Of Critics and Heretics…

Our critics and heretics are the strongest drive we have for our evolution and need to be viewed as portals to improvement, not as a threat to the status quo

Ivan Lawler, March 2021.

Today, those words were delivered in fine style amid the parting words of Ivan Lawler, who stepped down this morning as President of British Canoeing with a warning that “to sanitise our offering to a risk free, process driven, slogan led one for the sake of protecting or enhancing our corporate reputation does not always serve the people we are here to serve.”

Speaking Truth to Power

Ivan Lawler on Critics and Heretics

Ivan Lawler

Speaking truth to power in these ways is part of what has made his tenure so notable over the last four years. He’s consistently cut through the platitudes, and hit the mark very nicely in drawing attention to “the line between keeping the organisation safe from criticism, blame, controversy and liability” and “taking away the essence of our outdoor adventure, autonomy and individualism, that makes us what we are.” 

The words I opened with should perhaps be quoted in full:

While unity is a good ambition, it only works if dissenters are welcomed, listened to and learned from, otherwise we are left with enforced conformity which, though comfortable for a time, will benefit no one. Stronger Together is a both a goal and a fact, but we remain a sport of individuals, small clubs, risk takers, loners and adventurers. Our critics and heretics are the strongest drive we have for our evolution and need to be viewed as portals to improvement, not as a threat to the status quo.

During my term as president I have met many of these heretics, the mad, the difficult, and the objectionable, and they all have one thing in common, a genuine passion for their area of a sport that has given them an identity and a cause. They all have something special to offer and it is they who have made my 4 years the most rewarding.

Following talk of our dependence on government funding and the “grey area” around which master we serve, he talked of how “the expediency of decisions made for cash can easily outweigh the benefits of principle or values driven decisions” and left us with a challenge to members: “to remain engaged to challenge and lead us, for without that engagement the drift toward sterility could be accidental, well-meaning and inevitable.”

For me, Ivan’s address landed really well. It spoke powerfully to my thinking about Transgression, Inclusion & Diversity in the Outdoors and gave a really powerful warning about the themes I explored in Changing the Sign on the Door?

Presidential Election Results

Four of us stood to take on Ivan’s role, and 2,101 voted. Dee Paterson secured the position with 779 votes ahead of myself on 509, Tom Parker on 459 and Roland Lawler on 354: a volume and split of votes which perhaps shows the depth and extent of current unease among members who recognise that “organisational progress does not automatically tally with a better experience for the members.”

With that, I’d like to thank everyone who voted – and especially Pam Bell and Poppy Croal for nominating me and all those who offered personal support & encouragement – all much appreciated!

I’ll end with another of Ivan’s injunctions: “the challenge for us now is to demand accountability from those we have elected”