Show them the money

Court case of CHL class action lawsuit underway in Calgary

On Feb. 7, Calgary Justice Robert Hall ruled that more than 7,000 pages of the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) financial records would be unsealed.

“The defendants are making use of the documents so it would be entirely unfair not to allow the plaintiffs to use these documents in reply,” said Hall.

The lawsuit, being fought between the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and its players, is over the debate of whether or not major junior players should be getting paid.

On the same day as the judge’s ruling, the CHL released a statement that expressed their disagreement with the class action lawsuit.

In the statement, the CHL said that it wasn’t ideal to have the finances made public, but will respect the court’s decision.

“We believe that this class action lawsuit is fundamentally misconceived and misunderstands the nature of amateur sport, including junior hockey, in Canada,” the statement said.

The CHL said that its objective is to “provide support to allow players to progress in hockey as far as talent and work ethic can allow while providing much needed financial support for an education.”

Ryan Korobko, who has a friend currently playing for the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL, believes that despite this, the athletes should still get paid.

“Often these kids are working twice as hard as the average millennial,” said Korobko. 

“I think it’s not proper that players aren’t getting paid.”

After being court ordered to release their financial records in October 2016, the CHL had Dr. Norm O’Reilly, who is a full-time professor and department chair in the Department on Sports Administration at the College of Business at Ohio University, analyze them, in preparation for the court hearing that was held in Calgary. 

In his report on the financial records that were produced by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and WHL, O’Reilly states, that “CHL hockey is elite level, high performance amateur sport, where athletes are not paid but receive other benefits, including education support, training infrastructure, living allowances, equipment and access to world class coaching.” 

In the same paragraph, O’Reilly compares CHL hockey to that of other amateur leagues, both nationally and globally, stating, “Its amateur structure is similar to post-secondary high performance sport and global amateur sport leagues.” 

He then refers to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

There are three Canadian provinces that have agreed with the league. B.C., Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have all declared that the athletes playing in a major junior league are student athletes and therefore do not need to be paid minimum wage, according to a TSN article by Rick Westhead.

However, Ken Campbell from The Hockey News believes that the CHL had already admitted, at least partially, that its athletes are professionals. 

Campbell discusses the CHL’s trademark application, more specifically he talks about the service portion of the application saying, “The CHL is responsible for, ‘Operation of a hockey league and entertainment services through participation in professional and amateur ice hockey contests and promotion and benefit.’” 

Campbell zeroed in on the word “professional,” saying that professionals are not amateurs.

In addition, Campbell wrote another story for The Hockey News highlighting what he believes to be holes in the leagues’ financial records. 

For example, in 2015 the league revenue was $80.2 million and $67.5 million went to “other spending expenses.”

Campbell believes that without knowing exactly what those “other spending expenses are,” it’s hard to see what the entire picture is and “whether the losses are real or a case of creative accounting.”

When ordered that all the teams in both the WHL and OHL release their financial records, it was two years after major junior alumni sued the CHL and started the conversation on whether major junior players should get paid. 

More than 350 CHL players, both former and current, have registered for the class action.

Charney Lawyers PC are currently representing the players, which includes players from the WHL, OHL, as well as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). 

Charney Lawyers have stated their position to be that the Standard Player Agreement is an employment contract, meaning the players agreed to provide services to the club. 

The goal is to get the class action lawsuit certified and then the Court will decide whether the young hockey players are just players.

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