Athlete leaders unite to influence safe sport policy in Canada

TORONTO (May 2, 2019) - Canada’s top Olympic, Paralympic and high performance athletes gathered in Toronto this week to discuss the way forward in addressing abuse, harassment, and discrimination in sport.
The event was hosted by AthletesCAN at Deloitte University North in partnership with Deloitte Canada, and supported by Respect Group, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Foundation, Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

On the heels of the recent baseline prevalence study conducted by the University of Toronto in partnership with AthletesCAN which gathered data on all aspects of the athlete experience with various forms of maltreatment, the opportunity for the athlete voice to inform next steps in the safe sport discussion was needed more than ever.

“We are on the precipice of an unprecedented culture shift in Canadian sport, and I’m humbled to be associated with the group of athletes that have driven and stood behind this change” says Dasha Peregoudova, President of AthletesCAN. “When given the chance, athletes have an enormous amount of knowledge, passion and leadership skills to contribute as key stakeholders of sport. Every decision making table discussion on the topic of how sport is delivered should echo with the sound of athlete voices and perspectives.”

Athletes, sport partners, subject matter experts, survivors, and advocates courageously shared their experiences, knowledge and vision for a safer sport environment from grassroots to high performance.

“Bringing together the top athletes in Canada for a 2 day deep dive into the epidemic of safety in sport was powerful”, says Allison Forsyth, AthletesCAN Board member, Olympian, sexual abuse survivor and safe sport advocate. “Taking only 2 hours to agree as a group on the major changes that must be made to ensure a sporting environment free from all forms of maltreatment was game changing. As athletes, we know firsthand what is needed and the system needs to trust in that.”

Day 1 laid the foundation – educating athletes and stakeholders on the current landscape, common language, and best practices from a global perspective.

“Thanks to AthletesCAN, I was able to share the American experience with SafeSport,” says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, USA Olympic champion, civil rights lawyer and founder of Champion Women. “I was impressed with how Canada’s athletes were in agreement that the current sport system has ignored them in addressing evolving sport problems; they’re clearly ready for leadership. Instead, Olympians and Paralympians told me how they are treated like pawns or children, rather than sophisticated adults. I heard too many stories of Canada’s best who were spit out when they weren’t sufficiently obedient and compliant or when theyshowed human frailty. I shared with them how I was brutally raped and suffered terrible PTSD, but because I was helped by my university, rather than punished or abandoned, I won three gold Olympic medals just 2 1/2 years later”, she adds. “I don’t think that could happen under Canada’s current sport system.” 

Day 2 focused on evidence based, solutions building consensus around key components of the safe sport spectrum including the identification of unacceptable behaviours; power imbalance; education and training; universal policy; reporting mechanisms and procedures; accountability; compliance and enforcement; and victim support and compensation.

“The summit provided me with a greater understanding of what abuse, discrimination and harassment means both outside of and within the sport community”, says 2-time Olympic Champion Kaillie Humphries. “Definitions, examples and real life stories shared by myself and peers were heavy to bare, but sport has taught us to be strong, overcome and move forward. I felt empowered throughout the process hearing from like-minded individuals around process and planning for the future. As long as the athlete voice is a part of the solution, given this issue directly impacts our lives, I am hopeful. It’s about changing the culture from grassroots to high performance, creating a positive and safe working environment for everyone to thrive through sport.” 

“To ensure athletes have a voice at the upcoming national summit in Ottawa hosted by the Coaching Association of Canada, we were very clear that the group would be tasked with building recommendations around a harmonized code, coach-athlete relationships, and the implementation and accountability for safe sport from A to Z”, says AthletesCAN Executive Director, Ashley LaBrie. “What became very apparent by the speed at which athletes were able to come to a consensus around these important issues was the common experience, the urgency and drive to improve the sport environment for future generations.”

After meaningful discussions that included shared perspectives and personal experiences, the #SafeSportAthletes agreed to a number of early consensus statements, including, but not limited to the following:  

  1. That all forms of maltreatment be prohibited.
  2. For athletes above the age of 18 years:
  • Any sexual relations between a person in a position of authority and an athlete is strongly discouraged as it creates a perceived bias; perceived conflict of interest; negative implications for other teammates; and, an imbalance of power that puts an athlete’s ability to consent in question.
  • Upon implementation of this code, any sexual relationship that has been initiated between a person in a position of authority and an athlete must be disclosed and the person in the position of authority must leave the organization. Failure to disclose should result in sanctions.
  • Retaliation against an athlete who has not consented to sexual advances or solicitation of sexual conduct or relationships is strictly prohibited and should be sanctioned accordingly.
  1. That a Safe Sport Canada body be established and responsible for all aspects of Safe Sport including but not limited to: policy; education and training; investigation and adjudication; support and compensation.
  2. That Safe Sport Canada be independent of all other sport governing bodies.
  3. That there be a universal code of conduct that applies to all stakeholders, and addresses all forms of maltreatment and applicable sanctions.
  4. That there be mandatory education on Safe Sport for all stakeholders driven by minimum and harmonized standards to ensure good standing.

A more complete list of recommendations and a detailed report will be made public in the coming weeks. AthletesCAN will be presenting the collective athlete position in Ottawa on May 8, 2019 to system stakeholders.


About AthletesCAN
As the voice of Canadian national team athletes, AthletesCAN ensures an athlete-centered sport system by developing athlete leaders who influence sport policy and, as role models, inspire a strong sport culture.

Ashley LaBrie
Executive Director
[email protected]

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