My crystal ball tells me Air Canada’s 2015 Athlete of the Year will be a man

How do I know that the Air Canada 2015 Athlete of the Year will be a man?, you ask? I’m not clairvoyant or anything. But I do know that the probability is 100% that Air Canada’s 2015 Athlete of the Year will be a  man because, wait for it: all three nominees are (non-disabled, white) men.

I have nothing against Shawn Barber (pole vaulter), Derek Drouin (high jumper), or Mark DeJonge (kayaker). In fact, all three are engaged in sports that rarely get their due.

But I do have something against the idea that there were no worthy women, athletes of color, or para-athletes who could be nominated for Air Canada’s 2015 Athlete of the Year.

The competition started in 2012. Several athletes are nominated and after that it’s put to an on-line vote. In 2012, the nominating committee clearly had a more inclusive plan. The nominees that year were: soccer player Christine Sinclair, cyclist Ryder Hesjedal; ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir; trampolinist Rosie MacLennan; figure skater Patrick Chan; and bobsledder Kaillie Humphries.

The 2012 title went to Christine Sinclair.

In 2013, the nominees were: short track speed skater, Charles Hamelin; bobsledder, Kaillie Humphries; and snowboarder, Mark McMorris. The 2013 title went to Charles Hamelin.

Last year’s nominees were: Kaillie Humphries (still a bobsledder), Alex Bilodeau (freestyle skier), and Jennifer Jones (curler). The 2014 title went to Alex Bilodeau.

Here’s how the selection process works, according to the website:

The process used to nominate the three (3) finalists has been thorough and included an in-depth look at a long list of summer sport athletes by the nomination committee. The list of 40-plus athletes was arrived at by assigning point values to podium finishes in the year’s competition season. These athletes were then considered and debated by the nomination committee, which consists of representatives from five different stakeholders: Air Canada, the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee), the former winner, the Government and the Media.

Athletes who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada may be nominated. The nominee must have competed at or be actively qualifying for the next iteration of the Olympic Games and be deemed eligible and in good standing with their national sport federation (NSF).

It’s not clear what the committee was thinking this year. It makes sense that they wouldn’t nominate Kaillie Humphries for a fourth time. And what are you going to do if you nominated two women and a man last, then the popular vote goes for the man? Not the committee’s fault, right?

I’m going to suggest that the nominating committee wasn’t really thinking about it at all. They didn’t consider gender balance. They didn’t consider racial diversity. They didn’t think about our para-athletes.

We’ve seen this phenomenon before. It happens in academia all the time. There are all sorts of awards that are supposed to recognize excellence, like the Canada Excellence Research Chairs. In the first year of this prestigious award, 14 of the 14 chairs awarded went to men. Today, only 2 of the 24 chair holders are women. All chair holders are white. It’s impossible to say whether any have disabilities, but in academia this is an issue as well.

Whether in sports or academia or whatever else, if we want to keep women, who make up half the population, as contenders for these awards, we have to nominate them. If we want to recognize excellence in athleticism in an inclusive way that honors athletes of colour and para-athletes, we need to pay attention to diversity at the level of nomination. Every single year.

So even though it’s great that Christine Sinclair won the inaugural Air Canada Athlete of the Year award in 2012, and that at last one woman has been nominated every single year, and last year two of the three nominees were women, the effort needs to continue on that front. But what about including some of our para-athletes or athletes from non-European backgrounds. So far, Patrick Chan is the only athlete who fits the description.

There are plenty of outstanding athletes in Canada who deserve recognition. If they were using the Pan Am Games as a source of possibilities:

MISSISSAUGA -- Braxton Stone Papadopoulos from Team Canada won the Pan Am wrestling gold in the 63 kg division. Stone Papadopoulos who is from Pickering defeated Katerina Vidiaux from Cuba. July 17, 2015.
Braxton Stone Papadopoulos from Team Canada won the Pan Am wrestling gold in the 63 kg division. Her team mates Genevieve Morrison and Dori Yeats also won in their wrestling categories.


Whitney Mcclintock took home the gold for waterskiing.
Whitney Mcclintock took home the gold for waterskiing.
Carol Zhoa and Gaby Dabrowski won gold in women's doubles tennis.
Carol Zhoa and Gaby Dabrowski won gold in women’s doubles tennis.
The Canadian women's basketball team won the gold medal.
The Canadian women’s basketball team won the gold medal.
The Canadian women's synchronized swimming team took home a gold medal.
The Canadian women’s synchronized swimming team took home a gold medal.

