Two years ago, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) was embroiled in a bitter governance struggle. Two opposing forces - the 'old guard', who wanted to maintain the status quo, and 'the reformers', who wanted to see the CSA adopt a more progressive, effective governance structure - were at an impasse.
The media spotlight was shone on the problem, leading to a groundswell of support from across the country in favour of governance reform. In the end, the greater good prevailed, the 'old guard' were outnumbered and the membership of the CSA voted in favour of change.
The result of that struggle now sees the CSA being governed by a diverse, professionally-qualified, functional board of directors. They have done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, have empowered staff to do their jobs, and created a unique, inclusive strategic plan that will provide a blueprint for the development of the game in Canada for years to come.
A key component of that strategic plan will be alignment of governance structures between the national and provincial/territorial organizations. It sounds complicated, but when it is put into context, it is really quite simple to understand.
While the CSA's national governance structure is very much in order, the same cannot be said for the provincial associations, their respective district associations, nor for their respective clubs.
A perfect example of this occurred last weekend in Ontario.
The Ontario Soccer Association (OSA)'s Board of Directors voted to reject a 'Request for Decision' - RFD 2013-009 - that would have seen OSA-recognized non-club academies permitted to participate in the OSA's new standards-based, high-performance youth soccer league (the OPDL) next season.
The request for decision was brought forward by the OSA's Technical Advisory Council (TAC), a group of experienced professionals with backgrounds in player development, coach education, high-performance and professional soccer, refereeing and administration. TAC was commissioned by the OSA to conceive and develop the OPDL, and to advise the OSA staff in making technical recommendations to its board of directors.
The OSA board gave no explanation as to why it voted against the recommendations of the OSA technical staff and TAC - but it is not difficult to figure out. The vote to deny the RFD was motivated by petty politics, rather than what is in the best interest of player development.
With a board composed of 21 district representatives and a seven-member Executive, the OSA's governance structure is fundamentally flawed. The same conflict of loyalty that plagued the CSA two years ago - where provincial association presidents on the CSA board sought mainly to further the interests of their respective provinces, rather than the greater interest of the game at a national level - now plagues the OSA. District representatives on the OSA board defend their own respective interests instead of working for the greater interest of what is best for the game across the province.
This vote to deny RFD 2013-009 in Ontario is just one example of the governance problem; similar issues plague other provincial associations. So how does the CSA go about fixing this problem?
The ideal solution would be the achievement of a consensus between the national and provincial levels on a consistent governance structure throughout the CSA: each Association would have the same basic structure, with a skill-set, professional board performing a strategic function and management/staff performing technical and program functions. This consensus approach would create the least amount of bad blood, and result in the maximum amount of buy-in by the provinces.
An alternative approach is to mandate that each provincial association 'mirrors' the CSA's national governance structure, or some kind of variation that is acceptable to the CSA's board of directors. The CSA board would be wise to consider this option, even while it might not be its first choice. Instituting parallel governance structures at the provincial level need not entail a fight like the one that occurred two years ago at the CSA. There isn't the same uncertainty surrounding the impact of governance reform: the provincial associations are aware of what kinds of changes would have to occur within their organizations. The challenge would be for the CSA to work with the provincial associations to craft unique solutions for each provincial/territorial association, according to the principles of good governance.
Canadian soccer supporters would much rather hear stories of our national teams qualifying for World Cups, or of the steps being taken in player and coach development across the country. But governance impacts all of those things. We must continue to work towards implementing good governance structures at every level of the game across Canada - so that decisions like the one made in Ontario last weekend never happen again.