2024

The Power List: Sports

These athletes and execs are bringing big change—and Olympic glory—to Canada
Photo Illustrations by Anna Minzhulina
SPORTS_collage

April 1, 2024

1. Gileous-Alexander

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Basketball player

This Olympic-bound basketball star is claiming the title of Canada’s next Great One
If standing atop the hockey world feels like a Canadian birthright, dominating men’s basketball is another story. Though a Canadian invented the game, Canada has struggled to be relevant within it: one of our only two NBA teams relocated to the U.S., we have yet to win an international basketball championship and we haven’t climbed an Olympic podium for the sport since 1936. We had a brief moment of glory in 2019, when Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title and sent the city into a frenzy even the Leafs would be jealous of. But five years later, we’re starving for the next big thing.

2. Oleksiak McIntosh MacNeil

2. Maggie Mac Neil, Summer McIntosh and Penny Oleksiak | Swimmers

They may just be Canada’s next record-breaking Olympic trinity
In Canada, legendary Olympic trios usually come as hockey lines: Lemieux-Yzerman-Kariya delivered us gold in 2002, and Crosby-Iginla-Staal did the same eight years later. But the next trinity to bring us Olympic glory will do so in the pool. Penny Oleksiak is the veteran of the three and already Canada’s most decorated Olympian ever at 23. Maggie Mac Neil was Canada’s top swimmer at the 2020 Games in Tokyo and is the defending 100-metre butterfly champion. And McIntosh has broken 50 Canadian records, garnering a fourth-place finish at the last Olympics at just 14 years old. The most swimming medals Canada has won in an Olympic Games was 10, in 1984. This mighty trinity could blow that number out of the water.

3. Hefford

3. Jayna Hefford | Chairperson, Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association

For revitalizing women’s pro hockey
Jayna Hefford won four Olympic gold medals before retiring from play in 2015. When the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League asked her to be its new league commissioner in 2018, she rose to the challenge. It was too late to save that league, which folded soon after due to a lack of funding. But the fallout spurred Hefford to help form the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association and advocate for a financially viable alternative. By 2023, that became the Professional Women’s Hockey League: a six-team circuit that’s been selling out arenas and setting records for womens’ hockey attendance in its first season, pointing the way to a much brighter future.

4. Pelley

4. Keith Pelley | CEO, MLSE

He’s the new head of a Canadian sports behemoth
After working across the Atlantic for almost a decade, Keith Pelley left his post as CEO of the European PGA Tour in January to become president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The 60-year-old native of Etobicoke, Ontario, who has been at the helm of TSN, the Toronto Argonauts and Rogers Media, feels like a natural fit. His roots in TV reporting and his willingness to share pointed opinions with media also set him apart from previous MLSE CEO Michael Friisdahl, whose departure in 2022 was the most significant headline he generated during his six-year tenure. A more visible boss will add more pressure for MLSE’s franchises—including the rebuilding Raptors, a hurting Toronto Football Club and the perennially streaky Leafs—to quickly find their stride and chase new titles.

5. Matheson

5. Diana Matheson | Project 8 Sports

For creating a soccer league of her own
Diana Matheson is tantalizingly close to launching her ambitious brainchild: Project 8, an eight-team professional women’s soccer league in Canada. Matheson, a 40-year-old retired midfielder and Olympic medallist, is the organization’s co-founder and visionary CEO. She’s already secured sponsorship from Air Canada, CIBC, DoorDash and Canadian Tire and landed former teammate and soccer legend Christine Sinclair as an adviser. The catch? She needs five more teams to accompany clubs in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Matheson wants the league’s inaugural season to be in 2025, but she needs to elicit interest from sports investors willing to spend about $1 million on an initial franchise fee, with up to $10 million needed over the following five years. (Hello, Ryan Reynolds.)

