Recently, Equestrian Canada released “Planning and Preparing for Change: Our First Strategic Initiatives Plan Report Card.” At 42 pages in length, it’s a hefty document, although the layout makes it relatively easy to skim through and pick up on specific areas of interest to you.
To provide some context, the Strategic Initiatives Plan “is to set the direction of EC for the next five years, it is the guide for our operational plans and organizational structure.” The Report Card includes feedback received from the community, volunteers and staff from the survey sent out last year. A traffic light grading system is being used, where green seems to mean a good score, yellow means average or being worked on, and red means not yet achieved.
Here are a few items which stood out.
This received a red light in the report, with the contributing factors including:
- implementation of the Long-Term Equestrian Development (LTED) framework
- increase number of sport licenses by 5% in all disciplines
- increase accreditation of facilities and development of National Centres of Excellence
LTED has been on EC’s agenda since roughly 2008 when Richard Way of Sport for Life Society gave a presentation on Long Term Athlete Development to EC’s then Sport Council.
Since that time, there have been many volunteer hours spent on formulating a framework that works for equestrian sports, and implementing said system. Twelve years later, and implementation remains elusive.
The 5% sport license increase in all disciplines looks to be a goal EC would like to achieve at the end of the 4-year period, vs an annual goal. Judging by the report card, it seems that there is no plan yet in place on how to achieve this, aside from saying that support from Provincial/Territorial Sports Organizations is necessary. This is interesting in two ways:
1. EC has seen a steady decline in sports licenses since 2014;
2. For those looking for a less expensive way to take part in accredited competitions, it is often much cheaper to only have a PTSO membership and take part in provincially-sanctioned competitions since an EC membership is not required (whereas a PTSO AND an EC membership is required if taking part in EC-sanctioned competitions)
HIGH PERFORMANCE DEVELOPMENT
This has long been an Achilles heel for Canada’s national equestrian sport organization, who fields athletes to World Cups, Pan American Games, World Equestrian Games, Olympics and other high profile international events.
Athletes who achieve international achievements do so as a result of considerable personal efforts/expense, and not because of any talent identification, development programs or financial support from EC. Although a lucky few do receive some direct financial support from Sport Canada, though this ranges from roughly $1,100 – $1,800/month.
The report card gives this area a yellow light, with comments stating that the EC Board of Directors have approved a reorganization which will significantly improve delivery of High Performance initiatives. In addition, key resources will be dedicated to sport development and high performance.
No details are provided as to what this reorganization is, or where key resources will come from. When it comes to the Olympic sports, government funding via the Own the Podium program has decreased for EC from $4.3 million during the London Olympics quadrennial to $985,000 for the Tokyo quadrennial….with the bulk of that going to Para-Equestrian. To give you an idea on this, for 2019-2020 Para-Equestrian was allocated $300,000 while the three Olympic equestrian sports are dividing up $265,000.
EQUINE HEALTH & WELFARE – EQUINE HERD & INDUSTRY
EC gave itself a green light on both of these areas, though I think yellow would be more fitting. There has definitely been an increase in communication with regards to disease outbreaks, as well as monthly conference calls available to the community. Although the awareness of these services is somewhat limited.
The implementation of a national traceability program is still being worked on. This is another program which has been in the works at least 12 years if not longer, with EC making regular funding submission requests (and being granted) from government agencies such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
A green light here, with EC saying that in 2020:
- they will be taking an in-depth look to streamline & modernize sanctioning and sport licensing.
- Investing to receive and manage data effectively
- Aligning competitions and helping non-Olympic disciplines establish sport development plans.
Again, these are topics which go back years for EC without much movement. And although it’s not specifically mentioned, it seems to be referring to a results database for EC competitions. This has been the source of turmoil and viewed by many as a money pit over the years, with still not much to show for the efforts.
Not sure how this area qualifies as a green light.
An unsurprising red light was given for this area. This has been an area of concern amongst officials and competition organizers for many years. The officials’ pool is very shallow, and often the pathway to become an official can be lengthy and expensive. There has also been little done to create an outreach/recruitment program for new officials.
Another red light here. EC’s areas of focus for this section is listed as the marketing and promotion of horse sports, engaging the broader public and increase awareness of the equestrian sports and lifestyle with a national fan club.
No information was included on what EC will be doing, aside from stating that a National Fan Club has been put on hold.
Promoting the benefits of both recreational and competitive equestrian sports could be a strong driver to increase both awareness and ultimately participation. It would seem to be a good fit for the PTSOs, however there is no mention of them.
EC gave itself a green light, citing what one would expect to be the minimum requirements of any organization:
– meeting regularly
– producing minutes
– following terms of reference
EC has again hired outside consultants to review the structure of the organization and make recommendations. There’s also mention of a structural re-organization and cultural transformation. We’ve seen this movie before, as recently as 2014 with then CEO Eva Havaris, and seems to be another regular money pit for EC.
What is missing from the list is ensuring the financial health of the organization, which is also a key Board responsibility. And with declining sport licenses and government funding, this would be more important than ever.
This has long been a complaint made of EC, both internally among its large number of volunteers, as well as externally to the community and stakeholders.
A yellow light was given there, citing the hiring of an IT firm to create an e-learning platform. I’m not sure how this falls within communication as this would seem to be more education than anything else.
There is also mention of EC’s Governance Committee doing an assessment of current committee structure and functionality. I suspect that the broad changes that were executed back in 2014/2015 (via the new Bylaws) have produced exactly what they had been designed to produce: increased silos and a further detachment of the organization from the members and stakeholders it serves.
A yellow light with a surprising lack of details given the importance of this area. There is mention of the Finance and Audit Committee working with the CFO and Interim CEO to produce timely reports with the new financial accounting software.
But no mention about the ability to present balanced budgets….which is critical given the aforementioned decreases in sport licenses and government funding (two of EC’s largest revenue streams). Not to mention all of the external consultants & contractors who have been hired. To give you an idea on the steadily increasing costs, the “Governance & Operations” line item in the last audited financial statements of 2018 show this increasing to $3.1 million compared to $500,000 just 8 years previously. Even taking into account inflation, this continued growth in the absence of continued revenue growth to compensate should raise a red flag.
MAXIMIZING PUBLIC & PARTNERSHIP FUNDING
This last item is where revenue sources are finally mentioned, and it’s being given a red light. While it’s nice to see a sentence saying that the Board “recognizes the crucial need for a strategic revenue plan for EC’s sustainability and growth”, it’s alarming to see that there is no information on how it’s being addressed other than things are being reviewed.