Nova Scotia

How sport groups are working to keep young athletes safe from abuse

Sport Nova Scotia is looking to see how it can better keep young athletes in the province safe from abuse and harassment, but a national group is pushing for a Canada-wide organization that's entirely separate from the current entities that exist to help protect athletes.

'Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working,' says CEO of Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport

Sport Nova Scotia says it's currently reviewing its policies around abuse and how to better educate its members to protect young athletes. (Shutterstock)

Sport Nova Scotia is looking to see how it can better keep young athletes in the province safe from abuse and harassment, but a national group is pushing for a Canada-wide organization that's entirely separate from the current entities that exist to help protect athletes.

Earlier this week, four women who were abused by an ex-national ski coach in Quebec called for better safeguards to protect young athletes.

Amélie-Frédérique Gagnon, Gail Kelly, Anna Prchal and Geneviève Simard fought to have the publication ban on their names lifted to condemn their abuser, former ski coach Bertrant Charest, and make sure no other young athletes are subject to similar abuse.

"Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working. We are not creating safe environments for our athletes and we have to do a better job," said Paul Melia, the CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

"The issue is in front of us, it's pressing, it's urgent."

Melia said the current #MeToo movement has given those who have been abused a voice to come forward, but sports organizations across the country are in a conflict of interest when an allegation of abuse does come forward.

"They're in the business of promoting their sport, and stories like this are bad for their image and reputation, so they aren't managing these situations in the appropriate way," he said.

Amélie-Frédérique Gagnon, Gail Kelly, Anna Prchal and Geneviève Simard, all of whom endured abuse from their former ski coach as teenagers, say immediate change is needed to ensure all sport is safe for young athletes. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

"Without a universal code and a set of rules and violations and sanctions, the jurisdiction and authority to do anything is very weak ... We need to convene, immediately, an expert committee that could design that program."

Melia said he'd like the independent program to also be able to receive confidential reports.

"So they know if they report to this organization, they're not going to suffer any repercussions, because we know that's a challenge right now," he said.

Sport Nova Scotia requires abuse policy

In Nova Scotia, the umbrella organization that oversees 60 different sports groups requires its members have an abuse and harassment policy in place.

Jamie Ferguson, CEO of Sport Nova Scotia, said those policies are reviewed and have to be resubmitted each year.

"There are times when we would work with them to go through those different policies and practices to make sure they're OK, but the ultimate legal responsibility lies with each provincial sports organization and normally with the national sports organization on top of it," Ferguson said.

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) president Paul Melia says that while organizations are waiting for an overarching governing body to be created, local groups could start by trying to educate themselves, their partners and coaches. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Ferguson said coaches have to have an appropriate level of certification, depending on the sport and its demands, and Sport Nova Scotia requires criminal record and vulnerable sector checks.

But Ferguson said the recent discussions around abuse in sport have prompted the organization to look at what else they can do to keep athletes safe.

'More knowledge, more safeguards' needed

"It's basically increasing those types of educational pieces for the coaches who go through training and for the leaders who are running the organization to have more information, more knowledge, more safeguards in place," he said.

"Our goal is to continue to work with, for instance, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and the True Sport Movement to make sure that every time a child has a sport experience, it's a quality experience which is positive and allows them to realize the wonderful benefits that sport provides.

"And not have a negative experience. So, that's a huge amount of the work we're going to try and do."

Melia said while organizations are waiting for an overarching governing body to be created, local groups could start by trying to educate themselves, their partners and coaches.

In particular, he said, education should be provided around the grooming process that predators employ to find victims. As well, a rule of two should be established where no athlete is ever alone with an adult.

Melia also suggests engaging third-party community groups that have the capacity to receive a confidential call reporting abuse.

'Parents seem to grant coaches a great deal of latitude'

Both Melia and Ferguson agreed that education for parents is also crucial.

"They need to know as much as they can about who's coaching their kids," Melia said, which includes being present at practices and tournaments, and to have a relationship where they encourage their child to share anything with them.

"Parents seem to grant coaches a great deal of latitude with their children, in the hopes that that coach can take their child to that level of being an Olympic athlete or a professional athlete," Melia said.

"There's a relationship, and it can be a very healthy relationship where the child really benefits from the sport experience, but there is always the danger of the negative one, and they need to be alive and alert for that."

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