Report calls for Iditarod change amid mushers' dissent
An extensive report on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race’s public woes is urging organizers to improve their public and private communications, in a bid to repair its relationships with several key groups in the race’s success.
The move comes after a high-profile dispute with Dallas Seavey over findings that some of his dogs had the opioid Tramadol in their systems. Seavey has fiercely denied he was responsible for doping his dogs, calling for some members of the Iditarod Trail Committee to be dismissed and opting to run the Finnmarkslopet sled dog race in Norway rather than the 2018 Iditarod.
Dennis McMillian, the former CEO of the Foraker Group consulting organization, was asked by the race’s major sponsors to compile a report following the 2017 race. The 14-page document, provided to the Iditarod Trail Committee’s board last month, was made public Wednesday by the ITC.
"The ITC is grateful for the opportunity to work with the Foraker Group as we evaluate our board structure,” committee staff said in a statement accompanying the release. “We are excited to implement changes and will be making more announcements and updates to our plan as soon as the 2018 race concludes. Our focus right now is on the 2018 race, and the safety of both the mushers and the canine athletes. “
According to the report, a “board self-assessment” was conducted in October, examining whether board members had a clear understanding of the Iditarod’s purpose, was staffed with the “right people” to carry that purpose forward, was continuing partnerships with its major players and had sustainable sources of unrestricted revenue.
The report identified at least four “critical partners” for the committee, including sponsors, mushers, the Iditarod Trail Race Foundation and race volunteers.
“There seems to be no formal protocol for maintaining positive relationships with these partners,” the report read.
The ITC’s board needs to “immediately develop a plan designed to rebuild trust with the sponsors and mushers,” according to the report, in a six-point list of items which constitute a “minimum requirement” for change.
“The two most important partner groups to address at this time are the sponsors and the mushers,” the report read. “It seems that neither of these groups have confidence in the ITC board. While Foraker heard some negative comments from mushers and volunteers about some staff members, most see staff issues as the result of board action or inaction and the staff’s lack of capacity.”
The report also recommends advance notice be given to the race’s “sponsors and key constituents” of news controversial to the race, although as a nonprofit group the ITC isn’t under any legal obligation to do so.
“(S)uch disclosure is recommended, after consultation with legal counsel, to ensure the reputation of the ITC, its sponsors, and participants are protected,” the report read. “Sponsors are the economic engine of the ITC. Therefore, they should be informed whenever there could be controversial information in order to protect their interests.”
In addition, the ITC’s board should periodically review all of its policies, conduct periodic training on fiduciary responsibility, move to eliminate seats elected by members and “conduct more outreach with all key constituents prior to the establishment of policy.”
Although Foraker officials found that all nine of the ITC’s board members were “sincere about their desire to improve governance,” it discussed the possibility of paring the board to three members then restaffing the empty seats and rewriting the ITC’s bylaws.
“While Foraker doesn’t question the integrity or dedication of the current directors, six of the nine have conflicts and are perceived by some as making decisions through those conflicts,” the report read. “They may or may not be making decisions based on these conflicts, however good governance cannot be easily achieved with a high level of perceived conflict.”
The report’s authors warned of dire consequences if the ITC doesn’t alter course.
“If action is not taken and soon, it is Foraker’s opinion that ITC will lose major sponsors, have less revenue and may have to accept that it can no longer be the leading event for the sport of dog mushing,” the report read.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.