Equine Canada Board Declares “Total Confidence” In Leadership Despite Widespread Criticism

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Eva Havaris

OTTAWA, Ontario, Feb. 2, 2017–Equine Canada admitted to “challenges” from disgruntle volunteers to Olympic riders over the past three years but declared “total confidence” in the leadership that oversees the national federation.

The governing body of horse sports in Canada issued a 2,500-word litany of what the board of directors admitted after an emergency meeting “some mistakes” had been made in the past three years of overhauling the organization that receives substantial funding from the Canadian government.

Eva Havaris, the senior executive of Taekwondo Canada, was brought in three years ago as CEO of Equine Canada that lauded her “exemplary management skills and extensive sport qualifications,” as well as “executive leadership, dynamic vision and commitment to national sport organization success.”

She has revamped the structure that was mired in 142 different committees and dealt with serious financial accounting issues in a program the board said has been designed to “restructure and professionalize” the organization.

However, during her tenure relations with the base of volunteers has soured, implementation of an Olympic dressage selection policy it copyrighted and tried to keep secret was ridiculed and the federation’s vote late last year in support of cutting the the number of horses on future Olympic teams was sharply criticized by Canada’s leading jumper rider, multi Olympic medalist Eric Lamaze who was among many of the country’s high performance riders opposed to the move.

The group organizing the 2018 World Equestrian Games for Bromont, Canada with the backing of Equine Canada pulled out last summer and the International Equestrian Federation’s quadrennial event showcasing dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting as well as para-dressage was rescued by organizers of the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina. The statement made no mention of the collapse of the World Games effort that was a major embarrassment.

The board said it believed in 2014 it needed to rebuild and redefine partnerships and working relationships in the organization.

“The Board and CEO certainly acknowledge that this past year has been challenging as we continue to restructure and professionalize EC’s governance and operations,” the statement said. “We’ve made some improvements. We’ve made some mistakes. We’ve implemented some changes successfully and others continue to be a work in progress. Change is not easy. We have implemented changes that have not been easy for everyone to adapt to or accept. Nevertheless, we are fully committed to working with the community and our members to fix our mistakes and build a better Federation.”

“Good governance is complex and people often disagree on the best way to ensure an organization achieves its objectives,” it said. “EC has not been immune in the past to challenges concerning previous efforts to revamp and modernize its governance. This is normal.”

Much of the restructuring with new by-laws, a different member representation system and modern financial accounting procedures was undertaken to comply with Canada’s not-for-profit law.

“We acknowledge that there have been problems during this time of transition and that our new operating structure needs more work,” it said. “It is in the early stages of implementation and is structured in a way to be flexible and adaptable to the needs of the organization. We will work collaboratively with EC’s volunteer community to achieve the right balance of committees needed across operations to effectively move programs and initiatives forward–because we all share in the responsibility to deliver great services to the membership.

“The bottom line is that we believe in the structure that has been put in place. We know it is not yet working as it was envisioned, but we also know that through solidarity, cooperation and collaboration that we can get it working and fully realize the goals of the new governance and operational structure.”

The board said that “clearly we have failed in our responsibility to communication adequately with our constituent communities. There appear to be a number of concerns that are primarily the result of misunderstanding due to the lack of good lines of communication. We need to do a much better job of communicating how and why decisions have been made and we are committed to making immediate efforts to do so.”

Equine Canada “is fully aware of the public outcry that has been circulating expressing concerns about the management and governance of its organization.”

But it called for an end to public attacks on the organization–that some have described as an attempt to stifle critics of the federation.

“People in an organization such as ours may come and go, but the reputation of the organization, both internationally and within the sport community may be irreparably harmed by inappropriate public communication,” it said.

“There are mechanisms to address any concerns and waging a public battle is akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite their face.”