Aird & Berlis associate Dasha Peregoudova takes on new role

Dasha Peregoudova, associate at Aird & Berlis LLP and member of the firm’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Workplace Law and Sports, and Media & Entertainment Groups, discusses her background as an athlete and how it helped prepare her for both her legal career and her new role as Director of Sanctions and Outcomes for Abuse-Free Sport.

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Esme: [00:00:13]  Hello and welcome to Lexpert TV. I'm Esme Todd and joining me for this episode is Dasha Peregoudova, Associate Aird & Berlis LLP and a member of the firm's litigation and dispute resolution, workplace law and sports and media and entertainment groups. Dasha was recently named the Director of Sanctions and Outcomes for Abuse Free Sport, Canada's new independent Safe Sport Mechanism .And she'll be speaking to us today about her new role and the path that led her to it. Can you tell us about your background as an athlete and how it led to your career in the law and specifically to this new role? 

Dasha: [00:00:57] Yes, absolutely. So first, I should say that I don't think I would be an advocacy of any sort had I not been an athlete. I came to sports as a sort of young, willing participant and wasn't thinking much along those lines when I was younger. But very quickly, as I progressed to being a more competitive athlete and for those curious, I competed in the sport of Taekwondo, eventually on the national team for many years. I started realizing that I had not only the chops but the willingness to advocate for my teammates. So if there was ever an issue going on, on my team, somebody needed to get something resolved. There was a disconnect between the administrative staff of our national sport organization and the athletes or the board of directors and the athletes or what have you. I felt very comfortable stepping in and being and playing a bit of a conduit between those two groups. So I realized that I had, I guess maybe some confidence, but a lot of athletes naturally sort of build confidence, but also just the interest and the curiosity to get involved in those discussions. So that led into a bit of a stairwell up through sport so first I became involved at the board of my National Sport Organization as the athlete rep, and that was really interesting because it meant that I started to learn about governance and how board of directors work, national sport organizations work. That propelled me into multi-sport advocacy. So knowledge, not just in my sport, but in other sports as well. And I became involved with an organization called Athletes CAN, which is effectively the union for all national team athletes in Canada across all sports. It's not specifically I use Union but loosely there because it's actually an association, because most athletes are not employees. But it's the closest that national team athletes have to a collective association that represents their interests. So I grew up with Athletes CAN eventually becoming its president and was with them for about eight years. And that again was kind of another level of advocacy where I represented athletes across many sports in a variety of issues, including funding, again, health and safety, anti-doping issues, a whole host of things, team selection disputes and the list goes on and on. 

So through Athletes CAN, I feel like I solidified that advocacy in sport was something that was very meaningful to me and very important, and I really enjoyed it. It was also around the same time that I was retiring from competing. So it was a way to transition, it was a bit of a safe transition for me because I felt like I was still very involved, still had strong connection to the system and also could give back because sport really did give me so much I felt. It was around the same time that I decided that law school would be a good basis to solidify the skills of advocacy that I was building through those experiences and eventually it led to, as many people do in sport, a wearing of many, many other hats. Quasi legal, Legal governance related just a few examples being on the Pan Am Sport Legal Commission, which advises Pan Am Sport on all legal issues pertaining to sport in that region. 

I was on the board of directors of the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada. So overseeing the main tribunal that results for disputes in Canada. And I've been the ombudsperson for Team Canada at both the Lima 2019 Pan Am games and then the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which of course happened in 2021 for obvious reasons. So just as people in sport do wear many hats, but for me it's been a special it's felt like a special journey and experience because I felt myself build on certain skills and certain awarenesses  that really have just kind of led me to where I am. And having and having not only the educational background in law, but now being an active practitioner of the law, it couldn't go better hand in hand, just really serving each other. 

Esme: [00:05:29] So what is your position as Director of Sanctions and Outcomes entail and how does it function in relation to the rest of the abuse free sport mechanism? 

Dasha: [00:05:39] So the new role the Director of Sanctions and Outcomes is a role within, as you said, the abuse-free sport mechanism which is being run and effectively hosted by the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada. For those that don't know the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada or the SDRCC. Sport is famous for its long acronyms, is the tribunal that oversees all sport disputes at the federal level, as funded by the federal government. 

