New Board of Directors Continues Journey Toward Becoming One of Canada’s Safest and Most Welcoming Sports

September 01, 2023

For Morgan Rogers, the problem strikes a very personal chord; hits a raw nerve.

“This issue,’’ emphasizes the newest chairperson of Nordiq Canada’s board of directors, “is something I’m very passionate about, something I think about and work on a lot.

“I myself have experienced not feeling safe or included in a workplace – that happened to me in a non-sport summer job.

“So I lived it, what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those feelings. Because of that, I turned back to sport, a place where I have always felt lucky, have always felt safe.

“It’s helped me deal with and move through the other experience.

“Because of that, I really, really see the difference this can make and see the contrast between a safe and unsafe space. It’s very important to me to make sure everyone feels welcome.”

Morgan Rogers

Making the Nordiq landscape safer and more accessible to all is the platform Morgan ran on in her chair campaign. Prior to taking those reins, she had acted as point-person for a steering committee that led to the creation of a safeguarding committee, expanding the initiative to both safe sport and REDI (Reconciliation, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion).

Since undergoing a governance overhaul in 2016, Nordiq Canada has continued to lead the way among National Sport Organizations (NSO) in adopting policies to ensure safe, inclusive environments. In June at its AGM, for example, voting members approved a by-law that requires all divisions and clubs to adopt a common set of safe sport policies.

“Safe sport and safeguarding – safeguarding being that broader mandate of not only prevention of maltreatment but to creating equitable, diverse and inclusive spaces – are obviously taking up a lot of space around Canadian sport news right now,’’ Rogers says. “What there hasn’t been is enough time or focus dedicated to NSOs that are doing a great job or what’s working. I’m very proud to be part of an NSO that’s working well and acknowledges where more work is needed.”

Also entrusted with helping navigate Nordiq Canada’s immediate path forward are the incoming members to the board voted in on June 17th: Julian Smith of Ontario as one of two Athlete Directors, voice for the athletes; B.C.’s Kate Scallion with a background in sport-dispute resolution and Safe sport case management; lawyer Bruno Caron, with expertise in corporate governance; Lex Albrecht, a national-calibre cyclist for nine years who sat on sat on Cycling Canada’s athletes’ council, a platform for athlete rights, wholistic well-being and governance; and Shawn Leamon of Newfoundland, an Indigenous ski club manager and ski official.

Board members who completed their terms this year include: Ted Kalil, Sarah Daitch, Charlotte MacNaughton, Alexis Turgeon and Scott Hill, while Toni Scheier, Jo-Anne Wolach, Derek Estabrook and Katie Weaver remain on the Board.

“Of course, we’ll miss our outgoing board members who made great contributions over the years,’’ says Rogers. “And we look forward to the expertise and fresh perspective around our table.

“The amount of turnover” – board members serve for three years with a maximum of two terms – “can be difficult from a governance perspective but as someone who values diversity and inclusion, I think turnover in terms of having new voices, not having the same board forever, is valuable and a strength.”

At the core of priorities, naturally, is strengthening the culture, enriching the experience, of cross-country skiers at all levels.

“Safe sport,’’ echos Albrecht, “is so obviously important. It should’ve been important a long time ago. In all sports.

“What we can do now is learn from the past and focus on the present and the future, and that’s what Nordiq Canada is doing in being one of the leaders in safe sport. That’s awesome. That commitment is great for the sport, its longevity, for the community. It’s really cool that everybody, including the people on the board, are involved in safe sport.”

Albrecht actually bypassed an opportunity to run for the Cycling Canada Board, coaxed by now-former Nordiq Canada board member Kalil, a friend and fellow Montrealer, to venture outside her comfort zone.

“I just thought I might be able to bring even more value to a parallel organization,’’ Albrecht says. “By that, I mean another Canadian national team, another endurance sport, one with a similar structure to Cycling Canada – without a centralized national team location.

