SAO goes the way of the Dodo

Kids can be mean.  If you’ve ever been at a packed-house youth sports event, then you’ll know the feeling of adrenaline when you hear home fan taunts being uttered from the innocent mouths of kids.  It’s a bit of sickening feeling, because usually you think: “Kids these days”; or “Did that kid just say that?”; or “What are they hearing from their parents?”.  One of my favourite chants as a home team fan at the end of the game was: “Warm up the bus!”.  It is humiliating and defeating (obviously), but nonetheless mean.  Adults can be mean too.  If your not-for-profit amateur sport alliance gets cut, then you’ll know the sickening feeling of getting axed by the adult politician.

On Friday, April 10, 2015, Sport Alliance Ontario (not Sport Alliance of Ontario, as many thought) or SAO lost it’s government funding, and is heading for bankruptcy.  The Toronto Star’s amateur sports writer (yes, they have one – how great is that!), Kerry Gillespie wrote an article breaking the news on what happened.  I guess it’s SAO’s turn to warm up the bus.

The governing body of all PSOs in Ontario had been around since 1968, and acted as a resource for its members – providing office space, IT services, and a platform for sharing policies and ideas.  SAO has been running the Ontario Games and managing Team Ontario contingents at Canada Games, among other programs.  The $3.5-million provincial subsidy will likely go straight into PSO pockets, basically eliminating the middle man.  So is it such a raw deal afterall?

For one, PSOs can get all their funding directly from the Ministry of Sport, which many already do.  The various programs will be run by the province, which isn’t that different from a NFP – bureaucratic, diligent, and fiscally tight.  And from what I understand, there wasn’t all that much sharing of policies and ideas going on.  Like with many overarching bodies, a lot of the little stuff (like focus groups and mentorship programs) gets lost in the folds of large-scale events, logistics, and staying above water.

There are of course some negatives in all of this.  I think the reference to ‘bankruptcy’ and being ‘cut’ imply negativity of the bat.  Other than the fact that 22 employees of SAO are now out on the street in a highly competitive amateur sports market, here are my top three reasons for not liking this move:

1) Office Space

Arguably my favourite comedy of all time, Office Space, starring a young Jennifer Aniston, is a cult classic and likely had a subconscious influence on my own desire to spite the 9-5 world.  For this specific post though, office space will be a major issue for many of the PSOs that were receiving subsidized office space from SAO.  25 (out of 50) to be precise. [Sidenote: There are actually 57 PSOs under the SAO umbrella, but I could only find the office locations of 50 of them, leading me to believe that the other 7 are not at 3 Concorde Gate, North York, because they would probably display it on their sites].  I don’t even think I need to include an infographic to emphasize that 50% of the PSOs in Ontario were directly benefiting from being under SAO’s roof.  And now they’re not.  I have no idea how much SAO subsidized their rent, but considering they are all lil’ NFPs trying to organize amateur sports, I’m assuming it was a lot.  That means that on top of the 22 SAOless homeless, there are 25 PSOs with a total of 98 employees that will be needing to look for new digs.  Which brings me to my next point…

2) The Little Gals (or Guys)

Here’s a fun graph that’ll come into play in one of my later blog posts [Spoiler Alert]:


The graph does not include PSOs that are run by a Board of Directors (Badminton, Field Hockey, Netball, etc.), because they are not considered full-time staff.  Only 42 of the 57 Ontario PSOs have full-timers.  And out of those 42, 18 have 3 or less staffers.  These are the little people that probably needed the most support from an umbrella organization like SAO.  Think about it, if you had to hire three positions to run your PSO, what would they be?  ED, Technical Director, and Membership Coordinator/Office Manager/Marketing & Communications/Insert Anything Really?  The point is: Without the support of a governing body that can subsidize most costs, a lot more responsibilities fall on a 3-person (or less) team.  I don’t think there are enough resources to keep it together.

3) Who do I need to informational interview to get a cup o’ coffee around here?

For many of us sports passionistas, who will knowingly work in the industry that pays you less than a Starbucks barrista, the SAO was the place to go to:

  • Look for job opportunities
  • Rub elbows with the higher ups in Ontario amateur sports
  • Find PSO contact information

Now it all falls apart.  The SAO, like all alliances, is/was a one-stop shop for all amateur sports info in the province.  No need to find PSOs yourself, no need to scour the internet aimlessly, no need to lose faith.  Now, we are left with only faith – that the Ontario government will provide a platform for us to get those informational interviews, that will lead to real job interviews, that will lead to having a job that you hate because you know your NFP is going to get cut eventually by the government.  Big Brother is watching you.

All that being said, let’s not despair.  I’m sure Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, has a grand plan for all of us left in limbo.  At least I hope so.

O Canada.


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