Ottawa is setting aside $16-million in Thursday’s federal budget to fund the newly formed Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which has been created to confront serious complaints of abuse and maltreatment in sport.
The funding will be spread over the next three years, a government source said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The office, which was unveiled this week, will be overseen by the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), which was chosen by the government last summer to set up a new mechanism to ensure safety in amateur sport.
On Tuesday, the SDRCC announced Sarah-Ève Pelletier, a lawyer and former national-team synchronized swimmer, was named the country’s first Sport Integrity Commissioner.
Expected to begin operating this spring, the office will serve as an independent investigator of abuse and maltreatment at various levels of sport. Prior to its creation, athletes in Canada raised alarms about a lack of independent investigations into alleged physical, mental and sexual abuse, while several programs, such as alpine skiing and gymnastics, have been shaken by sexual assault allegations involving coaches.
Previously, Canada’s more than 60 national sports organizations could effectively oversee complaints within their own ranks, appointing their own investigators to handle cases. Athletes, including several prominent Olympians, said this created a system stacked against them. Many were afraid to speak up, fearing punishment or harm to their careers.
In January, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said she would make the mechanism mandatory for all national sports organizations. Last week, she said she would also make it available to provincial and territorial levels.
Athletes in several sports are speaking out about maltreatment, including past and present members of Canada’s synchronized swimming, gymnastics, and bobsleigh and skeleton programs. Ms. St-Onge said she heard abuse allegations relating to eight organizations in her first six months on the job. The Globe has learned that list also includes rowing, rugby, athletics, curling and wrestling.
When the SDRCC was chosen to oversee the new independent safe sport office last summer, the government said it would provide up to $2.1-million in funding. The source said the $16-million in this week’s budget is in addition to that amount.
It is unclear, as yet, how much the new office will require to operate. Canada’s national sports organizations are also expected to contribute to its funding, but they will have no control over how investigations are conducted or their outcomes.
The minister acknowledged in an interview that she expects the new office will face a backlog of complaints to adjudicate when it begins operating.
With a report from Robert Fife
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