Anybody who has served on the board of a community club or sports organization can tell you politics at this level can be a full-contact affair where hard feelings are easy to come by.
Case in point: Winnipeg South End United (WSEU), one of the biggest district soccer associations in the city, is locked in a dispute with the 14 community clubs within its catchment area. The dispute comes to a head tonight when all sides gather at St. John's Ravenscourt School in Wildwood for a long-overdue annual general meeting.
No one is sure what will happen, although some believe the clubs will vote out the existing board and replace it with new volunteers.
The truth of this dispute is elusive; both sides believe very strongly they are not only right, but also that they are being treated unfairly
How did things get this bad?
The dispute between community clubs and WSEU has been going on for some years now although like any troubled relationship, the various accounts of who did what to whom and when conflict with each other.
Here are some indisputable facts: most of the 14 community clubs within WSEU's catchment area are concerned the organization has not held an annual general meeting since 2008. The clubs each have a seat on the WSEU board, and serve as its shareholders.
These concerns came to a head last month when the clubs wrote a letter demanding an AGM be held on July 18. The WSEU executive refused, claiming there was not enough advance notice. When the clubs forged ahead with a meeting anyway, the WSEU executive obtained a legal opinion that said any decisions made at that meeting would be unconstitutional.
WSEU board members, who spoke on condition their names not be used, claim the failures here are errors of omission, not commission.
The majority of the current board got involved in late 2009 in an effort to save WSEU, which had a deficit of more than $100,000. An AGM was called for December 2010, but not enough of the club presidents showed up to make quorum. No further attempts were made to schedule an AGM until this spring. By that time, some of the club presidents had decided to declare all-out war on the WSEU board.
The truth of this dispute is elusive. Both sides believe very strongly they are not only right, but also that they are being treated unfairly. However, the story does serve as an excellent cautionary tale for anyone involved in community-level politics, while also revealing the hard realities about how youth sports is administered in Winnipeg.
Some history will help at this point. Community clubs used to run the youth sports show. No matter what the sport, you registered at your local club and played on teams that carried the club colours. Over the years, the responsibility for overseeing the sports has fallen to sport-specific associations. Community clubs retain control over these associations by having voting positions on the boards.
There are benefits to this system. Sports groups tend to be more cost-effective, and central registration eliminates the need for clubs to transfer money back and forth to each other. That does not mean there are no problems.
The checks and balances provided by the club representatives only work if they actually show up, and that doesn't always happen. In some areas, and with some sports, club representation is robust. In other instances, the clubs have stepped back and left the business of youth sport to the area groups.
This is a maddening trend for the volunteers that do all the heavy lifting to get youth soccer, lacrosse, hockey and baseball teams organized. It can also, in some instances, trigger contempt that can lead to a lack of accountability.
The aggrieved club presidents who are leading the charge to replace the current executive should, before taking any rash actions, consider that they failed to show up in numbers to reach quorum the last time WSEU tried to hold an AGM. Although that does not absolve the organization for going so long without a meeting, it is an important mitigating factor.
Similarly, WSEU needs to take stock of decisions to forgo AGMs, and its failure to communicate with soccer-loving families across south Winnipeg.
WSEU does not, for example, have any information on its website regarding board meetings, minutes, agendas or audited financial statements. Although it does regularly send information to convenors, it does not communicate this important information directly to soccer families. Failure to communicate more directly, and more thoroughly, has left WSEU vulnerable to allegations it is hiding something. That is not a place any volunteer wants to be.
The future of soccer in the south end of the city hangs in the balance at tonight's WSEU meeting. A solution will only be possible if both factions agree to focus on the future of the beautiful game, and not on failures of the past.