In 1997, not long after her family emigrated from Moscow to Toronto, a nine-year-old Dasha Peregoudova found herself unexpectedly suiting up for taekwondo. Her father, mid-haircut, had spotted a photograph of little kids decked out in doboks, and he and his wife promptly booked lessons for their two young daughters. Peregoudova proved a natural, competing through her teens and racking up golds at the 2006 and 2008 Pan American Taekwondo Championships, plus a bronze at the 2008 Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships.
Partner, Aird & Berlis LLP
Year of call: 2017
The sport gave her discipline, perseverance and a dynamite roundhouse kick. But it’s also how Peregoudova caught the advocacy bug, as a teenage athlete rep on the board of directors for Taekwondo Canada. “I remember walking into a room full of people I respected, people who were way, way older than me, and learning to put my voice—even if it was a dissenting voice—on the record,” she says. “Standing up for my teammates was really formative.”
So while Peregoudova, now 35, has built a wide-ranging labour and employment practice, the partner at Aird & Berlis LLP devotes roughly a third of her time to sports files, advocating for athletes. In the past year, for example, she’s been helping negotiate a collective agreement for a North American women’s pro hockey league aiming for puck drop later in 2023. Although Canada has long recognized the talent of its female hockey players, she says, “we haven’t had a sufficient way for women to get paid at a professional scale.”
Peregoudova has also helped athletes on sport’s biggest international stage, having been appointed the ombudsperson for Team Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The cases are confidential, but the ombudsperson typically counsels athletes in matters like alleged violations of the competition’s code of conduct or anti-doping disputes. Over roughly three weeks, she worked under strict COVID protocols, in often punishing heat. “I had to deal with high-stakes matters and sleepless nights,” she says. “But the work can have a big impact on the participants.”
Despite the intense schedule (and a 13-hour time difference), Peregoudova still made herself available to colleagues back at Aird & Berlis. “Dasha’s always punched above her weight when it comes to juggling really complex matters,” says Lorenzo Lisi, a partner and the leader of the firm’s workplace law group. “A lot of people have sizzle, but you’ve got to have the steak. And she has both.”