In hiring Allison Forsyth “to get us to where we want to be” with safe sport, Canada Soccer has engaged a woman on a mission.
Canada Soccer is looking to ITP Sport, the safe sport consulting and program agency co-founded by the former Olympic skier, to help implement recommendations in the recently released McLaren report and review its existing policies “to ensure they are updated and looked upon as the gold standard across our county.”
Forsyth believes Canada Soccer is committed to that task.
“We scrutinize clients. We do not go into relationships and partnerships without that appetite,” she said in an interview.
“Honestly I am very confident that we along with Canada Soccer will show the country and internationally what it looks like to truly create a safe sport protection culture from the grassroots to the national sporting organization,” she added.
Forsyth, an elite skier and a two-time Olympian, alleges she was sexually abused by Alpine Canada coach Bertrand Charest in 1997 and 1998. In 2017, Charest was sentenced to 12 years in prison for various sex crimes against young skiers under his tutelage in the 1990s. He appealed, prompting the Quebec Court of Appeal to drop 21 of the 37 convictions and reduce his sentence to 57 months, from the date of conviction.
Charest has since been granted full parole. Forsyth has an continuing lawsuit against Alpine Canada over the matter.
The 125-page report by McLaren Global Sport Solutions, commissioned by Canada Soccer, concluded that the governing body “mishandled” sexual harassment allegations in 2008 against then under-20 women’s coach Bob Birarda, who is currently awaiting sentencing on sexual assault charges.
The report paints a picture of a governing body “described by many as being dysfunctional and inefficient,” with “significant leadership upheaval and transition at the highest levels” in 2007 and 2008. It also concludes a “complete lack of familiarity” with the harassment policy amongst Canada Soccer senior officials in 2008 and that “harassment was not a priority issue amongst the senior CSA [Canadian Soccer Association] leadership team” at the time.
The report did say that Canada Soccer “has clearly made noteworthy progress since 2008 to improve its policies and procedures concerning harassment.” It cites “unwavering support from [Canada Soccer] members as it concerns the commitment to Safe Sport policies and principles.”
Earl Cochrane, Canada’s Soccer’s newly appointed general secretary, says the organization’s goal today is “to provide the safest sport in this country.”
Enter Forsyth and ITP Sport co-founder Ilan Yampolsky.
Forsyth offers a pithy summary of ITP Sport’s mandate.
“We protect participants. And by doing so we protect organizations,” she said. “I believe we’ve had the opposite approach in sport over the last 20 to 30 years.”
Forsyth says the McLaren report is part of a larger landscape in sport.
“Ultimately I believe, as a survivor, there were errors made and I do believe there was a culture in sport at that time across the entire landscape that was a ‘Let’s make this go away’ kind of culture,” she said. “So I would not only single out Canada Soccer for that. I could single out my own NSO (national sport organization) that did the exact same thing to me but much more overtly in 1998 where they actually sat me down with my abuser in the room and said to my face ‘if you say anything about this we will lose our sponsorships, you will not have a career.’
“So I have been a part of a very, very overt cover-up. And on behalf of victims, with deep empathy, I want to share that the trauma of not being believed and/or not having justice – for me – was as much a traumatic experience that has affected my life ongoing as the abuse itself.”
Forsyth says her group has already started reviewing the McLaren report and its 38 recommendations.
“We believe the recommendations are again baseline and if anything, there’s more that we will recommend to Canada Soccer,” she said. “Absolutely and they know that. We will recommend far more than what the McLaren report has recommended.”
They are also reviewing Canada Soccer’s current practices and policies.
Forsyth says she is open to hearing from anyone, be it from messages via Twitter or messages through her company website.