On Monday, 70 current and former gymnasts wrote an open letter to Sport Canada calling for an independent investigation into the toxic culture of their sport. The number of signatories has since risen to more than 150.
In the feeling of opening the floodgate, gymnasts had a growing chorus of complaints from bobsled and skeletal athletes to rowing, rugby, synchronized swimming, women’s football, among others. They are calling for a cleansing of the toxic culture in their sport, saying they are afraid to talk so far.
St-Onge had previously called for a financial audit of Bobsley Canada Skeleton when a similar open letter signed by more than 90 athletes called for the resignation of the acting CEO and high performance director of their national sports body.
The Sports Dispute Resolution Center of Canada (SDRCC) won the contract last July to handle reports of misconduct in sports such as gymnastics, bobsled and skeletal allegations. St-Onge said it would be launched in late spring, and would be mandatory for all federally-funded national sports bodies (NSOs) working with the SDRCC.
Prior to last July, NSOs were required to have a safe sports officer, but some sports had gray areas to determine if they were really a third party.
“I understand why athletes are uncomfortable with this, because with some kind of connection to the NSO, it can hardly be completely independent,” said Martin Golett, CEO of Water Polo Canada, who attended Thursday’s roundtable.
Goulet hopes the new safe sports system will act as Canada’s anti-doping program through the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES).
“The anti-doping model is a great model for us, because it’s completely independent, it’s completely different from us,” Goulet said. “As a CEO, I can’t influence any of this, I can’t do anything. Thank God it’s like that. “
The COC Athletes Commission has requested St-Onge to expedite the implementation of the SDRCC’s independent process.
St-Onge praised the athletes for their courage to speak up, saying “it is because of their strength and courage that we are working with more urgency.”
He praised the work of his predecessors Steven Guilbilt and Kirsty Duncan. Duncan has launched the Canadian Sports Helpline, a toll-free phone line for referrals in 2019.
St-Onge said as of Friday, national-level athletes will have access to the enhanced services provided by the SDRCC and victims can access these services through the Sport Helpline (1-888-83SPORT or www.abuse-free-sport.ca).
“But we are all aware that there is a need to work to prevent, educate, change the culture of sports in Canada, look at the governance of corporations, so no stone will be left unturned,” Saint-Onz said. “It simply came to our notice then. We’re going to make sure we change that culture of the sport. “
The crisis of culture is evident in sports like gymnastics, which is mostly for athletes who are minors. And sports at the provincial and club levels do not fall under the umbrella of the national sports body.
“I know how much sports can contribute to one’s life at different levels, be it mental health, physical health, strong character and discipline, so it’s heartbreaking to see that sports are actually destroying people’s lives,” says Saint-Onj, 11. Competitive swimmer and university volleyball player for years. “It’s definitely not what we want from sports.
“For sports to be sustainable, our parents need to feel that they are being cared for when they send their children to clubs or higher levels. They need to know that there is a system in place to protect them and make sure they can become beautiful adults. At the moment, this crisis is shaking that confidence and that confidence.
“Everyone at the round table today wants to make sure that children and parents feel safe in the sports system. So, we have to do more. “
The roundtable meeting in Ottawa was attended either in person or by Erin Wilson, President of Athletescan; Paralympic Athlete Representative Tony Walby; Rosie McLennan, Olympic athlete representative and two-time Olympic champion; David Schumacher, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Eric Miles, chief sports officer; Karen O’Neill, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee; Owner of Podium CEO Ann Marklinger; Debra Gasewitz, President and CEO of the Sport Information Resource Center; Lauren Lafrenier, CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada; And Marie-Claude Asselin, CEO and Executive Director of SDRCC.
Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada CEO Golett and Jasmine Northcott represented the Summer National Sports Organization, while Winter Sports was represented by Skate Canada CEO Debra Armstrong and Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson.