Posted by Editor on 12/14/06
Most people in the Canadian cycling community are aware by now that a new CEO will join the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) at the beginning of the new year. Lorraine Lafrenière is presently Chief Operating Officer of Coaching Association of Canada (CAC). Prior to that, Ms Lafrenière came to the CAC from the local high tech sector where she held the position of Director, Marketing and Partnerships with Kanatek Technologies, a leading networked storage systems integration company. She also worked with the Canadian Olympic Committee for a number of years, including holding leadership positions with the mission staff at numerous Olympic Summer and Winter Games, Pan American Games, and World Championships. She was Press Chief of the Canadian team at the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta.
I had the chance to sit down with Ms Lafrenière shortly after her appointment was announced. We spent nearly an hour discussing cycling in Canada, the CCA, her background, and what she hopes to bring to the CCA. This was as much a 'get to know you' chat as an interview, but below are some broad outlines of what Ms Lafrenière hopes to accomplish.
The main impression I came away with was of a high energy, confident and decisive individual. Steve Lacelle, the previous COO at the CCA, came from a corporate and finance background, while Lafrenière is a sports administrator and marketer. Lafrenière admitted up front that she does not know the sport of cycling, and has a lot to learn about the specifics of the sport, however, at the CAC "I've seen 65 sports, and how they operate. I know people in many sports, and will borrow, beg and steal best practices from everywhere."
I asked Lafrenière what she considered the three greatest priorities facing the CCA are. She says (in no particular order): "Beijing, the partnership with the provinces/territories, and staff/organizational capacity and effectiveness."
In each of these areas there is work to be done.
Beijing - "This is the short term - we are coming to the crunch time - and we need to balance this versus the long term plans. Really, both are a priority, but the reality is that we can't ignore Beijing and not support the athletes."
Partnership with provinces/territories - "Cycling has people who are so dedicated, who want to see things happen. I think that there is frustration (in the relationships with provinces and territories). This is a really big thing; the partnership needs to be defined."
"For example, the LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development) model is a great concept, but it has to be implemented. The reality is different (from the concept), and we can't expect the same of all provinces."
Organizational capacity and effectiveness - "The accountability of the national office needs to improve. We need to be more responsive to our partners - our sponsors, the provinces, the athletes and the coaches."
"I have a very strong partnership with the federal government. This is very important - they want to see where their dollars are going, and see accountability. Part of our job is to make them look good."
"One of the things hockey did after the dismal performance in '98 (Olympics in Nagano) was they had a hockey summit. But the trick is that afterwards you have to do something with everything you brought up. I can do the 'something with it afterwards.' I am here to give focus; all the Board should have to do is oversight - checks and balances."
Lafrenière points to her time at CAC as an example of what she plans to accomplish. "At Coaching I took it from a $3.5 million budget to over $5 million, with sponsorship now up over half a million dollars - now Coaching is hiring a Director of Sponsorship for the first time. I restructured the organization there, so we didn't have nonessential systems that weren't servicing core areas. At Coaching this led to some really difficult times, almost dismantling times. But at the end of it we had a new Board, a new governance structure, and now Coaching is seeing the benefits."
Another area where Ms Lafrenière has identified shortcomings in cycling is in the profile and brand development of the sport. "I went to the website (of the CCA) and there is no public profile on doping, no stand. I thought 'look at all the things we need to work on' . We have a profile to build, partnerships to build, and it's not going to happen overnight."
So what about the finger pointing that goes on towards the success of skiing and swimming? Does she think cycling can aspire to that? "Both of those sports are doing great things; Ken Read in skiing, Pierre Fontaine in swimming, and Anne Merkling in coaching, but cycling is not these sports in Canada ... All of these are examples of best practices. I've already spoken with Anne and told her 'I want to know what you are doing'. I don't have all the answers, the answers will come from our partners and in developing best practices."
"In the past sponsor involvement was seen as goodwill, so you took their (sponsorship) and moved on. Now, we have to involve them more. I see more interest in sponsorship, and these things happen in tandem. When one sponsor sees another step up to the plate, they think 'something's happening there, maybe I should be there.' "
But what about 2010 (Winter Olympics), won't summer sports lose out to all the interest in these Canadian Winter Games?
"You have to fight for it. Yes, you are absolutely right, that there is some of that. But, we do also have the Road to Excellence for summer sports (and cycling has received funding from this program). I know that when you get an Olympic Games in your home country, it is the one time when sport moves off the sports pages, and that can be broader than just the winter sports. There are many opportunities."
I came away with the feeling that Ms Lafrenière recognizes that cycling is at a critical juncture in its development, and looks forward to steering the sport through the turbulent times ahead. The next 18 months should be very interesting...
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