The only president and CEO Sport Manitoba has known in its 24 years of existence “left the building” when the workday wrapped up late Wednesday afternoon. But by Thursday morning, Jeff Hnatiuk was already into Day 1 of his new position as deputy minister of sport, culture and heritage with the province of Manitoba.
Hnatiuk worked as a recreation director in Melita and also held the title of executive director of Golf Manitoba and Hockey Manitoba prior to being named president and CEO of the newly created Sport Manitoba in 1996. And during an interview with 680 CJOB Sports Show host Christian Aumell during his final day on the job, the Selkirk native and father of two sons talked about the transition that has taken place under his watch.
“When we look at Sport Manitoba back 24 years ago, it was primarily a funding entity. We received the funding from the provincial government and made the decisions on the allocation of that funding to the various provincial sport governing bodies and other sport partners,” explained Hnatiuk, who added that delivering inter-provincial games and coaching programs, among other things, was also part of the equation.
“So when we look at how things have evolved to I guess about 14 years ago now, where we are now a facility owner and have delivered a facility so there is definitely the business side.”
That business side includes the many services provided by the Sport For Life Building at 145 Pacific Ave., such as the sports medicine clinic, a high-performance training centre, a fitness centre, court space, parking and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
“There’s definitely a significant amount of time and energy spent on the business development side of sport, and of course any revenue that’s derived from the facility goes back into amateur sport,” said Hnatiuk. “It’s a very unique model in the country. And one that has changed the way this position has functioned for sure when it first started 24 years ago.”
Hnatiuk admits he didn’t have a lot of time to “reflect” on his nearly quarter of a century spent on the job because of the tight timeline of transitioning to his new position. And because of COVID-19 protocols, there was no big, splashy sendoff like there would have been under normal circumstances. So Hnatiuk had to settle for a steady stream of virtual calls while he packed up his office, and memories over the past several weeks.
“There are a few of them — the (2017) Canada Games for sure. For me, personally, but for anybody who works or volunteers, commits some time to sport, one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment that I have is when you see our athletes compete and do well, that’s really the end product of what we do,” said Hnatiuk.
“Providing opportunities and developing our athletes, our coaches, our officials, so when we see success, I think that makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something and are achieving our goals.
“But you look at some of the events and for me personally, to have been involved with the Canada Games and to be able to work with such a great staff team and the fact we had 6,000 volunteers who delivered, the leadership from the board of directors — that whole experience was such a great one to be part of. And looking at the legacies that have been left for the community, as the Pan-Am Games have done prior to that.”
Hnatiuk says part of the motivation to take on his new role in the portfolios of sport, culture and heritage is to overcome new challenges. But he agrees that what has taken place during the past seven-plus months in battling the coronavirus in Manitoba has provided plenty of that. And he’s proud of the way the various sports organizations found a way to keep on keeping on, so to speak.
“I think when we look at the way the provincial sport organizations have been able to react to the challenges that are put before them, the responsible way in which sports have put together their return-to-play plans around the guidelines that have been put forward by public health and the provincial government, the serious and responsible approach they took in the planning to make sure that those guidelines were in place and making sure that their membership and those participating within their sports were doing so in a safe way, I think is something that can’t be underscored on the effort,” Hnatiuk said.
“The support that sport has received from the various levels of government, the federal and provincial programs to help sports continue on, I think it’s realized the importance of physical activity and sport in returning to some — I know the new normal or normal is not maybe the right term to use in these crazy times — but people feel if they can get back to some of those activities that they did prior to COVID, it helps them.
“So I have to tip my hat to all the sports organizations and the way they have approached it.”
Director of Sport, Janet McMahon will serve as the interim President and CEO of Sport Manitoba until a permanent successor to Jeff Hnatiuk is hired.
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