6. Shoemaker

6. David Shoemaker | CEO, Canadian Olympic Committee

He’s restoring Canada’s Olympic hopes
When David Shoemaker became CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee in 2018, he inherited an organization barely recovered from a high-profile scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment. Six years later, he leads a righted ship. Canada’s Olympic teams have eclipsed the rare (for us) 20-medal mark in both Olympic Games since his appointment. And, last June, he implored a parliamentary committee to bolster safe-sport efforts at local levels across the country, to ensure sport in Canada is free of physical, mental and sexual abuse, after scandals that recently rocked rowing, gymnastics, fencing, hockey and track. The 2024 Games will be Shoemaker’s third Olympics, and maybe the most exciting, with up-and-coming basketball and tennis teams making Canada more competitive than ever.

7. DeGrasse

7. Andre De Grasse | Sprinter

He’s Canadian track’s great hope
In only two Olympics, in 2016 and 2020, De Grasse became the most decorated Canadian male athlete in summer Olympics history. With six medals to his name, he’s even closing in on the total medal count racked up by legendary sprinter Usain Bolt—and Bolt took three Games to get there, compared to De Grasse’s two. In many ways besides speed, however, De Grasse is the anti-Bolt. He’s eight inches shorter, allergic to showboating and thoroughly vincible: afflicted by injuries, he fell to sixth place at the 2023 World Athletics Championships. But if he can find his world-beating form in time for competition, which he usually does, he’ll be Canada’s best chance at the sprinting podium at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. Watch for him especially during the 200-metre event, for which he’s already carried home a silver and a gold.

8. Nurse

8. Sarah Nurse | Hockey player

For making women’s pro sports pay off—for real
In 2022, game-breaking forward Sarah Nurse led Team Canada to Olympic gold in Beijing and set an individual points record in the process. The next year, she joined the executive committee of the Professional Women’s Hockey League Player Association, which that year spawned the Professional Women’s Hockey League. Thanks to a collective bargaining agreement that Nurse helped negotiate with the league’s ownership group, pro female talents are finally being compensated with reasonable salaries of up to US$80,000. The league’s roster includes Nurse herself, who racks up points in front of sold-out crowds. Expect those figures to go up in time: her consistent goal-scoring, not to mention co-founding her own league, has made Nurse one of the most recognizable faces in Canadians athletics.

9. Thompson

9. Kate Thompson | President and CEO, Calgary Municipal Land Corp.

She’s building a district to house the Flames’ future home
The Calgary Flames’ Saddledome—at 40, the oldest NHL stadium by a decade—is not long for this world. This year, construction will begin on an $800-million arena to be completed in 2027. It’s big news for Flames fans and bigger news for Calgarians: the stadium will be the economic engine of a surrounding culture and entertainment district, masterminded by the CMLC’s Kate Thompson. The district is set to include more than $600 million worth of city-building projects, including indoor and outdoor public plazas, retail and a community rink, and it’s intended to help revitalize downtown’s east side, known today for its many parking lots.

10. Ziv

10. Gavin Ziv | CEO, Tennis Canada

For levelling up Canadian tennis
Tennis Canada’s new leader is as grassroots as CEOs come. Ziv, who immigrated to Canada from South Africa as a child, met his first friends at a small tennis club in Thornhill, Ontario, and eventually became a ball kid at local tournaments. He spent 26 years at Tennis Canada, most recently as chief tournaments officer, spearheading the National Bank Open. In his new post, he’s already on the offensive: he’s leading negotiations alongside the Women’s Tennis Association to secure equal prize money for men and women by 2027, plans to open year-round facilities to more Canadians and has partnered with experts to promote mental health among Tennis Canada athletes, coaches, parents and staff. All this activity breathes momentum into an organization full of young stars, fresh off Canada’s 2022 Davis Cup victory, who are poised to dominate at the Summer Olympics like never before.


Cover_0524_FINAL

This story appears in the May issue of Maclean’s. You can buy the issue here or subscribe to the magazine here.