Canadian swimmers cleaned up in the pool, with gold medals going to: Chantal Van Lendeghem, Hillary Caldwell, Kierra Smith, Audrey Lacroix, and Emily Overholt. The women’s softball team won. The women’s rugby team won. In shooting, Lynda Kiejko took home two gold medals and Amanda Chudoba won gold, too.

Canadian women won gold medals in rowing, karate, judo, gymnastics, fencing, diving, track cycling, road cycling, mountain cycling, kayaking, boxing, badminton, and track.

At the Parapan Am Games, Canadians  won many gold medals. Our athletes dominated in track cycling, in the pool, and in the “athletics” events like discus and track running, and the wheelchair rugby team won gold.

And that’s just the Pan Am and Parapan athletes.  Not to say that every single one of them deserves to be nominated for Athlete of the Year. But you can’t tell me that no one is deserving. Nope. I won’t believe you.

Air Canada’s Athlete of the Year nomination committee has to try harder to represent Canadian athleticism in all of its diversity. It can’t cover everything every year, but to present the voting public with three nondisabled white men is inexcusable. People: it’s 2015.

Who would you nominate?






7 thoughts on “My crystal ball tells me Air Canada’s 2015 Athlete of the Year will be a man

  1. I think since three sports, that rarely get their due, as you noted, should be enough this year. As you said, it wasn’t likely intentional, and in this case, I think it’s more important that those sports were acknowledged and if it just so happens the athletes are white and male, that’s secondary.

    1. Unfortunately ‘it just so happens’ that the majority of people recognized or in positions of power are white males and unless an effort is made to address the bias towards them that will continue.

  2. I did write to Air Canada a few days ago. This is the response I got today:

    I don’t keep up on sports, not even cycling anymore. Seriously. I just love to bike…

    So for someone like me which probably forms the majority of Canadian audiences: slightly clueless on our Canadian champs. Then there should have been a woman athlete in the top 3….No, we wouldn’t want a token, but honest, just pathetic that’s the 3 choices we have left. I didn’t know any of the top 3 (guys) featured at Air Canada’s contest.

    Yes, I do fly with Air Canada because they have more time choices to meet my needs ….

    “Thank you for your interest in the Air Canada Athlete of the Year program. For the past four years, this program has recognized exceptional Canadian athletes, both male and female, who excel in Olympic sport and who demonstrate behaviors that align with Air Canada’s core values and who inspire us all.

    The nomination process used to select the three finalists is very thorough and includes an in-depth look at a long list of athletes and their achievements by a nomination committee. The nomination committee is comprised of five individuals representing five stakeholders of the sporting community including: Air Canada, the COC, the Federal Government, the Media, and a former winner of the award.

    The selection process begins with the long list of athletes and this year’s included all medalists from world championships (or equivalent competition) in all Olympic sports. Each nomination committee member then votes for their top five candidates, and those selections are assigned a weighted ranking, leading to a definitive list of 3 finalists for the award. This year, the three finalists chosen by the nomination committee also happen to be the three gold medal performances at their respective world championships. In previous years, multiple women have been included as finalists, with Christine Sinclair winning the award in 2012.

    The integrity of the selection process for the award is extremely important to Air Canada. As such, no specific instructions are provided to nomination committee members who include both men and women regarding their selections beyond the criteria outlined.

    While it is understandable some might disagree with the final selections for a variety of reasons, such disagreements are inevitable in any process such as this where only a single winner is chosen from among many eligible candidates. However, we believe such debate also reflects the depth of talent that exists among Canada’s top amateur athletes and the connections many Canadians feel for them. There is no doubt that there are very many young athletes who are deserving of recognition for their accomplishments and contributions, but not all of whom, unfortunately, can be recognized by a single award.

    Regards, “

    1. Interesting. Thanks for writing to them and for sharing their response which confirms that they don’t consider it important to take diversity into account. They’re okay if it just happens, but they don’t make it a priority. That is sad but unfortunately reflects so many people’s attitudes about this stuff. Disappointing to say the least.

      1. Is it “wrong” to think that just because one is white and male he shouldn’t be excluded? That’s hardly equality (imho) either. And yes I’m a feminist who comes from a long line of feminists that includes grandfathers and fathers. My husband and two white male sons are also feminists

      2. I don’t think there is any risk of the white men being excluded. It is so interesting how talking about including others always ends up being understood as calling for the exclusion of white men. I see three nominees. There could have been some diversity without (gasp!) having to exclude white men completely. Given the research on implicit bias, there is every chance that had there been just one white man nominated he’d still have been awarded the honor. No one ever questions that when he wins he wins on his merits.

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