Canada unveils reforms in bid to enhance safe sport practices

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada February 10, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

(Reuters) – The Canadian federal government announced a series of reforms on Thursday in a bid to enhance safe sport practices and hold the country’s national sports oganizations (NSOs) accountable after complaints about a toxic culture from a slew of athletes.

A public registry of individuals who have been sanctioned will be created within a year while NSOs must meet a number of requirements, including having at least one athlete on their board before April 2025, to maintain their federal funding.

“Athletes must have a greater voice at all levels of decision making,” Canada Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said in a news release.

“The concrete measures I have announced today are part of a long-term shift to turn the tide on a much-needed culture change in sport.”

The measures announced by St-Onge come after athletes from a number of sports have testified at parliamentary committees over the past year and shared stories about the physical and mental abuse they endured at the hands of coaches and other officials.

According to the reforms, non-disclosure agreements or non-disparaging clauses cannot be used to prevent athletes and other sport participants from disclosing any maltreatment they have experienced or witnessed.

NSOs’ annual financial statements will also need to be audited and posted on the organization’s website within six months of their year-end while minutes of board meetings will also need to be published online.

St-Onge, in response to athletes who demanded a national public inquiry into abuse in Canadian sports, told a virtual press conference that it was a “legitimate request” and that she is working to be able to announce it as soon as she can.

Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee have pledged a combined C$2 million ($1.50 million) to develop and promote tools regarding harassment and abuse, such as the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport.

International athlete advocacy organization Global Athlete said the new measures fall short and called for the immediate launch of a national inquiry.

“The measures put forward by the Minister are not the foundations upon which safe sport in Canada can be built,” Global Athlete said in a statement.

“Without understanding the depths of the human rights issue at hand, the injection of funding will not adequately address the problems.”

($1 = 1.3372 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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