Harassment in Sport Blog Series - Blog Two: Current State

Published January 27, 2016

Our intention for this four-part blog series on harassment in sport is to review the past, assess where we are, and chart a course forward that addresses harassment both on and off the field of play. Recent major events in Canadian society – from inappropriate behaviour by Members of Parliament to shocking claims against the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi to Marcel Aubut and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) – have shown us that harassment is not only a field of play issue – it also still exists in our offices and boardrooms.

Over the past two decades, the Canadian sport sector has had to grapple with the issue of harassment in sport and we realize, as we step back today and assess where we are, that much still remains to be done. What has sport done in the past? What are we doing now? What should we do in the future?

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), and the Sport Law & Strategy Group (SLSG) have partnered together to explore answers to those three questions in a four-part blog series published by all four partners over the next few months. We encourage your comments (by email to safesport@sportlaw.ca) and we will share key comments, future discussion points, and actionable items in a fourth and final “call-to-action” blogpost.

Blog One: Looking Back

Blog Two: Current State

Blog Three: Looking Ahead

Eradicating Harassment in Your Sport Organization

Blog Two: Current State

Our first blogpost reviewed what we had been doing in Canadian sport in the past to reduce instances of harassment, abuse, violence, and bullying. Attention began turning to these matters with the high-profile Sheldon Kennedy case in 1997 and the creation of the “Harassment and Abuse in Sport Collective”, which was a collection of sport organizations focused on reducing harassment in sport. A harassmentinsport website was developed and many excellent resources were published. In 2002, the True Sport Secretariat was created and an influential (if overlooked) document titled Harassment & Abuse in Sport: Situation Analysis & Needs Assessment was released soon after. Some of the recommendations in that report (such as the creation of a stand-alone Harassment Policy and harassment officers) were adopted by sport organizations and even mandated by Sport Canada, while other recommendations (such as a national strategy on decreasing harassment) were disregarded.

Approaches to harassment in sport have continued to evolve. We now know that an integrated Code of Conduct with disciplinary procedures is preferable to a stand-alone Harassment Policy, We have a broad vision for sport that integrates ethical treatment of participants. We have a pan-Canadian movement called True Sport that is galvanizing communities, leagues, municipalities, sport clubs, and citizens to stand up for fair and ethical sport. But there are signs that we have focused primarily on the field of play experience, with little or no attention being paid to creating safe, welcoming sport workplaces. More needs to be done to coordinate efforts and raise the minimum standards to ensure safe sport for everyone involved.

So what are we doing now? This blogpost focuses on our current efforts combatting harassment in sport – the integrated policies, additional training for sport leaders, the True Sport Movement that has over 3000 communities aligned with its principles, the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), and the newest Canadian Sport Policy 2012 that set the direction for Canadian sport in the years ahead. However, as we investigate what we’re currently doing, we should also look at why our previous efforts failed and how the lessons learned from these failures can improve and inform our present approach.

Lost Coordinated Momentum

The late 1990s saw the creation and beneficial activities of the Harassment and Abuse in Sport Collective, which we described in Blog One. One of the Collective’s most useful tools was the harassmentinsport website which hosted policy templates, displayed helpful information, and inventoried all available harassment-related resources. But by 2001, the Collective and the website were both gone. Karin Lofstrom, who was involved in the activities of the Collective and who is the Executive Director of CAAWS, explains what happened:

I think funding was the biggest factor. Both Denis Coderre (Secretary of State for Amateur Sport) and Shelia Copps (Minister of Canadian Heritage) were involved in the launch and helped provide the funds. The funds stopped after Coderre left his role. The Collective had just barely started work on the harassment issue – so attention was being paid to it – but I wouldn’t say we were winning the battle yet

The lack of funding for a sustained cooperative effort to prevent harassment ended up creating a splintered approach with organizations focusing on their strengths. National Sport Organizations (NSOs) began intensive policy development, including harassment policies and codes of conduct. The CCES, in conjunction with the Sport Law & Strategy Group, launched a number of different initiatives aimed to build ethical literacy and capacity in sport organizations. These initiatives included the Risk Management Program as well as Management by Values workshops for NSOs and MSOs which, although not directly addressing harassment, contain mechanisms and tools for identifying and managing operational/program risks and enhancing resilience in the workplace. CAAWS has produced handbooks and assessment tools addressing gender equity and homophobia in sport including the most recent Leading the Way: Working with LGBT Athletes and Coaches.

Although created in piecemeal, the various efforts across Canadian sport are building a national standard for how we deal with harassment. Perhaps none of the developments has been more prominent than the CAC’s Make Ethical Decisions (MED) training module and online evaluation that is a required component of the NCCP.

Make Ethical Decisions

The NCCP was launched in 1974 and underwent significant revision beginning in 2001 changing from a ‘Levels’ system to aligning with the competition streams of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model. The NCCP requires that all 800,000+ certified coaches update their training by taking the Make Ethical Decisions module, and all new coaches entering the system must complete this core training as part of their coach education pathway. Lorraine Lafrenière, Chief Executive Officer of the CAC, describes the purpose of the MED module:

Ethical coaching practice is a cornerstone of the NCCP and Canadian sport. The MED module trains coaches to use a decision making process that will enable them to make good decisions when faced with challenging ethical situation – such as harassment – but also in terms of conflict of interest, athlete safety, return to play, athlete selection, abuse, etc. The corresponding online evaluation provides the opportunity for coaches to practice using the model and to demonstrate their competency through various scenarios

The CAC is also taking the lead on background screening for coaches. A partnership with a third-party organization has resulted in a flat rate cost ($25+tax) for an Enhanced Police Information Check (E-PIC) which is available to all coaches in organizations that have signed up to participate in the program.

