sport in accordance with its own policies and procedures, that of its international body and those of Sport Canada. NSO’s must provide opportunities to athletes, coaches, trainers, managers and officials, without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, disability, religion, sex, age or national origin.

The NSO is required to give athletes a fair hearing before taking disciplinary action and ensure there is an internal review process through which disputes can be resolved in a timely manner. The Constitution and Bylaws of each NSO are often posted on that NSO’s website. The governance documents of the NSO generally detail athlete rights and responsibilities as well as the rights and responsibilities of the NSO.

Q: I was given an Athlete Agreement to sign but I have problems with a few clauses in the Agreement. I must send it back signed to the Director of the National Team Committee within the next two days in order to have my position guaranteed on the National Team. Should I sign the Athlete Agreement?

First, it is important for athletes to remember that Sport Solution Program Managers are law students and are not qualified to give out legal advice such as whether to sign a contract or not. However, we can highlight potential problems and areas of concern with the proposed Athlete Agreement and identify different options the athlete may choose. Clearly, if an athlete chooses not to sign an Agreement with his/her NSO, he/she risks being replaced by an athlete who is willing sign the Agreement. Therefore, it is important to have an Athlete Representative present during the negotiation of the Athlete Agreement so that athletes’ concerns may be voiced and addressed.

Unfortunately, the athlete in this case waited too long to call us for help. There were only two days between the day of first contact and the time at which the Agreement needed to be signed and returned. The athlete was left in a difficult position, as there was no time to renegotiate problematic terms in the Agreement. So, a message to all athletes: TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Athletes need to keep this in mind since our services will be much more helpful to athletes if we have time in which to maneuver and file an appeal if the case requires it. A sufficient amount of time to seek advice would be 7 to 10 days; however, the onus is on the athlete to read and understand the terms of the agreement before signing. Only in some cases is there an opportunity to make some amendments.

Q: If I want to settle a dispute with my National Sport Organization, is my only alternative to go through the internal grievance, appeal, or arbitration process?

Courts are generally reluctant to hear administrative type disputes within most organizations unless something illegal has happened, timeliness is an issue, or the internal decision was made by someone who lacked the proper authority. Furthermore, courts generally prefer to see the matter run its course internally before they will even entertain adjudicating the dispute. In most circumstances there is another option available:

The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) was founded to allow for timely, cost effective resolution of disputes in the sporting community []. The Dispute Resolution Secretariat (tribunal) offers resolution facilitation, mediation, mediation/arbitration, and arbitration services. An explanation of each follows.

Resolution Facilitation: process through which procedural assistance is provided to enable the parties in dispute to communicate more effectively and move towards agreement. The resolution facilitator is a neutral “process manager” and can help disputants to better understand the options available, and to clarify the issues as stake.

Mediation: process through which a professional and neutral third party helps the parties find a solution together. Mediation only brings a dispute to an end if both parties, with the intervention and assistance of the mediator, are able to come to an agreement that resolves the dispute. The solution agreed upon must then be respected by the parties.

Mediation/Arbitration: process that combines mediation and arbitration. Initially, the parties try to reach a settlement through mediation. If there are issues that are not resolved through mediation, the mediator then becomes an arbitrator and will render a decision which will be final and binding on the parties involved.

Arbitration: process that uses a neutral third party who hears evidence and decides how the conflict should be resolved. Arbitration tends to be more structured and formal than mediation. Unlike mediation, this approach will bring closure to the dispute whether the two sides agree or not. The arbitrator’s decision is final and binding. The decision of the arbitrator may not accord with the resolution suggested by either party, but it will nevertheless be final.

Q: A hockey player is cut from the team for missing a curfew. He was out with a number of teammates, but he was the only one dropped from the squad. The other offending athletes were suspended for a week. It is no coincidence that the suspended players were the team’s most skilled members. Can the team do this?

Discipline guidelines must be clearly set out for all athletes in the organization to understand. Athletes typically receive conduct guidelines, such as a Code of Conduct, at the beginning of each season. Ideally, an Athlete Representative should be involved in its preparation. Penalties for breaches of the Code should reflect the severity of the offence, with more serious offences requiring a stronger sanction, and the most serious offences could result in expulsion from the team

The decision by the team management may have been flawed in three areas:

  1. The severity of the disciplinary action should never be based on the skill level, or star quality, of the athlete. This breaches the basic tenets of natural justice and procedural fairness, which are necessary to a healthy sporting relationship.
  2. The punishment must fit the crime. The penalty may have been excessive considering the severity of the offence and the fact it was the athlete’s first transgression.
  3. Athletes should also have access to a hearing and an appeal process to address penalties they consider unfair. There should also have been a hearing to address the breach of the code of conduct from the start to determine if there was a breach and set the penalty.

Q: Does the Sport Solution cater only to the big name sport programs?

NO! Our service is available to all national athletes who are members of Athletes CAN. This also includes provincial level athletes in certain circumstances.

Q: Some of the bylaws of my sport organization seem very broad, especially concerning discipline. Can they do this?

Sport organizations can write at a high level of generality in their bylaws, but where they might run into problems with such a bylaw is upon appeal. A tribunal will not look favourably upon very broad or ambiguous rules, especially when there are no examples of offending behaviour given or the corresponding discipline is not outlined. In such instances the tribunal will often rule against the organization that drafted the bylaw. Certainly the more specific and clear the provisions, the better for everyone.

Examples of broad, ambiguous bylaws include:

  • ”…the athlete will not engage in behaviour that will compromise the integrity of the sport organization…”
  • ”…”the athlete will adopt a lifestyle that is conducive to maximising his or her athletic ability…”

… and the list goes on.

Q: Can ‘team chemistry’ be used as an acceptable criterion to be used in the team selection for team sports?

Yes, generally in team sports, so long as team ‘chemistry’ means selecting the collection of athletes who work best together to achieve the best results. Because in team sports athletes will have complementary strengths and weaknesses, it may not be possible to craft simple, objective criteria for player selection. Team chemistry as a method of evaluation cannot be used to further a discriminatory choice; a coach cannot determine that the team would play better if all members were of the same race or exclude an athlete in retaliation for making claims of race or sex discrimination.

It would, of course, be best if “team chemistry” were a bit more defined. How is team chemistry determined, and what sort of characteristics will be viewed? Team chemistry largely comes down to a ‘discretionary’ decision, but even these decisions need to be justified on some grounds.

If the application of a team chemistry criterion denies an athlete the opportunity to compete on discretionary grounds, the decision is subject to challenge. Additionally, if the team is a combination of individuals (e.g. a team that competes in a relay race) and the contribution of the individual can be assessed objectively, it may be more difficult to defend a subject selective process that considers team chemistry.


Information on this web site is intended as general legal information only and should not form the basis of legal advice or opinion. AthletesCAN makes no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy and reliability of the information published here, and accepts no responsibility for any consequences arising from a reader’s reliance upon this information. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with a lawyer.

The articles published on this web site are written by Sport Solution Program Managers on behalf of AthletesCAN. These articles may not be reprinted or republished without the express written consent of AthletesCAN.