Safe sport reform is just getting started. But are some sports more prone to abuse?

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Some sports ‘more prone’ to abuse, Canadian minister says amid new reforms
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The work done so far to raise standards and tackle abuse in sports isn’t the end of the story.

National sports organizations must make sure those higher standards and zero tolerance for abuse trickle down to their chapters across the country, Canada’s sport minister said.

“More needs to be done,” said Pascale St-Onge in an interview with Global News.

A surge of allegations and complaints about abuse and exploitation of athletes have rocked the world over recent years, including allegations of sporting officials not taking complaints seriously or trying to cover up claims.

And the time is now for sports organizations to do more, she said, including in sports that she acknowledged may be more prone to abuse.

“What we’re doing is really setting our expectations much higher in regards to governance, financial transparency, prevention and education and also creating better conditions so that coaches have better background checks,” St-Onge said, referencing measures announced by the federal government earlier this month.

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“I think that national sports organizations have a leadership role in implementing this across their own affiliates.”

On May 11, the federal government unveiled a slate of reforms to improve the accountability of national sports organizations and bring about a “culture change” for athletes.

Among the steps Ottawa is taking is setting up a public registry of people who have been sanctioned or suspended within the sport system, as well as new funding to screen national coaches.

Click to play video: 'Feds unveil reforms to Canadian sports system'
Feds unveil reforms to Canadian sports system

Hundreds of athletes have come forward over the past year to publicly report issues of physical, sexual and psychological abuse from coaches, trainers and others in authority across multiple sports. That follows global scrutiny of USA Gymnastics and disgraced coach Larry Nassar, who was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing young gymnasts.

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St-Onge said sports like gymnastics, artistic swimming and skating that place a lot of importance on physical appearance with “bad coaching techniques” are “more prone” to abuse.

“The sports that place a lot of importance on physical appearance — and it’s the case in gymnastics, it’s the case in artistic swimming, it’s the case in artistic skating, for example — that there seems to be more pressure, and on young girls specifically, to reach certain physical standards which can bring a whole different range of abuse and psychological abuse also,” she said.

“So there are some sports that I feel are more prone.”

Hockey Canada was at the centre of national attention last year for its handling of sexual abuse allegations against members of at least two Canadian World Juniors teams.

The federal government froze Hockey Canada’s funding in June 2022 amid intense scrutiny over reports the organization used fees paid by families to fund a slush fund it used to settle sexual assault allegations.

That funding was restored last month after St-Onge said the organization met three conditions.

Click to play video: 'Gymnastics Canada funding frozen by federal government for sexual abuse allegations, one month after Hockey Canada'
Gymnastics Canada funding frozen by federal government for sexual abuse allegations, one month after Hockey Canada

Amid the crisis last summer, the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) – a Canadian first — was launched in June. Its role is to receive complaints about alleged maltreatment in sports and where necessary, launch independent investigations.

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Sporting bodies had until April 1, 2023, to sign up with the OSIC’s “Abuse-Free Sport program” or risk losing their federal funding.

So far, 75 organizations have signed up and agreements with seven remaining national sports organizations will become effective later this year, according to OSIC’s latest quarterly report published in April.

In total, the office has received 96 complaints and reports – half of which were submitted this year alone.

St-Onge said she is “pretty satisfied” with the progress and all national athletes are covered by this independent mechanism.

“They’ve retained 100 per cent of the complaints that were filed, which means that there’s going to be investigations in those complaints.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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