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Competitive ski jumper flying through the air after leaving the ramp

Anyone who spends time in the world of sports—competing, coaching, supporting, or spectating—has heard their fair share of inspirational quotes. From “alone we go faster, together we go further” to “teamwork makes the dream work,” the strength of the team is a central feature of stories about success in sport.

But what if we told you teamwork isn’t just important for athletes; it is critical for national sport organizations (NSOs) as well? To test this theory, the NSOs of Canada’s four Nordic sports—Biathlon Canada, Nordic Combined Ski Canada, Nordiq Canada, and Ski Jumping Canada—are teaming up on a Nordic Strategy with the aim of going faster and further together.

The Nordic Strategy is a joint initiative designed to explore how working together can help all four Canadian Nordic sports improve their international performance and increase the number of Canadians participating in Nordic sports. The potential is evident: At the Olympic Winter Games, there are 93 medals to be won across 31 events in the four Nordic sports. Canada’s Nordic athletes have only won six medals since the 1924 Olympic Winter Games, and none since the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Four Nordic sports, one Nordic strategy

Biathlete rifle shooting lying position. Shooting range in the background. Race concept

Last spring, the four Canadian Nordic NSOs signed a memorandum of understanding and created a Nordic Strategy Steering Committee composed of staff and board members from all four organizations. The committee was tasked with investigating potential areas of collaboration and the structure—from handshake agreements to formal mergers—that will help to achieve the overall goals of more athletes on podiums and more participants in the Nordic sports.

Over the past year, the steering committee created workgroups to take a deep dive into three potential areas of collaboration, including athlete development, revenue generation, and increased participation and membership. The three workgroups provided recommendations to the steering committee on how to best contribute to achieving the overall goals:

  • The Athlete Development workgroup focused on the importance of creating a joint athlete development, coach development, and podium pathway that leverages commonalities and is delivered to all Canadian Nordic athletes and coaches.
  • The Revenue Generation workgroup suggested a united Canadian Nordic sport brand to maximize sponsorship, philanthropic, and commercial opportunities. They also discussed the potential for joint Canadian Nordic sport events.
  • The Participation and Membership workgroup was excited by the idea of drawing more people into the four Canadian Nordic sports by providing more options for participation and an easier pathway to try the different sports. The group also provided suggestions for re-imagining our traditional membership structure by addressing the changing needs of Canadians when it comes to engaging and supporting Nordic sport participants, as well as the value of streamlined administrative processes.

Aligning with the recommendations of the workgroups, the steering committee is preparing a report that will be presented to the boards of the four NSOs in June. To inform this report, the steering committee is gathering data from a variety of sources. For example, the committee is taking a hard look at the creation of athlete and coach development pathways and speaking with clubs that already offer multi-Nordic sport programming (athlete development); exploring whether collaboration amongst the NSOs could lead to increased revenue generation with support of a third-party marketing firm (revenue generation); and collecting data to better understand the needs of new participants in Canadian Nordic sport (participation and membership). In addition, the committee will interview key stakeholders as well as NSOs in Canada and abroad with varying operating models and degrees of collaboration.

Changing how Nordic sport is delivered in Canada

Cross-country skiing of a young athlete girl. Classical alternating technique

While the Nordic Strategy is a joint initiative of the four Canadian Nordic NSOs, the team behind the strategy includes key players in several areas of Canadian sport. In fact, Own the Podium brought the four NSOs together for the first time in 2018 with the aim of facilitating collaboration for the benefit of all Nordic sports. The Canadian Olympic Committee, through their Sport System Excellence department, has also become a key partner in the project, helping to facilitate the steering committee. In addition, the steering committee has been keeping Sport Canada in the loop, as they too are interested in the findings of the project.

The support and encouragement of these partners have been vital in driving the Nordic Strategy forward, and speak to the necessity of collaboration across the Canadian sport sector. It’s about more than the four Canadian Nordic sports working better together; it’s about changing how sport can be delivered in Canada.

So, where to now? The data-gathering is in full swing, and there are easy and hard conversations still to come. The board members of all four NSOs will meet for the first time in May, and the steering committee will use the feedback from this meeting to complete the final report. From there, it will be up to the board of each NSO to decide on next steps.

A final reflection

Doing something for the first time is difficult. There is no road map; no perfect sequencing for how this should go. There is no exact proof available to help us decide precisely what we should do. It is not always comfortable and involves critique and reflection. Yet, it’s so rewarding to think boldly and outside the box about how we deliver sport in Canada. And it’s in times like these where we are thankful for good teammates and a strong support team.

About the Author(s)

Heather Ambery is the General Manager of Biathlon Canada. She has worked previously with the Canadian Olympic Committee and FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015. Heather is a recreational cross-country skier and competitive ultimate frisbee player. Heather is a member of the Nordic Strategy Steering Committee.

Charlotte MacNaughton is a member of the Nordiq Canada Board of Directors. She’s spent her volunteer and professional career working in Canadian sport administration at every level from grassroots club programming to the Olympic Games. She is a former national team athlete in the sport of orienteering and a recreational cross-country skier and biathlete living in Canmore, Alberta. Charlotte is a member of the Nordic Strategy Steering Committee.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.