We are meeting in a rather special context, said Minister St-Onge from the start. There have been, in the past few days, months and weeks, numerous allegations of mistreatment and abuse making headlines week after week. These are difficult things to read, but also things that need to mobilize us collectively.
A series of community stakeholder consultations since late March has enabled the department to develop new measures to clean up Canada’s sports environment.
Therefore, starting April 2023, new governance and accountability criteria will be needed to ensure federations are eligible for Sport Canada funding.
In addition, an advisory committee composed of athletes will be created at Sport Canada to improve their representation within the sports system.
New major player
Ms St-Onge also welcomed the entry into play of the new Office of the Commissioner for Integrity in Sport (BCIS), which will start operations on 20 June.
Led by Sarah-Ève Pelletier, former artistic swimmer, also member of the Barreau du Québec and accredited civil mediator, the BCISit will be the main cell of Canada’s new safe sport program.
His mandate will be to receive complaints relating to alleged incidents of abuse in sport. This body 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 BCISit will be essential to put an end to the culture of silence that has reigned for too long in the Canadian sports system.
” It gives athletes a clear path to report cases of abuse and mistreatment, he said. This is a major step forward in our sports system. “
An “unsustainable” situation.
Saturday, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) announced a $ 10 million investment in safe sports initiatives. The Chief Executive Officer and Secretary General of COC David Shoemaker also recognized the urgency to act in the face of a situation he describes as unsustainable.
Earlier this week, bobsleigh and skeleton athletes raised the issue of non-denigration clauses (NDAs) in the agreements they are required to sign. Ms. St-Onge told The Canadian Press that these clauses were contrary to the very principles of safe sport.
According to the minister, allegations of mistreatment, sexual abuse and embezzlement have targeted at least eight national sports organizations in the first five months of his tenure, which began in October 2021.
The Canadian federations of gymnastics, artistic swimming, bobsleigh, rugby and swimming, among others, have all been accused of abusing, rape or maintaining a toxic climate for athletes in recent months.
Recently, a sexual assault case allegedly committed by junior hockey players, including members of the 2018 Junior Team Canada, rocked the Canadian sports community.
Ms St-Onge also announced in early June that an audit will be conducted at Hockey Canada to ensure that public funds have not been used to cover this matter.
It is with a collective effort that we will get theresaid the federal minister.
” Our goal is to achieve a balance between athletes’ performance and well-being in a sports system that works for them and with them. We want everyone to regain confidence in the system and in the joy that sport represents in our lives. “
However, the minister acknowledged that this change will not happen overnight.
Not everything is perfect, but we will work with a view to 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.
Mixed reactions from athletes
Former skier Geneviève Simard denounced her former coach Bertrand Charest, who was later convicted of 37 sexual offenses. While welcoming the Minister’s announcement, you underline how long the athletes have waited for the changes to take place.
For us skiers first we had to find the courage to report, then they tried to silence us, and it was difficult to live. Getting things right so that there is some independence, so you can speak with confidence, is encouraging, Ms. Simard said.
Now, with this announcement, it will take very specific criteria to access funding and we know that in sports in Canada we are directly linked to federal and provincial funding.she added.
” The addition of these criteria is important, it shows that it is serious. A change of culture must take place and we are in a wind of change. “
Former national team worker Philippe Marquis praised the Canadian government’s determination in this matter.
People are ready to move on. We have really met in the last few days to discuss things together. We listen to each other, we don’t work in our distinctive corridors. We have a feeling of unity. But I think athletes are still expecting slightly more concrete results.
In recent years, we’ve heard that athletes didn’t really have a seat at the table, Mr. Marchese continued. The athletes had to keep quiet. They didn’t have much room to say what they felt, the experience they were having, and there was this fear of being scolded, the silence … There seems to be a change of hat. We have the impression, the athletes, of being respected a little more.
Not everyone is that optimistic.
In a press release, Gymnasts for Change Canada said that “more than 1,000 Canadian athletes are awaiting resolution of existing problems that will not and cannot be resolved through a trial.” [celui présenté aujourd’hui] that looks only to the future “.
” If we do not look into the past, there will be no chance to make amends, to promote healing and to be very clear on how to recognize the signs so that the culture of abuse, which so many of us have endured, does not reappear. Never. “
Danièle Sauvageau, former coach of the women’s hockey team, believes that to change the system it is essential to focus on the people 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 will create a new security environment. It is the relationship, the athlete-athlete relationship, the athlete-coach relationship. “
He believes that it is necessary to equip the various staff in the best possible way.
Former hard worker Philippe Marquis is already enthusiastic about creating the BCIS
We have an independent mechanism that will be launched shortly, it is already a concrete action taken by the governmentHe said.
Danièle Sauvageau, a graduate in social assistance, also welcomes the arrival of this neutral voice.
Before, when an athlete or a coach wanted to report, he had to go directly through his federation. Now, it will be done by a neutral third party who can mediate.