Ontario Hockey Federation Makes Ill-Advised Decision To Scrap Diversity and Inclusion Program

The Ontario Hockey Federation has pulled the plug on a Diversity and Inclusion Program, citing the need to focus on return-to-play.

The move, which places emphasis on return-to-play, over the inclusion and well being of marginalised participants is being rightfully criticized by the very group that the OHF outsourced to create the programming.

The OHF sent this message to the eight liaisons/advisors, which includes doctors from prominent Universities across North America.

“As has become evident, the minor sport community has been hit particularly hard by Covid-19 and despite our planning it now seems that this second wave may derail our return to play plans for the 2020-2021 season. The board has determined, at this time, that the focus needs to be on return to play and Covid-19 related issues,” OHF Executive Director Phillip McKee wrote on October 13.

McKee’s response insinuates that the sporting community’s “particular” hardship from the pandemic is more important than the ongoing oppression of marginalized and minority groups. The statement is baffling considering the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is have on Black and Indigenous communities in Canada.

McKee’s letter garnered an immediate reaction from the academics challenged with developing the diversity and inclusion programming.

“We wish to acknowledge more broadly that the reason the OHF cannot focus on both the pandemic and diversity and inclusion is unclear to us given that the work has been outsourced to us specifically so that they would not have to do it,” the group wrote.

“We also wish to acknowledge that a successful return-to-play plan should prioritize mental health and wellbeing of marginalized and minority community members who are known to have been hit hardest socially, physically, and economically by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The group includes liasons and advisors focusing on gender, disability, race, conformity, masculinity and gamification, and religion from institutions including McGill University, Queen’s University, Old Dominion University, Laurentian University, University of Guelph, St. Thomas University, and Saint Mary’s University.

To claim a priority needs to be placed on a return-to-play plan over the inclusion and respect for all people in the game of hockey, is another significant step back for the game.

After all, there is no such thing as a “safe” return-to-play plan that excludes diversity and inclusion programming to better protect and enhance opportunities for women, the LGBTQ+ community, Black and Indigenous people or other people of colour, those with disabilities, and people from non-Christian faith backgrounds.

Hockey cannot be separated from colonialism, systemic racism, toxic masculinity, homophobia, and other facets of hate and division that prevail and have been woven into the organization and culture of the sport. Action needs to be taken. Some might say the pandemic, a time without play is the perfect opportunity for groups like the Ontario Hockey Federation to ensure the safe and fair treatment of every person interested in the sport.

Instead, their action of cancelling this initiative, and the choice of inaction is speaking volumes. Inaction is an action in itself, and it’s not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist. The same goes for every marginilized community this programming initially aimed to protect. Sitting silent, as the OHF has chosen at this moment in time, is equal to complicity.

Unfortunately the conversation has again shifted from diversity and inclusion, to the power and privilege of the decision makers. Without change, the OHF will remain the gatekeepers to a wonderful game, time and again turning away anyone not reflected by the ruling on-ice majority, and proving hockey will never be for everyone.

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