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Canada’s sport minister announces new measures to protect athletes from maltreatment, abuse

In an attempt to combat what Canada’s sport minister has called a safe sport crisis in the country, federal Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge announced Sunday morning a number of new measures to hold sport organizations across the country accountable, with the ultimate goal of protecting athletes from maltreatment and abuse. 

During the announcement in Montreal, St-Onge outlined a number of efforts to set up a framework that will make sport safer for all participants in Canada. 

Effective April 2023, Sport Canada will be changing the contribution agreements with sport organizations that meet new Sport Canada funding framework eligibility requirements. 

There will be enhanced checks and balances and heightened accountability in place that will directly impact sport organizations and their funding — sport organizations receiving federal funding will have to meet specific governance, accountability and safe sport standards. 

The new requirements and standards will be developed by Sport Canada over the next few months. 

“We can’t change everything in a few weeks, but I wanted to follow up publicly on our discussions and some of the work that is underway,” St-Onge said. 

“It’s important to keep this dialogue going and to be able to tell athletes, families, organizations and their staff that the community is actively working to find solutions. From the discussions I’ve had, it’s clear that there is a shared desire to improve.”

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A new committee will be established to advise the minister on matters relating to safe sport in Canada. St-Onge says athletes will have a strong voice at the table, which reinforces her commitment to having athletes engage in leadership roles. Athlete-centred training resources will also be created to ensure athletes know their rights, including what services and supports are available to them. 

St-Onge also says she will continue to collaborate with provincial and territorial sport ministers to better align safe sport frameworks at all levels across the country. 

This all comes in the wake of emergency roundtable meetings held by the minister at the end of March to talk about necessary changes to the sporting framework in Canada. In recent months athletes from gymnastics, boxing, bobsleigh and skeleton have penned letters to Sport Canada, asking for independent investigations into their organizations.

St-Onge says there were a number of observations that “clearly” emerged from their consultation over the last couple of months, including improving sport organization accountability, better governance practices within the organizations and increasing athlete representation in the sport system.

“Today’s measures are only part of the solution and they build on the work already done. We want a sport system where the well-being of athletes is just as important as their performance,” St-Onge said. 

“We want a system that works for and with athletes. We want everyone to regain confidence in the system and the joy that sport brings to our lives.”

As a part of the new measures announced, St-Onge said Canada’s sport integrity commissioner, Sarah-Eve Pelletier, will launch Phase 1 of her work beginning June 20. A budget of $16 million over three years has been proposed, with the intention of providing a safe and independent place for victims and witnesses of abuse to report incidents. 

St-Onge says the establishment of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) is an important step to challenge the “culture of silence” and to provide a reliable way for athletes to report abuse and mistreatment.

COC makes $10M investment

Meanwhile, a day earlier, the Canadian Olympic Committee announced a $10 million investment into safe sport initiatives.

David Shoemaker, the COC CEO, in a statement said athletes and sports leaders feel the current situation is untenable. 

“We all want a safe and accessible system that also produces results on the world’s stage. To get there, we need to work collaboratively to find and implement solutions,” Shoemaker said. 

The COC says it will continue to work with athlete representatives, national sport organization leaders, Sport Canada, the Coaching Association of Canada, the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner and others to identify areas for investment, which may include prevention, education and governance.

COC officials say the funding will also continue the work they have already been doing in areas such as increased mental health support for athletes and staff, support for governance changes and increased athlete representation, and finding ways to make a difference at the grassroots level.

The announcement came during a three-day annual session held by the COC, bringing together its leadership, board of directors and national sport organization leaders. Throughout the session a series of conversations around safe sport were held.

“This is an important announcement from the COC, and an encouraging step in the right direction for the entire Canadian sport system,” said Rosie MacLennan, two-time Olympic champion and Chair of the COC Athletes’ Commission.

“In order for athletes to perform at their best, we need a system that is safe, equitable, and that puts the mental and physical health of athletes at the centre. This new funding and the commitment to work with the athlete community will help make that a priority.”

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