Safety and sport: new funding criteria are imposed on federations

We meet in a rather special context, said Minister St-Onge from the start. There have been countless allegations of assault and abuse in recent days, months and weeks that have made headlines week after week. These are things that are hard to read, but they are also things that need to mobilize us collectively.

A series of consultations with community stakeholders since late March has enabled the department to develop new measures to clean up Canada’s sports environment.

As such, from April 2023, compliance with new governance and accountability criteria will be required to ensure federations are eligible for Sport Canada funding.

This measure should ensure that: standards of governance, accountability and safe sport are met by sports organizations that receive federal funding

In addition, an advisory committee of athletes will be established at Sport Canada to improve their representation in the sports system.

An important new player

Ms. St-Onge also welcomed the entry into force of the new Office of the Commissioner for Integrity in Sport (BCIS), which will begin operations on June 20.

Led by Sarah-Ève Pelletier, a former artistic swimmer who is a member of the Barreau du Québec and a recognized civil mediator, the BCIS will be the main cell of the new Canadian safe sports program.

Founded by the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada (SDRCC), the BCIS is instructed to receive complaints about alleged incidents of assault in sport. The agency will also be able to launch independent investigations and recommend sanctions against those found guilty of violations.

According to Ms St-Onge, the work of the BCIS will be fundamental to breaking the culture of silence that has reigned in the Canadian sports system for too long. It gives athletes a clear path to report abuse and assault cases, she said. This is a big step forward in our sports system.

An “unsustainable” situation

Saturday, the COCs announced a $10 million investment in safe sports initiatives. The CEO and Secretary General of the COCsDavid Shoemaker, also acknowledged the urgency of acting in a situation he describes as untenable.

Minister Pascale St-Onge with COC CEO and Secretary General David Shoemaker and gymnast Rosie MacLennan.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes

Canadian sport has been hit by several crises in recent times.

According to Minister St-Onge, allegations of assault, sexual abuse or embezzlement were directed against at least eight national sports organizations during the first five months of her mandate, which began in October 2021.

Canada’s gymnastics, artificial swimming, bobsleigh, rugby and swimming federations, in particular, have been accused of abuse, violence or maintaining a toxic climate for athletes in recent months.

Recently, a story of sexual assault allegedly committed by junior hockey players, including members of the 2018 edition of Junior Team Canada, shocked the Canadian sports community.

Ms. St-Onge also announced in early June that an audit will be conducted at Hockey Canada to ensure public funds were not being used to cover up the affair.

With a concerted effort we will get there, said the federal minister. Our goal is to find a balance between performance and well-being of athletes, in a sports system that works for them and with them. We want everyone to regain confidence in the system and the joy that sport represents in our lives.she said.

However, the minister acknowledged that change will not happen overnight.

Not everything is perfect, but we will work for continuous improvement […] We will have to show creativity and a lot of determination. But it is something that athletes and the sports community know very well.

A step in the right direction

Philippe Marquis, a former national team employee, praised the Canadian government’s proactivity in this matter.

Aside from the message, I am especially optimistic about the cooperation and commitment shown by the various groups and organizations of the sports systemhe said.

People are ready to move on. We’ve really gotten together these past few days to discuss things with each other. We listen to each other, we don’t work in our signature hallways. We have a sense of unity. But I think the athletes expect some more concrete results.

In recent years, we felt that the athletes didn’t really have a place at the table, continued Mr. Marquis. The athletes had to be silent. They didn’t have much room to say what they felt, the experience they were going through and there was that fear of being reprimanded, the silence… It feels like there is a shift in the cap. We have the impression, the athletes, that we are being respected a bit more.

Danièle Sauvageau, former coach of the women’s national hockey team, agrees. In order to change the system, she believes it is essential to bet on the individuals who make it up.

The heart of the sports system is the athletes. It is not a system that builds relationships, but the individuals who are part of it.

It is not the system that is going to set up a new security environment. It’s the relationship, the athlete-athlete, athlete-coach relationshipadds Sauvageau, who thinks it is necessary to better equip the various personnel.

Coaches within sports federations are calling for more funding to create the necessary environment and to meet the growing performance and needs of athletes. This in itself is good news. We will have to see what money is invested and how.

Marquis is already happy with the creation of the BCIS

We have an independent mechanism that will be launched soon, it is already a concrete action by the governmenthe said.

Sauvageau, also a social work graduate, is positive about the establishment of this neutral voice.

In the past, if an athlete or a trainer wanted to denounce, he had to go directly through his federation. Now it will be done by a third party, neutral, who can mediate.