Minister St-Onge announces the creation of the Sport Canada Athletes’ Commission
Canada’s Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, once again stressed that the voice of athletes is essential to changing the sports culture in this country.
St-Onge announced a few safe sport initiatives on Sunday, including the creation of an athlete advisory committee within Sport Canada to amplify the voice of athletes. The Minister has also set April 1, 2023 as the deadline for National Sport Organizations (NSOs) to sign collaboration agreements with the new Office of the Integrity Commissioner (OSIC).
St-Onge also plans to review Sport Canada’s funding agreements with NSOs to “ensure standards of governance, accountability and security are met.”
“We are all working to break this culture of silence,” St-Onge said. “So let’s make sure athletes can express themselves and feel free to do so. There’s no reason to stop them talking about their situation and what they’re going through.”
St-Onge spoke at the culmination of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s annual session in Montreal. The COC announced a day earlier that it would invest $10 million in safe sport initiatives amid what St-Onge called a safe sport “crisis” in Canada.
Hundreds of gymnastics, boxing, bobsleigh and skeleton athletes have called for independent investigations into their sports in recent weeks.
“The most important theme is that athletes feel unknown and invisible. And so, even as a starting point, being asked what our experiences are, what our perspectives are, what our ideas for change are of crucial importance “said Rosie MacLennan, two-time Olympic trampoline champion and chair of the COC’s Athletes’ Commission.
“None of us want to see this system fail. We’re all really passionate about the sport system. We all really love it…but the theme has been that athletes feel unknown and invisible. And I’m thrilled that this now be moving.”
Earlier in the week, bobsleigh and skeleton athletes raised the issue of non-disparagement clauses in the athlete agreements they are required to sign. St-Onge had told The Canadian Press that the NDAs are contrary to the very principles of safe sport.
She said on Sunday that NDAs will be part of the conversation ahead of the next funding agreement with NSOs, and are “a concern from athletes that I’ve heard very clearly.”
Asked which athletes are required to sign NDAs by then — Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes must sign athlete agreements to report to training camps in early July — St-Onge said “It’s time for athletes and NSOs to have conversations about this and can clear the air. If some are signing new contracts right now, let’s try to change that.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid of what the athletes have to say,” the minister said. “Because every time (athletes speak out) it’s an opportunity to make changes and be better, and to provide safety and to bring confidence back into the system, and to make sure that parents trust us to send their children to play sports.
“Because it is so important in the development of a person, whether for a psychological reason or for physical health. We need sport in life, so we cannot fail.”
Canadian gymnasts who called for an independent investigation in late March — an initial group of 70 that have grown to more than 400 in recent weeks — said Sunday’s announcements don’t go far enough to address their concerns.
“Everything discussed today means that abuse will have already taken place and the onus is on the athletes to see a complaint go through a difficult process,” said the group, operating as Gymnasts for Change Canada. , in a press release. “We still have over 1,000 Canadian athletes waiting to resolve existing issues that will not and cannot be resolved through a process that only looks forward.
“If we don’t look at the past, there’s no opportunity to make amends, to help with healing, and… to be very clear about how to recognize the signs so that the culture of abuse that so many of us have suffered not reappearing.. already.”
While Sport Canada only oversees national organizations that receive federal funding, St-Onge plans to hold safe sport discussions with provincial and territorial federations during the Canada Summer Games in August.
COC CEO and General Secretary David Shoemaker said Canadian sport has never been about winning at all costs.
“For the Canadian Olympic Committee, it’s always about winning the right way,” he said. “We believe we can relentlessly pursue Olympic and Paralympic performance, bring Canadian athletes and teams to the podiums and, at the same time, relentlessly pursue a safe and healthy sport culture in Canada.
“What’s at stake for us here is a country that can be proud of the athletes who represent it on the world stage.”
Erin Willson, president of AthletesCAN, the association representing Canadian athletes, called the weekend meetings “an encouraging step.”
She acknowledged there were concerns about the backlog of cases the OSIC might encounter once it starts receiving complaints later this month. But she thinks the creation of the Athletes’ Commission is a positive step.
“It really means this idea that athletes have a more formal voice in the system,” she said. I think that’s something we learned over the weekend, it was really, really missing.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 12, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press