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Sport Canada is shelving an internal report card system for grading the country’s national sports organizations, after a Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year found that top marks for governance had been awarded to programs facing serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse, and financial mismanagement.

The report card project was designed to gather information and spot weaknesses in the way Canada’s national sport organizations, known as NSOs, are run. But the report cards, which The Globe obtained through an access to information request, involved flawed analysis. In several cases Sport Canada missed issues at problem-plagued NSOs, while low scores at other organizations failed to prompt closer examination.

Sport Canada spokesperson Daniel Savoie confirmed the program had been shelved. “Sport Canada is transitioning to a new approach,” he said.

The governance report cards, produced in 2021 and 2022, indicate that Sport Canada, the federal department that provides more than $130-million in funding to NSOs, has struggled to grasp the extent of the problems inside the various organizations.

At least 15 of Canada’s more than 60 NSOs are now facing allegations that they have failed to address sexual assault, or physical and mental abuse, or have experienced governance failures or financial wrongdoing. They include soccer, bobsleigh, gymnastics, artistic swimming, rugby, rowing and hockey.

The crisis of abuse in Canadian sport affects us all

The report cards were intended to evaluate policies in place at NSOs on conflicts of interest, board structure, dispute resolution practices and other matters. Sport Canada began the process in 2019, and deemed it a pilot project. The Globe obtained report cards for 62 NSOs.

But the report cards, which were internal documents that Sport Canada didn’t release publicly, had some noteworthy blind spots.

Canadian Artistic Swimming, an organization facing a class-action lawsuit from dozens of athletes who allege years of complaints about physical and mental abuse inside the NSO were ignored, received the highest possible grade for its dispute resolution policies: five out of a possible five.

Hockey Canada, which was heavily criticized last year for governance errors that led to its flawed handling of sexual-assault allegations against players, was among the highest graded organizations.

Sport Canada rated Hockey Canada among the best in the country for board structure, with a perfect score of five. It was near the top for board composition and board development, with a four for each. Those grades came about six months before Hockey Canada’s entire board resigned, after an external governance review in which former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell criticized the organization for lapses in oversight and judgment.

This month, Minister of Sport Carla Qualtrough announced a federal commission to probe abuse and maltreatment in sport, after calls from a growing number of athletes across the country for the government to confront the problems. The commission, which isn’t the full judicial inquiry many athletes were calling for, will spend 18 months examining the issues.

“Bottom line, we need to make fundamental changes to our sport system that will lead to long-overdue cultural change,” Ms. Qualtrough said. “We need to embed accountability, integrity and safe sport into everything we do.”

Asked about the report cards, Ms. Qualtrough told The Globe in a later statement that she believes the current structure of Sport Canada needs to be examined. Sport Canada funds NSOs and requires proper governance in return. But even though the federal government has the ability to pull funding from NSOs that perform poorly, this is seen as a last resort, and the step is rarely taken.

Ms. Qualtrough called the current system “administratively burdensome.” The way Sport Canada operates, she added, does not provide “the information required to assess good governance and organizational accountability.”

The government announced this year it would create a new compliance and accountability unit inside Sport Canada that could sanction NSOs that encounter problems. This could involve fines, or other measures that don’t involve pulling funding entirely, a penalty that could severely harm some smaller organizations. Details of how the new office will operate are still unclear.

The purpose of the unit will be to “hold organizations more accountable in the way they govern themselves and make decisions,” Ms. Qualtrough said.

Word that the report card program was being halted began to make its way around the NSO community in recent weeks.

Boxing Canada executive director Christopher Lindsay said many NSOs, especially smaller ones, want more guidance from Sport Canada on how to better devise policies. But he said the report cards were not helpful in that regard.

Mr. Lindsay added that he wasn’t surprised the report card program had been shelved, considering its problems.

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