Canada

Hockey Canada names former Curling Canada exec Katherine Henderson as president, CEO

Katherine Henderson will move from one winter sport to another later this summer, ending her seven-year run as Curling Canada chief executive officer for a new role as president and CEO of Hockey Canada.

The announcement, made Tuesday in a news release, comes as Hockey Canada tries to rebuild after a series of scandals last year rocked the national sport organization to its core.

“Katherine has the track record and experience to lead the ongoing transformation of Hockey Canada,” federation board chair Hugh L. Fraser said in a statement.

“With her at the helm we are confident that we will continue to take the steps necessary to ensure hockey is a safe and inclusive sport and that Hockey Canada benefits from best-in-class governance.”

Hockey Canada was heavily criticized last year for its handling of sexual assault allegations and settlement payouts. Several revelations about the organization emerged, enraging the country and renewing conversation about toxic culture within the sport.

Hockey Canada’s board of directors resigned last October along with interim chair Andrea Skinner. President and CEO Scott Smith also left the organization.

A new board of directors was named and Fraser, a retired judge, came on board as chair. The federation has implemented many of the governance changes outlined in a damning independent report.

“The future of hockey is limitless,” Henderson said in a release. “As a winter sport nation, with a long tradition in our ice and snow sports, playing and watching hockey is undeniably a part of who we are as Canadians.

“I am looking forward to working with our board and staff, our athletes, our members and local associations, our corporate and hockey partners, and our fans and participants to ensure that all Canadians have a personal hockey experience that is right for them.”

Hockey Canada has faced intense scrutiny since May 2022 when it was revealed the organization quietly settled a lawsuit after a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of the country’s world junior team, following a 2018 gala in London, Ont.

The federal government and corporate sponsors either paused or halted financial support, but the ugly headlines continued with the revelation of the so-called National Equity Fund (NEF), which is maintained by registration fees and used to pay uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.

Hockey Canada then announced members of the 2003 men’s world junior roster were being investigated for a group sexual assault. An organization official also testified on Parliament Hill last July that the organization has paid out millions to victims since the late 1980s.

Police in London, meanwhile, have reopened their investigation into the alleged 2018 incident and the NHL is also conducting an investigation. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Henderson’s hiring had an immediate impact on Hockey Canada’s sponsorship issues, with equipment brand Bauer reinstating its partnership with the governing body.

“Together with Katherine and Hockey Canada, we want to help build a strategic plan that grows the game, prioritizes inclusion, and restores the trust of the Canadian people,” Bauer vice-president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier, who served on Hockey Canada’s CEO recruitment committee, said in a statement.

Henderson, who will be based in Toronto, will begin her new role with Hockey Canada on Sept. 4. Plans for a media availability will be made at a later date, Hockey Canada said.

“I think Katherine Henderson is a really solid human being who is going to be a transformational leader for the organization,” said Jennifer Walinga, a communication and culture professor at Royal Roads University. “But she’ll probably have to make some tough decisions across the organization as well.

“Make sure she has the right people in the right seats and that everybody understands the assignment. And that they develop a really ethical, transparent, strategic plan with clear priorities that reflect the whole of the public really, all of the members that participate in hockey across Canada.”

Henderson received an International Olympic Committee diploma last year for her achievements to attain gender equity in sport.

She also helped deliver an international symposium to the curling community to advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“She’s done a lot for curling,” Walinga said from Victoria. “I think she’s a very well-respected administrator and leader. She’s obviously behind some important initiatives in the last several years.”

Hockey Canada had its funding from the federal government restored last April.

The CEO search committee was comprised of stakeholder representatives including athletes, members, partners and the Hockey Canada Foundation, Hockey Canada said.

Henderson is expected to remain in her position with Curling Canada for at least another six weeks to help in the transition phase as the process to determine her replacement gets underway.

“Our organization is undeniably in a better place because of the efforts of Kathy Henderson in collaboration with our staff and member associations over the past seven years,” said Curling Canada board chair Michael Szajewski.

“Under her leadership, Curling Canada was able to put on successful championships during the pandemic, as well as challenging people to embrace new ways to welcome new curlers, through events such as the highly successful and thought-provoking Changing the Face of Curling symposium in 2022.

“We wish Kathy the very best in her new endeavour with Hockey Canada.”

Henderson previously served as the senior vice-president of marketing and revenue for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

She has also held roles in marketing and branding with Whirlpool Corporation, Colgate Palmolive Canada, Campbell Soup Canada and General Mills Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2023.

With files from Canadian Press hockey writer Joshua Clipperton.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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