Sport Canada is blind

The fish always rots from the head. This adage applies perfectly to the world of sport, which gives off a nauseating odor with the accumulation of scandals.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

That the boss of Hockey Canada clings to his position only proves to what extent sports federations are accustomed to imposing their culture of control.

That Hockey Canada’s Board of Directors does not have the courage to show him the door demonstrates the lack of perspective of its members vis-à-vis the leaders of whom they should nevertheless be the watchdogs.

How can they ignore the voices that are rising from all sides – rightly – to demand a major cleaning of the all-powerful federation?

In parliamentary committee, this week, the deputies of all the parties asked for his head in a rare unanimity.

And the pressure is mounting in the regional hockey associations, particularly in Quebec, who protest that the contributions paid by the parents have been used, without their knowledge, to settle complaints of a sexual nature. In 33 years, the organization has paid on the sly no less than 12 million dollars in 22 cases, which demonstrates the systemic nature of the problem.

If the federal Minister of Sports, Pascale St-Onge, does not have the power to expel the leaders of Hockey Canada, she can — and she should — examine the attitude of Sport Canada, a federal organization whose blindness is nothing new when it comes to physical, psychological and sexual violence.

It is inconceivable that Sport Canada, which had been aware for four years of allegations of gang rape by eight hockey players after a sports gala in London, would sit idly by and say nothing, despite the extreme seriousness of this case.

When Hockey Canada informed it of the complaint in 2018, Sport Canada never saw fit to notify then-minister Kirsty Duncan. Ironically, it had just issued an instruction forcing organizations to immediately disclose to the Minister “any incident of harassment, abuse or discrimination”.

Clearly, Sport Canada did not read the memo, as the current Minister was only made aware of the “incident” days before the scandal broke in the media.

During those four years, Sport Canada slept on the file. Imagine the message that such inaction sends to young people who are victims of abuse and who are reluctant to file a complaint! How can victims hope to receive help when the organization that oversees all sports in the country lets such a serious file rot?

It’s time to shake the sports world out of its lethargy once and for all. In the past, offensives to reduce abuse have often fallen flat for lack of follow-up.

It’s always the same story. A scandal breaks out. The media seizes the affair. The public is outraged. Faced with pressure, the government is imposing changes. But on the ground, these beautiful policies face resistance from sports federations whose leaders, jealous of their independence, do not like external and independent supervision.

So they don’t apply the rules. And Sport Canada does not follow up. Results ? Not much changes…until the next scandal. And the cycle begins again.

That’s what happened in the mid-1990s, when a series of scandals plagued Canadian sport. Among others, hockey player Sheldon Kennedy, who played for 10 years in the National League, made an impression when he revealed that he had been sexually assaulted by his coach in major junior.

In 1996, the government reacted by enacting very avant-garde measures for the time. For example, federations had an obligation to develop and make public a policy against abuse. They also had to appoint officials capable of receiving complaints from athletes without the victims suffering reprisals from the coaches.

The federations received funding to enforce the rules, funding which was also conditional on the federations submitting an annual report to Sport Canada to prove the application of these rules.

But guess what?

Twenty years after these great advances, researchers have shown that the rules are very little followed. Most shockingly, Sport Canada continued to pay them the money without ever blaming them, University of Toronto professors report in a recent study.

When you are told that willful blindness is not new…

Meanwhile, the abuse continues. Accusations rain down. In gymnastics, boxing, bobsleigh, artistic swimming…

In many federations, leaders have the same bad reflex of hiding problems under the rug so as not to tarnish their organization. But the fish continues to rot. And the smell always ends up spreading.

If you want real change, lasting change, you have to start at the head. From the organization that monitors all sports in the country. But who too often has his eyes closed.

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