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Educators call for federal inquiry into “widespread abuse” in Canadian sports


Dozens of Canadian and global sport scholars have joined the chorus in calling for an independent inquiry into sport in Canada, saying Canadian athletes deserve better.

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

The letter was signed by 91 individuals from 30 Canadian and 17 international institutions.

“(We) stand in solidarity with the over 1,000 Canadian athletes seeking immediate accountability and meaningful change from Sport Canada and the broader system it governs,” it said.

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

The educators’ letter was spearheaded by MacIntosh Ross, a kinesiology professor at the University of Western Ontario, who has written several articles on the recent Hockey Canada scandals, plus the national safe-sport crisis in general.

“The vast majority of professors … thought there should be an independent inquiry, similar to the Dubin Inquiry,” Ross told The Canadian Press in an interview. “Certainly, the stakes are so much higher for this issue. This isn’t doping and a matter of unfair competition. It’s actually the safety and well-being of athletes of all ages. Which it seems like an obvious thing that you would want to investigate and have all the information possible to try to fix the system so nobody else, or as few people as possible, get hurt going forward.”

Experts have said the number of maltreatment complaints exploded in Canada in 2022, with athletes in more than a half dozen sports waging wars against leaders, levelling allegations of toxicity and abuse, and pleading for widespread change.

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

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

While St-Onge established Canada’s first Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) in June, as a one-stop, independent complaint investigator, the letter argued it’s “not a solution.”

“Without complete independence from Canada’s sport authorities, the OSIC will always lack the powers necessary to resolve this crisis. The OSIC is an inadequate response to the toxic culture of abuse. It lacks the necessary independence, capacity, authorities, expertise, and mandate to conduct an inquiry of the breadth and depth required.”

“In short, the government is allowing Sport Canada to investigate itself.”

Ross, who has a PhD in kinesiology and teaches courses on Olympic issues and sport history, among others, said he was dismayed after a small number of Canadian sport scholars recently said no independent investigation was needed. That motivated him to reach out to others, and the movement snowballed from there.

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

“We urge the Canadian government to initiate an independent judicial inquiry into athlete abuse in Canada, akin to the Dubin Inquiry of 1989. The safety of the nation’s child, youth, and elite athletes depends upon it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.

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