Educators are calling for a federal investigation into “widespread” abuse in Canadian sports

Dozens of Canadian and global sports scholars have joined the chorus to call for an independent investigation into sport in Canada, saying its athletes deserve better.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, Scholars Against Abuse in Canadian Sport immediately called for an investigation amid “widespread reports of sexual, physical and psychological abuse of athletes throughout the nation’s sporting system.”

The letter was signed by 91 people from 30 Canadian and 17 international agencies.

“[We] stands in solidarity with the more than 1,000 Canadian athletes who are seeking immediate accountability and meaningful change from Sport Canada and the broader system it governs,” he said.

The letter comes amid growing calls for an investigation after athletes from bobsled, skeleton and gymnastics, plus several members of Parliament, appealed to Canada’s sports minister Pascale St-Onge for an investigation similar to the Dubin Inquiry into doping in 1989.

The educator letter was spearheaded by MacIntosh Ross, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Western Ontario, who has written several articles about the recent Canadian Hockey scandal, plus the national safe sport crisis in general.

“Most professors think there should be an independent investigation, similar to the Dubin Inquiry,” Ross told The Canadian Press in an interview. “Of course, the stakes are much higher on this issue. This is not a doping and unhealthy competition issue. This is actually the safety and wellbeing of athletes of all ages. Which seems like an obvious thing that you want to investigate and have all the information possible to try fixing the system so no one else, or as few people, get hurt in the future.”

WATCH | St-Onge responded to the Canadian gymnast’s call to action:

The minister for sport responded to calls by Canadian gymnasts to act against the toxic culture of sport

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge answered calls from a Canadian gymnast who wrote an open letter to her office about tackling toxic culture in sport.

St-Onge appointed former artistic swimmer Sarah-Eve Pelletier as the nation’s first sporting integrity commissioner amid a wave of current and retired athletes who are embracing their toxic culture in their sport and demanding change.

But the office received only eight of 24 complaints and reports between September 20 and December 31, and deemed the rest not under its jurisdiction or authority.

“We need to ensure that when there are complaints that they are not simply dismissed,” said Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, who chairs the Committee on the Status of Women studying the safety of women and girls in sport.

“I’ve seen a few complaints where you submit a complaint and there’s no response or the response is ‘this is not our problem.’ They kept knocking on the door and it kept closing for them.”

Experts say the number of complaints of abuse exploded in Canada in 2022, with athletes in more than half a dozen sports battling leaders, leveling accusations of toxicity and abuse and pleading for widespread change.

Testimony also began last month before members of Parliament for a session of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on the safety of women and girls in sport.

“The government’s response to athlete abuse remains grossly inadequate, failing to address the underlying factors responsible for the widespread abuse of athletes throughout the sporting system,” said Monday’s letter.

‘Not a solution’

While St-Onge set up Canada’s first Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) in June, as a one-stop independent complaint investigator, the letter stated that it was “not a solution.”

“Without the full independence of Canadian sports authorities, OSIC will always lack the powers needed to solve this crisis. OSIC is an inadequate response to a toxic culture of harassment. OSIC lacks the independence, capacity, authority, expertise and mandate needed to carry out investigation of the necessary breadth and depth.”

“In short, the government is allowing Sport Canada to investigate on its own.”

Ross, who has a PhD in kinesiology and teaches courses on Olympic issues and sports history, among others, said he was disappointed after a small number of Canadian sports scholars recently said there was no need for an independent investigation. It motivates him to reach out to other people, and it snowballs from there.

“Canadian athletes deserve better. They deserve more,” their letter said. “Their safety and well-being must be our absolute priority. To reform the sporting system, and prevent abuse, we must know the scope of the problem. Without this information, a toxic status quo will persist.

“We urge the government of Canada to initiate an independent judicial investigation of athlete abuse in Canada, similar to the 1989 Dubin Inquisition. The safety of the country’s children, youth, and elite athletes depends on it.”

Hadwin Floyd

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