Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says $16-million in the budget to help stamp out maltreatment and sexual abuse in sport is “just one step” to ensure Canada’s athletes feel safe and that their voices will be heard.
The money to establish a safer sports system follows allegations of either maltreatment, sexual abuse or misuse of funds against at least eight national sport organizations.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, St-Onge said a new system that starts this spring will help restore the trust of parents who send their children to sports clubs.
The money will underpin an independent mechanism for Canadian athletes to report maltreatment, abuse and discrimination, and receive advice.
It will also look at allegations of racism in sport, which St-Onge said “is a problem.”
This month several players in a minor hockey league in Gatineau, Que., were suspended after a black player, Anthony Allain-Samake, said he was racially abused.
The team, l’Intrepide de Gatineau, apologized to Allain-Samake and another teammate following incidents on and off the ice including racist gestures and comments from other players.
The minister said her aim is to see sport become “more inclusive, more diverse, more open and more accessible.”
The independent safe sport mechanism implemented by the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada will have powers to independently investigate allegations by athletes and refer them to the police if needed.
Federally funded sports organizations, including national teams, will be required to sign up to the program, which includes a helpline.
Other organizations can also sign up if there is not already an independent mechanism in place in their province, St-Onge said.
This would allow adults and young people involved in amateur sports such as hockey, gymnastics, swimming, and track and field to call on the centre for help.
St-Onge said the mechanism, started by her predecessor, should start receiving cases next month.
She said it’s “just one step to change the sport culture” adding that “athletes’ voices are essential” in the drive to make sports safe.
“I will use every tool at my disposal to make sure that athletes are at the centre of the conversation and the solutions put forward,” she said.
“There is a real sense of urgency in sport in Canada, and there is also a desire in the sport community to be better for athletes and restore trust for every parent who wishes to send their children to sports clubs.”
St-Onge has held two roundtable discussions about the issue of abuse in sport after a barrage of complaints from athletes.
Athletes have come forward alleging maltreatment in rugby, women’s soccer, synchronized swimming, bobsled and skeleton, rowing and other sports.
More than 150 current and former gymnasts signed an open letter to Sport Canada calling for an independent investigation into the toxic culture of their sport.
“My goal is to use every ounce of leadership and tools that I have to start changing the sport culture,” the minister said.
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