Denouncing abuse in sport: A culture change is needed

Over the past few months, allegations and reports of abuse, abuse or neglect have spread all over the place.

Just thinking about the class action lawsuit against Canada Artistic Swimming, the letters calling for changes within the bobsleigh and gymnastics federations, we can add rowing and rugby.

Canadian athletes are calling for cleanup and a change of culture.

The Federal Sports Minister, Pascal Saint Ong, considered the situation alarming enough to call an emergency meeting Thursday evening with representatives of the athletes and national sports organizations.

Sports Minister Pascal Saint Ong (archive)

Photo: Radio Canada / Daniel Columbia

Since I took office, until now about six months, we may be on the cusp of the eighth denunciation of the events that have occurred in our Canadian sports system, the Minister points out. Allegations of ill-treatment and sexual assault, as well as allegations of misuse of public funds. I think we’re at the center of a wave in the Canadian sports system and I’ve asked all the players to come together urgently so we can have a frank and strong discussion about the situation.

The goal of the process: to give athletes a voice, to involve them in discussions and decisions, and to ensure the cooperation of sports organizations.

Pascal Saint Ong says everyone is aware of the situation, and we have to move on and go further. There is already a lot of action in the past, because there have been waves of denunciations before, I have colleagues who have previously held my position and have already made changes in the Canadian system, but we must move forward.

Sports Minister Pascal Saint Aung in the House of Commons (archive)

Sports Minister Pascal Saint Aung in the House of Commons (archive)

Photo: The Canadian Press / Justin Tang

The problem is not new and the victims of these toxic environments or even abuse are not the first to hear their promises.

There are a lot of things to fix; Things from the past that we have to transform, but I’m really confident that the mobilization is there, that we are in the right time in history to make these changes and that we will connect the world together. »

Quote from Pascal Saint Ong, Federal Minister of Sports

Handle complaints independently

One of the long-standing requests from athletes and their entourage is to create an independent complaints mechanism that receives and handles complaints that, above all, has real power to punish erring organizations. This will be about to see the light of day.

Former Minister Stephen Gilbolt confirmed last July that the Canadian Sports Dispute Resolution Center (SDRCC) would be responsible for this new, federation-independent mechanism. The Defense Coordination Center, which is used to managing the files of national team selection, combing or doping, has worked hard over the past few months to lay the foundations for this new mechanism.

This mechanism is new to Canada, so it’s something that needs to be created, configured, the minister admits. There will be announcements in the next few days, because a lot of work has been done between July and today. The organization met with all kinds of organizations to hear their concerns and ideas on the best way to implement this new mechanism. In a few weeks, it will be in place, but of course, there will be a transition period.

Football player sitting on a bench looking sad.

Sports Minister Pascal Saint-Hung held an emergency meeting Thursday with community stakeholders to discuss the allegations of abuse.

Photo: Getty Images/jpbcpa

The minister is clear, all unions that receive federal funding must comply.

However, two critical points for the success of this new mechanism have yet to be determined, namely what sanctions power it will have and how it will be funded.

The funding that federations receive from the federal government is already linked to compliance with a code of conduct that was created in 2019. Currently, none of them have seen their budget cut for violating this. Will the Towns and Villages Development Center have this strength?

It’s one of the mandates that I also have on my table, to review the entire system that financially supports elite sport in Canada, so we’ll look at how we can improve our agreements to increase our requirements in terms of governance, accountability and accountability. Funding is closely related to the fact that organizations must fulfill these requirements.

And who will pay for this independent mechanism? During the call for bids, the government opened the door to a public/private partnership. Pascal Saint-Hung realizes that there are still many details to be linked, including this one.

We will be sitting with all stakeholders to find solutions to the financial and other issues, so we will see the long-term ways in which everything will be structured.

In the United States, the American Center for Safe Sports is funded by the Olympic and Paralympic Committees, as a result of which athletes do not fully trust its independence and some suspect that it is deliberately underfunded.

The success of this mechanism is entirely related to the trust that athletes will place in it.

Our goal is to be as independent and transparent as possible, as Pascal Saint Ong emphasizes. It is a system that requires adequate funding and support to deal with past cases and situations that may arise in the future. This is one of the issues that I am fully aware of, and we will be working with the Center over the next few weeks and months to put in place appropriate solutions, particularly on a financial level. But the goal is really for athletes and organizations to trust this mechanism.

culture change

A complaints management mechanism will not solve everything. There has to be a change in culture within some sports federations.

A growing number of voices are challenging the performance-related system of union financing on the international stage. This cult of medals contributes to the preservation of a toxic culture.

The minister wants to find a balance between support for elite sport and the health and safety of athletes. So she talks about a Reform of the entire sports system in Canada.

She says there is a process started. What is interesting is the policy of working not just at the federal level, and therefore it is a premium sport, but also with our provincial and territorial partners who have a mandate to ensure sport for communities and amateur sport at all levels. We will be able to influence the entire culture of sport, from inception to elite sport, by placing athlete safety at the heart of this policy. All our decisions must be based on the safety, health and well-being of our athletes.

The project is ambitious and the expectations are high. The minister is aware of this.

I cannot pretend that I, as a minister, will solve everything on my own. That is why I encourage the commitment of the entire Canadian sports system, and I will put my leadership and position in the balance to ensure that people adhere to this direction at all levels. »

Quote from Pascal Saint Ong, Federal Minister of Sports

It takes a change in culture and requires more diversity on top of all the institutions of the Canadian sports system. It reflects the rest of society, it’s a long-term job and in my role in the sport, I try to give the impetus to make profound changes.The minister concludes.

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