And it also does oversee disputes at a lower provincial level on a fee for service basis. So it's a well-established administrative tribunal in Canada. The abuse-free sport portion of it is a newer branch of the SDRCC and its specifically created to address issues of, broadly speaking, Maltreatment in Sport in Canada. And it does that by applying and overseeing how sports organizations comply with and adopt and follow something called another long acronym, the UCCMS, which is the Universal Code of Conduct to prevent and address Maltreatment in Sport. I'm still I'm still stumbling through it sometimes. So the DSO or the Director of Sanctions and Outcomes is specifically responsible for receiving various investigation findings and outcomes from applications to abuse-free sport and effectively deciding on appropriate measures. So that could be imposing provision on measures and sanctions that could be approving settlement agreements, including those arising from mediations. It could be, where appropriate, taking certain steps against parties or making recommendations. And then at a more appellate level, it is defending those findings or recommendations before something called the Safeguarding Tribunal. So the Safeguarding Tribunal functions like the other tribunal of the SDRCC, but it's specific, fully dedicated to addressing only these types of disputes. So it's possible that I, in this role will appear before the Safeguarding Tribunal to defend or appeal various decisions if parties choose to challenge them and then there is also an appellate level that is really reserved for very specific circumstances, but nonetheless, there is a right of appeal even from that tribunal. In this role, I work closely with the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which is also a newly appointed role, and that office will have a number of people working within it, including investigators who will actually look into possible violations or allegations of maltreatment of different clients. And I will effectively, once I receive findings and recommendations from them, my role will be to decide the appropriate sanction or outcome or next steps. So that the two officers function somewhat independently and I think the last thing I'll say is that that's quite interesting and unique because if you look at, for example, the municipal context and the integrity commissioner function that municipalities have and Aird & Berlis, our firm does acts in that capacity quite a bit for a number of municipalities. I will both as integrity commissioner, investigate and make recommendations to a municipal council on appropriate next steps here with abuse-free sport, you have an Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner that is receiving complaints, making findings through investigation and making recommendations in some instances, including on provisional measures. So measures that are imposed while they're investigating if safety concerns are at play, etc. And I will be the sanctions and outcomes piece, which is my role is fully separate. So there is a kind of a degree of independence built in that is very important to this mechanism that you wouldn't necessarily see another similar types of investigation and outcome functions. 

Esme: [00:09:53] And what the most pressing concerns impacting athletes today and what are the main steps being taken on their behalf to effect change? 

Dasha: [00:10:01] Good and big question. I think if we're speaking about abuse-free sport and specific early this new role of Director of Sanctions and Outcomes, it really illustrates that health, safety and maltreatment are, as a category, are absolutely a very, very pressing issue for athletes at the moment. It's certainly not a new discussion. We've had situations around maltreatment in sport and athletes and not just athletes, but athletes in particular, reporting various types of problematic situations across the spectrum. For many years, however, things have really come to the forefront with some very, very troubling and perhaps more public situations, like some of the ones arising from gymnastics in the US and some of the ones arising here in Canada, and athletes coming forward to really, really bring that to the public's attention and demand change at a systemic level. So I would say health, safety and maltreatment is a very pressing concern at the moment. There are others and I mean, each one probably warrants its own major discussion, but the other ones I would point to, are sharing equally in the system. So whether it's through profit or revenue sharing, sharing in the upside or the benefit of whatever happens to be, that's good. Whether it's at a professional level where there's obviously a lot of revenue to be had, major games or even at a more amateur level where the dollar signs are smaller, but there's still upside to be had. So I think just the evening of the playing field and an evening of the power imbalance is something that athletes have been really, really focused on and working towards. Sustainability is another big one, I think, you know, there's been a lot of attention on major games for many years around how those movements are sustainable and what role athletes play in them. I think people appreciate that sport is extremely meaningful, that it brings tremendous value not only to individuals but to society and culture at large. But they just seem to be constant challenges within it about sustainability and how to make sure that it keeps meaning what it means to individuals at a larger level and how it can really benefit society all the way down to the grassroots, to children, etc.. So I think that's a discussion that's being had. But at its core, I think athletes who are competing today, they just want to have a positive, safe, meaningful experience where they can really excel and do their best and that has to come with an environment in which they feel cared for, safe, and that creates excellence, but not just at a performance level, but for them as individuals. So they can actually go on and to have meaningful lives after the fact. So those are probably the ones I can think of right off the bat. 

Esme: [00:13:05] Tell me how athletes are specifically leveraging labor law principles to drive change. Is this something you're seeing more of lately? 