Lex Albrecht

“For me, as an individual, it’s refreshing to be able to step a little bit outside of what I’ve been so heavily involved in the last decade of my life.

“One of the things I really, really love about this is that I feel I’m part of a group of winners, in the sense that they’re all people aligned with the same goal, same mission. To me, that’s important. A good, solid team. Passionate, driven people.

“I find that I started taking this for granted, being in sports for so long, but that’s not common to find in general everyday life. So, for me, it’s an exciting, refreshing group to be a part of.”

Working now as a marketing consultant for various companies, both inside and outside the sports industry, Albrecht hopes to inject fresh business-development ideas to the Nordiq Canada board with an end to securing additional streams of funding, now and into the future.

“There are so many things that go into funding – the marketing, the storytelling, the visibility-boosting, the networking, the communicating to groups the value of being part of a high-performance program and the impact of that program on all Canadians,’’ she enthuses. “I don’t think that a lot of organizations or potential sources of funding are even aware of the opportunity to partner with an organization like Nordiq Canada and to align their brands with this type of program.”

Smith, in contrast to his fellow board member’s high-performance bicycle background, has always been all about cross-country. A former (and, he hopes, future) part of the national team set-up, he joins B.C.’s Katie Weaver – who encouraged him to run for the board – acting as athlete voices. One of the most progressive things Nordiq Canada has implemented, Smith stresses, is implementing both a female and male athlete rep.

23.02.2023, Planica, Slovenia (SLO):
Julian Smith (CAN) – FIS nordic world ski championships cross-country, individual sprint, Planica (SLO). © Modica/NordicFocus.

“Every board’s job is to run the organization that it represents as best it can, right?’’ asks Smith, who fell in love with the sport growing up in southern Ontario. “Well, a sport organization really demands synergistic communication. How does that happen without an athlete, or multiple athletes’, voices at the table? Nordiq Canada has been at the forefront of that drive in Canadian sport, with both a female and a male athlete rep.”

As a competitive athlete himself, and fully invested in its future, one word jumps out for Smith when topics of improvement arise in conversation.

“Communication. Regardless of whether it’s in the sporting world – safety, well-being, nutrition, you name it – if communication is good, there is almost always only one place the conversation can end and that’s in a better place than where it started,’’ he emphasizes. “But if communication is poor, there’s almost always only place the conversation can end. And I think you know where I’m going with this …

“That’s something I’m proud to push for and I think Nordiq Canada is adopting alongside myself and Katie – to improve communication, the flow of two-way dialogue. Do that and you improve the performance, the well-being, the happiness of coaches, athletes, staff members, parents across the entire spectrum.

“I think we’re on the right track, especially on the focus of safeguarding and safe sport. That’s part of the process.”

Communication, of course, is vital everywhere, at all levels, within a sport. From jackrabbit lessons on local snow to the World Cup trails of Ruka, Finland, Oberhof, Germany and Canmore. And right into NSO boardrooms.

“Seeing that shift as we’re going through our education of board and staff of having these difficult conversations of grappling and working to change has been very rewarding – seeing people on the board going from raising their hand saying ‘Sorry, what is REDI?’ to saying ‘Oh, this is important if we’re looking at inclusion in this conversation’ are the kinds of leaps and shifts in the past few years that have made me very, very proud of the work our whole board has done; how open-minded and willing everyone is.

“We’re still intentionally pushing (the narrative) but it’s become a lot more part of our day-to-day conversations and considerations. And that’s huge.”

Improvements made over the past half-dozen years made have been impactful. But no one on the Nordiq Canada board is anything close to being satisfied.

Least of all the chairperson.

“No one’s perfect,’’ acknowledges Morgan Rogers, “but we’re making a concerted effort to do a good job.

“I wouldn’t be chairing this board if I didn’t believe in what we’re doing, the way we’re doing it, and the path we’re heading down.

“Safe sport/safeguarding is kind of an interlay of my passions of making everyone feel safe and included, so that others don’t have to experience what I did, in a place where I already see so much good and so much potential.”