There are a lot of old traditions and ways of doing things that have persisted in the sport system in Canada, and the challenges and experiences that you encounter really test your values and your relationships along the way.
EVP Business Operations and Strategy
The interview with Eva Havaris was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
1Can you tell us about your past roles as both Vice President of League Operations for the Canadian Premier League and Vice President of Strategy for Canadian Soccer Business. What did a typical day look like for you?
As for my role with CPL and CSB, I oversaw several key portfolios for the business including sponsorship, partnership marketing, league operations for both CPL and League1 Ontario.
A typical day for me is working with and through my team and key stakeholders such as Club personnel to drive results for the business overall.
I've recently started a new position with York9 FC as the EVP of Business Operations and Strategy.
2How did your Sport Management education prepare you for such a remarkable career in the sport industry?
My Master's Degree in Sport Management gave me the fundamentals needed to understand the sport management industry as a whole.
It was really through my thesis work on the effectiveness of Sport Canada’s Sport Funding and Accountability Framework that I accelerated my understanding of the industry as well as gaps and emerging trends.
The particular skills that I honed in graduate school were research, data analysis, devising theories and strategies, and presenting my ideas and findings to an audience.
3With such an extensive and impressive career in the sport industry, what would you say are the top 5 accomplishments of your career?
My top 5 accomplishments would be:
Being hired as a CEO of a National Sport Organization at the age of 30
When I was at Rugby Canada, I was surrounded by male colleagues – some allies to me and some not including my direct boss who was hired into the organization about two years into my role. I constantly observed the way business was being done and employees were being led and I knew then that my next step in my career was to be the leader, the CEO.
I didn’t know when or where it would happen but I made sure to set out clear goals that would move me in that direction. This experience taught me a lot about my individual strengths, the role and responsibilities that bring out the best in me, and what I could create for myself if I put my whole focus into my plan. In my first CEO job, this is where I started to learn more about the shortcomings of the sport industry in Canada and how the system was challenged in delivering great sport experiences for its participants. This first CEO job is where I learned that I was truly an agent of change for sport in Canada.
Transforming and modernizing Equestrian Canada
Prior to being hired at Equestrian Canada the organization had gone through three CEO’s in four years. I knew that this would be a massive challenge and that I was taking a risk with my career by putting my name forward for the CEO job.
When I met with the hiring committee there was an instant connection established between all of us. I was very honest about what needed to be done inside the organization and the role and responsibility that all of us would be taking on if I was chosen as CEO. I said during the interview that if they as board members were not prepared to go through great successes and also incredibly challenging times, that they shouldn’t hire me.
I was hired and began to dive in immediately. I took the weekend off between the previous organization and EC (I will never do that again!). I spent the next 90 days listening a lot and talking to as many people within and around the organization as I could to understand exactly what was working and what was not, and why.
It became very clear to me that the organization was out of control and there was no aspirational vision for the future. This is where the hard work began and I learned a lot about communication and relationships during my tenure including the moments when you see someone’s true character.
Leading the successful and safe delivery of the 2020 Island Games and supporting 300 plus individuals across the league over a 6-week period in a bubble in PEI
About two and a half weeks out from the planned start of the Island Games, I was asked by the Commissioner and CEO to take the reigns over the planning of all aspects of the event. I was encouraged to be assertive if I had to be in order to ensure the success of the event. The event was being planned in the middle of the COVID pandemic and there was a lot of uncertainty amongst all of our league stakeholders including players, coaches, fans, employees, our media partner, and sponsors.
The success of the event is well documented and I attribute this to the 300 + people that were in PEI sharing in this unique bubble experience as well as our partners and sponsors across the league that stepped up in a big way, and the amazing support network that we established in PEI that lent a helping hand every step of the way. This event was executed against all odds and taught me a tremendous amount about the willingness of others to step up and work with you when you fundamentally share the same commitment to a vision and mission.
Being a respected, trusted, honest, and accountable leader and coach for my colleagues, employees, and those I am in service to in sport.
I’ve included this in my top 5 achievements because a career in sport is not an easy path, especially when you are in leadership roles, and especially when you are a woman. There are a lot of old traditions and ways of doing things that have persisted in the sport system in Canada, and the challenges and experiences that you encounter really test your values and your relationships along the way.
I’m grateful for the many people I have come across along my journey of working in sport – the good ones and the not so good ones. Each of them solidified who I am and what I stand for, and fundamentally what I believe sport is supposed to be in this country – accessible, executed from a place of respect, fun on and off the field, and a means by which every participant has the same opportunity to reach their full potential. I don’t take for granted the respect and trust that I have earned over my many years in sport. It is a testament to staying true to who I am and the leader I strive to be every day for others.
Taking the Head Coaching job at Fanshawe College.
After I finished my playing career at Western, I was asked to join the coaching staff. I spent one year on the coaching staff at Western before being offered the Head Coaching position at Fanshawe College. Mike Lyndsay (the athletic director at the time) reached out to me and asked me to apply. I was green, but he insisted that I was the right next coach for the program. My real desire at the time was to be the head coach of Western, but that wasn’t meant to be. Even after not applying to Fanshawe, Mike called me in for an interview anyway. I still laugh about this to this day and I am so grateful that he did.
My experience coaching at Fanshawe College was one of the highlights of my career. I was able to hire the coaching staff that I wanted – which was all former teammates of mine from Western. We had always talked about what a dream it would be if we could take over a program and do it our way. We then inherited a broken program with only 1 returning senior player.
We held tryouts and 40 new faces showed up super excited at the opportunity. This was not the culture that we were used to but we made it our own, we did it our way, and we had a ton of fun along the way. We went on to win the provincial championship – a first for the program in over 10 years and had numerous athletes be recognized for their outstanding play throughout the season as top award winners in the province. We faced many challenges on and off the field but the administration was fully behind us and the players were fully committed to doing whatever it took to stay united and play for each other.
Reflecting back on this experience now, I realize that everyone was totally in their element and completely real with each other and because of that, we succeeded on and off the field, together.
4When did you realize that you were meant to work in sport? Were you inspired by any specific sports you played or any teams, leagues, professionals, and athletes you watched growing up?
I wasn’t planning on working in sport as a career. I thought I would work in law and even for the FBI one day.
It was my coach at Western who was completing his Ph.D. at the time that suggested to me that I look at doing a Masters's degree in Sport Management.
I had an interest in business but also an interest in law. I had one more year of eligibility to play soccer at Western and so one thing led to another and I was accepted into the graduate program.
The decision really came down to a desire in me to ultimately work with healthy-minded people and I couldn’t imagine my life without sport in it.
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5Has the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected your current role or career projection?
I’m fortunate that the pandemic has not affected my career where so many others have unfortunately been affected.
Emma's Final Thoughts
Eva Havaris is a respected, trusted, and accountable leader in the Canadian sport industry. It is evident that she has an outstanding and extensive career in sport. Eva is the perfect example of a role model for women who are aspiring to have a place in the sport industry. With her past experiences as an event planner at the 2020 Island Games, a CEO, a Varsity Women's Soccer Coach, and the Vice president of both League Operations and Strategy for different organizations, there is no doubt that Eva Havaris is going to dominate in her new role as the EVP of Business Operations and Strategy for York9 FC. Although Eva wasn't planning on working in sport as a career, she couldn't imagine what her life would be like without sport in it today. She is exactly where she is meant to be!