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A shocking portrait of sexual abuse in sports and some good advice for parents

The Buzzer is CBC Sports' daily newsletter. Get up to speed in a hurry on what's happening in sports, including what we can learn from a staggering report by CBC News and CBC Sports about the scope of sexual abuse in kids' sports.

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(Canadian Press)

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A shocking portrait of sexual abuse in kids' sports

A joint investigation by CBC News and CBC Sports revealed some startling facts. It found that at least 222 coaches who were involved in amateur sports in Canada have been convicted of sexual offences in the past 20 years. Those convictions involve more than 600 victims under the age of 18. The cases of another 34 accused coaches are currently before the courts.

And that's "just the tip of the iceberg," says one expert. Because sexual abuse is an under-reported crime, there could be thousands of cases where no one has come forward, according to former Olympic rower and now sociology professor Sandra Kirby.

It seems like no sport is immune. Hockey and soccer had the largest numbers of coaches charged and convicted of sexual offences (they're also the two most widely played sports). But martial arts, basketball, swimming, baseball, volleyball, gymnastics, football, figure skating and equestrian are just some of the 36 different sports where multiple coaches have been convicted.

Anti-abuse policies exist at the national and provincial levels, but transparency is lacking. CBC journalists contacted 35 national sports organizations and 133 provincial ones and asked if they had a public list of coaches and volunteers who have been banned, and/or charged or convicted of a crime. Only about half responded, and of those only seven said they publish some form of this information online. Hockey Canada was among the national organizations that didn't respond.

Local sports clubs are often on their own to protect young athletes. In the wake of multiple sexual assault cases involving Canadian national-team coaches (as well as the Larry Nassar case in the U.S.) federal sports minister Kirsty Duncan introduced new anti-abuse rules that national sports organizations must follow in order to get federal funding. That's good for national-team athletes. But it's hard to make sure those policies trickle down to the hundreds of thousands of kids competing below the elite level. One expert describes a "chaotic" hierarchy where "no one has authority over anything." And local clubs and associations can lack the resources to enforce measures like background checks that could make a difference.

The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees say they'll meet with Duncan this weekend about the issues raised by the CBC's reporting. A joint statement from the organizations said talks will include looking at "better harmonized mechanisms and actions" to address abuse. Duncan said in a separate statement that the CBC report "broke my heart" and that it "helped shine a spotlight on the seriousness of abuse."

Kirsty Duncan, Canada's minister of sport. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press/File)

Some advice for parents

CBC Sports senior writer Jamie Strashin is one of the lead reporters on this story. I also know him as a dedicated sports dad whose son competes on high-level baseball and hockey teams. So I asked him whether his reporting has changed anything for him. His answer includes some good advice for parents. Here's what he wrote:

My focus had always been on the field of play: Is my son getting enough playing time? How well is he playing? Are his skates sharp enough? I always assumed (and I still believe) that whoever was behind the bench had his best interests at heart. I assumed that he or she had been "cleared" after going through whatever checks are done to ensure they're allowed to coach. I assumed.

When I would see stories about coaches in different parts of the country getting arrested for things like abusing a player or having a stash of child porn on their computer, I always thought how awful it must be for the victims, the team, the organization. Somebody had surely dropped the ball by allowing that person to coach. But that was their pain. Their issue. I could tell myself it wouldn't happen here and move on.

Not anymore. After working on this investigation for the last few months, I'll be asking a lot more questions. And not about bat weights, pad sizes or zone defences. But about whether our organization has clear rules around sexual abuse. Clear training for coaches, parents and players. And a clear and safe way to report something. I'll be scrutinizing my kids' coaches. Especially the ones who are paid to coach. Their success on the field of play won't define my opinion of them.

I've learned that abuse is prevented long before it happens, by challenging uncomfortable situations and not being scared to ask questions. No matter what.

Quickly…

The Cleveland Browns signed Kareem Hunt. Kansas City cut the star running back two months ago after a video surfaced showing him assaulting a woman. Some wondered at the time whether he'd play in the NFL again, so his second chance came quickly.

Jeremy Lin is joining the Raptors. Seven years ago he became a short-lived cultural sensation by going on a magical tear with the Knicks that was dubbed "Linsanity." Lin was the right man (the NBA had never had an Asian-American star) in the right place (New York City) at the right time (sports' post-Super Bowl dog days) He eventually cooled off and has bounced around the league. Now he's reportedly in the process of being bought out by Atlanta and will sign with Toronto.

Weekend winners and losers

A couple of all-time greats went out in style and Canadian athletes had another big weekend. Let's get you caught up.

Winner: Storybook endings

You almost couldn't have scripted it any better. Racing for the final time in their brilliant careers, Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal each won an improbable downhill medal at the alpine skiing world championships. Svindal's silver may have been the better result, but Vonn's bronze is the more memorable. She crashed out of her previous race and was clearly on her last legs, with knee injuries rushing her into retirement. No one would have blamed her for a half-speed, safe farewell run. But she put her body on the line to reach the podium one last time. The sport will miss her fearlessness and competitive spirit.

Winner: Mikael Kingsbury

Victory has become almost routine for the best moguls skier ever, but not at the world championships. They're held every other year, and he hadn't won moguls gold since 2013. But Kingsbury reclaimed that title and also won the dual moguls (a non-Olympic event) for the second time. He now holds the three major moguls titles — world championships, World Cup and Olympics.

Loser: Randy Carlyle

The Anaheim Ducks finally had enough. They fired their head coach after going 0-5 on their post-all-star-break road trip and getting outscored 29-7. Anaheim has won two games since Dec. 18 and dropped to last place in the Western Conference.

Winner: Kim Boutin

Canada's flag bearer at the 2018 Olympics' closing ceremony ended the short track World Cup season on a high note. She won the women's 1,000 metres, grabbed a bronze in the 500 and helped Canada take silver in the mixed relay. The world championships are in a month, and Boutin will be going for her first major title (she won a silver and two bronze at the Olympics).

Winner: Other Canadian medallists

The highlights: snowboarder Mark McMorris, freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe and speed skater Ivanie Blondin took silver at their respective world championships. Three figure skating duos made the podium at the Four Continents championships. This video runs down those and all the rest.

Winner: Bianca Andreescu

Canada's best women's tennis player (imagine saying that even six weeks ago) put her country into the Fed Cup playoffs for the first time since 2015. Her singles win clinched victory over the Netherlands. Canada's next opponent in the international team competition (the women's equivalent of the Davis Cup) will be determined tomorrow. The 18-year-old Andreescu ended last year ranked 178th in the world. She's now No. 70 — 10 spots above Genie Bouchard.


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