Dasha: [00:13:13] The most direct illustration of that kind of leveraging is through the principle of collective bargaining, which labor lawyers will be very familiar with. In other words, leveraging the power of a collective or group to negotiate on behalf of that group. So this is certainly nothing new for professional sport. Professional athletes have advocated through player associations for decades. So the NBA has the NBA Players Association, the PA, NHLPA, NFLPA, you name it. But what's exceptional and what I'm noticing is that we're now seeing similar calls for collective action or those calls for action at a collective level in non-professional sport as well. And that's being done to assert pressure on various sports organizations or major games organizations to get results in the absence of those kind of professional players associations that are funded by a significant amount of dues and can hire many staff, etc.. So while they may not have that same level of funding and sophistication, athletes are definitely realizing that there's power in the collective and they're leveraging that group power that they have, I suppose, to demand certain change, try to get results and see impacts in the way that they want to see it. So that's the most obvious one and I'm definitely seeing more of that. We've seen there's been various examples over the last six months to a year in Canada and certainly older ones as well but really a continuous stream of groups of athletes, big groups also coming forward and speaking to the public, the media and as a group, speaking through them to their respective organizations about what they want to see change and what they won't stand for. So that's really the one that sticks out. And I've really seen that come through in racing in recent months and years. 

Esme: [00:15:26] How does this new role intersect with your career as a lawyer? 

Dasha: [00:15:30] So sport is interesting and that there is many people that argue that there's no specific field of law that is sport, that it's merely other types of law applied to the sport industry. My personal views on that issue are slightly more moderate, and it's usually the first thing I teach my students and my sport law classes, you know, whether just try to introduce them to that concept and see where they fall on that issue. My views again are more moderate, but it's very interesting to see for me how my labor and employment practice, which is my dominant day to day practice, which itself lends itself to all sorts of cross work in other areas like transactions, intellectual property. It assists me with a tremendous foundation from which to assist in sport disputes. Because again, those labor law principles are so applicable, labor and sport go hand in hand for decades. And just in terms of being aware of issues that happen in a workplace or in the culture of a workplace, sport is not really that different. I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that it is a workplace in a way and an environment in a culture where athletes as individuals, as human beings, go and participate and eventually they may not. And they spend a ton of time. It impacts their lives and that's very consistent with employment types of environments. So there is they complement each other, I would say. So my labor and employment complement sport and sport really complements my ability to be a better advocate because not only has a build confidence and consistency, there's truly not a day where if I have to appear in court, that I won't channel something from my sport days or from my competition days. But also now just in practicing in sport, I mean, it's a very interesting community and I think it's filled with all sorts of very, very interesting individuals. And so I personally like the fact that I have a diverse a diverse practice because I think it makes me a better rounded advocate. In terms of reflecting on where I am and sort of my career and my journey, I think and specific to this role of Director of Sanctions and Outcomes, I think this role is a real intersection of law, prosecution, mediation and settlement governance and truly the athlete experience as well, because it does come with a requisite degree of being informed about what it is like to be an athlete and being trauma informed and all sorts of things. So all of those things I feel like I have done in spades at various points of my life and so the role really feels like kind of a culmination or a marrying of those things. And it feels like the logical next step in that in that trajectory. The other thing I'll say is that it's exciting for me because when I was advocating through athletes can watch the Association of National Team Athletes, we were strongly pushing for the creation of a mechanism like abuse-free sport. So now to be on the other side and see it take shape and have a vested interest in its success, I'm grateful and excited that I'm I get to be in this role and see it make an impact at a systemic level rather than just through advocacy. 

Esme: [00:19:02] And finally, what are your main goals as you take on this new role? 

Dasha: [00:19:06] The number one word I've have been saying it a lot and not just in this role, but just generally in my life and as part of my practice is integrity. And I would say that preserving integrity is the number one goal that I have associated with this role. So, skill, experience is learned, but I but integrity, reputation and relationships are something that is earned and built over time and easily lost as well. So I feel that I have been, for many years, building the kind of integrity and reputation which has allowed me to be selected for this role and earn the confidence to take this novel and inaugural role on. And so I don't take that lightly. And I want to do the system and the mechanism justice by preserving that integrity, not taking shortcuts and doing what will no doubt be hard work for transparent, consistent and fair outcomes for athletes and anybody else who's navigating that system and accessing those remedies. 

Esme: [00:20:19] Well, thank you so much for sharing, Dasha. It's been great to have you on expert TV and thank you for watching.