For Hamilton, By Hamilton

The CanPL's senior leadership diversity problem

In the first version of this story, I incorrectly said that David Clanachan was from the CFL. That was an error. He came from Tim Hortons and was not involved in the CFL. I apologize for the error and have corrected the story.


In sports, talking about culture has almost become a cliché.

A team struggles? Must be a bad culture. Same team overachieves the following season? Well, that’s gotta be a culture change that allowed them to excel.

In a world that is dominated by stats and performance measures, the nebulous idea of culture still holds a lot of weight.

As with most things in sports, there are pros and cons to talking about it. Truthfully, there have been teams where members could not stand each other that won championships and rooms full of “good guys” that finished well below .500.  

That said, one’s work environment is always going to affect how you perform. It doesn’t matter if you are delivering mail or delivering free kicks, if your boss makes things uncomfortable for you then you’re going to struggle to do it to the best of your ability.

Which brings me to the topic of the CanPL front office.

In recent days, I have had multiple people who have worked in the CanPL head office reach out to me to suggest that they were unable to do their jobs to the best of their ability. They talk of a growing divide between the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and the rank and file that work there and a feeling that there is no room for voices or opinions that do not come from the same perspective as the SLT does.

To be clear, we aren’t talking about more serious issues here. No one is suggesting any form of abuse is taking place. What they are suggesting, to put it in the most clinically business way possible, is that the SLT is overly siloed – those outside the inner circle don’t feel respected or heard. Or, increasingly, “didn’t” feel, as there has been a significant amount of churn from the head office over the last 6-months.

This is compounded by the fact that they were all required to take a 25% pay cut last year (same as players) and that the SLT is viewed as, for the most part, not being “soccer people.”   

Indeed, of the six men – and they are all men – in the SLT, only James Easton has a significant soccer background.  No one is doubting that the rest don’t have a passion for soccer, but their previous professional experience was not in the game.

Nor does the seventh, unofficial, member of the SLT, Bob Young. In many ways, Young is seen as having the most power of all, as he has an ownership stake in 25% of the league’s teams. In case you’re unaware, the public ownership face of Forge, is also the silent money behind HFX Wanderers.

Young also owns the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, of course, which is relevant here in that three of the six SLT come directly from the CFL world. Those three are Canadian Soccer Business CEO Scott Mitchell, Executive Vice-President Glen Johnson and VP of Commercial Operations Shaun Guest.

This group has been called the “Hamilton Mafia” by many involved in the game, based on their closeness to the Ti-Cats – the inference being that if you don’t follow their directives you will end up being (figuratively) snuffed out. There’s a little bit of Hamilton stereotyping in the nickname too, but, make no mistake, that’s a lot of power from a group of me who all come from very similar experiences.

And, it’s a similar experience that doesn’t have the best reputation for how it treats its staff.

As outlined in Sportsnet’s Arash Madani’s Tweet above (give him a follow, if you don’t already. If for no reason other than he was on the sideline during Canada’s 8-1 loss in San Pedro Sula), the CFL has become known for being a “my way or the high-way” kind of place. This is the world that Bob Young lives in and the SLT came from. It suggests that the noise coming from employees, both current and former alike, are probably more than just a few disgruntled folks making bitter parting shots at their former bosses.

Here’s the thing: No one is calling for the SLT’s removal here. This is not that kind of column. Rather, it’s a call for them to reflect on whether the boardroom might be an echo chamber and whether than might be preventing them from fully reaching their potential.

It’s 2021, all boardrooms should be seeking out diversity and voices to challenge conventional thinking.

There absolutely shouldn’t be an over correction to see only “soccer people” in the SLT, but a bunch CFL guys from Hamilton isn’t really going to cut it.

This is a league that claims to be For Canadians; By Canadians. If that is to be any more than an empty marketing slogan, the SLT needs to reflect that.