Criminal record checks are but one part of a comprehensive screening process that organizations use to screen volunteers. Volunteer Canada’s 10 Steps of Screening resource has contributed to guiding the screening policies of many sport organizations. Organizations generally understand that volunteers should be interviewed, submit an application along with references, receive orientation and training, and then receive support and supervision once in the position. Once screened, volunteers (along with participants and other members) become under the jurisdiction of the sport organization’s policies.

Policy Development

Each sport organization operates as a private tribunal - which means that they are empowered to determine their own rules for belonging and participating, and then discipline members and participants if those obligations are not met. Each sport organization therefore uses its own methods (informed by past practice, context and capacity, national or sport-specific standards, or other criteria) to determine how to best address harassment within its own organization.

This freedom has led to the development of thousands of slightly-different codes of conduct, and thousands of slightly-different processes and procedures for handling instances of harassment in Canadian sport. A hockey association in Alberta may have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for harassment while a football organization in New Brunswick may have a different view of whether an action is even defined as harassment. National and provincial organizations (and Sport Canada as the national funder) may further have their own prescriptions that are adapted to varying degrees.

At the request of Sport Canada, to address this lack of a standard, the CCES partnered with the Coaches of Canada (now the CAC’s Professional Coaching Department) to lead a group of sport organizations in releasing two documents – the Code for Prohibited Conduct in Sport (which described the standards of behaviour expected by volunteers and the procedures for handling misconduct) and the Canadian Policy on Prohibited Conduct. It was intended that sport organizations would adapt these two documents and thereby contribute to a baseline national standard. Unfortunately the initiative gained little traction. Paul Melia, President and CEO of the CCES explains why:

The idea was that sport organizations at all levels of sport would adopt the Policy into their rules and adopt and enforce the Code. However, over time, what we heard was that the administration of the Policy and Code were beyond the resource capacity of sport organizations, as was the process for receiving complaints, conducting hearings, and meting out sanctions

Organizations are beginning to recognize that their policies simply are not enough. The Canadian Sport Policy 2012 focuses heavily on ethical behaviour as a policy benchmark for all sport activity – and there is clearly more than can be done. The CAC’s Make Ethical Decisions module for coaches is an excellent baseline for coaches’ ethical training, and an organization’s internal policies may provide additional guidance for behaviour, but what else is being done to increase our knowledge and guide our actions?

Respect Training

Hockey Canada took the lead with additional ethical behaviour training with its Speak Out!... Act Now! program introduced back in 1997. That program gradually faded out and was replaced with a suite of online training programs developed by the Respect Group. The Group was formed by Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil in 2004 and began offering Respect in Sport certification in 2006. Other modules offered include Respect in the Workplace and Respect in Sport for Parents. The Respect in Sport module provides coaches with training tools enabling them to be better child-centred leaders and role models, and educates coaches on how to prevent bullying, harassment, abuse, and discrimination.

Some organizations, including the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, have taken steps to make these certification programs required training for their participants and parents. Wayne McNeil notes the benefits of making these programs required:

Many organizations have no idea how many incidents occur in their organization. Respect in Sport is a preventative program but also encourages reporting of the incidents that do occur. The main aim of the program is a standard knowledge across sport – and the success of that aim is based on organizations being required to implement the training – it cannot be optional

It is also promising to see some community clubs take the lead on educating parents about their role in creating a positive environment. The West Ottawa Soccer Club, the country’s second-largest soccer club, produced a video aimed to sensitize parents on what children liked most about their sport experience and the things that get in the way of their enjoyment. Feedback from viewers suggests empowering parents and athletes to stand up against the vocal minority who have an outdated mindset of how to motivate children.

Sustained Strategy

When we consider where we’ve been, and where we are, in the context of harassment in sport for the participant – then it seems that we are having moderate, if fractured, success. Sport organizations have policies and guidelines for behaviour, coaches (who have the most interactions with participants) are required to have baseline certification and training, criminal background checks are an integrated part of screening procedures, and additional ethical behaviour training is available.

But where are we for issues of harassment in sport outside of the field of play? There is no required training for individuals (though ‘Respect in the Workplace’ is offered by the Respect Group) and policies and codes of conduct may reference the Director, employee, or other volunteer – but the emphasis is definitely on the participant. There is little focus on power dynamics (i.e., supervisor-subordinate or head coach-assistant coach) and evidence of a sustained, cooperative approach to harassment in sport (at all levels) is non-existent.

The fragmented efforts that have been variously developed by different sport organizations are components in the broader harassment battle. We have an opportunity to create a sustained, effective national strategy with the goal of completely extinguishing harassment from Canadian sport. Where do we go from here?

In our next blogpost (published in late February) we will explore ideas for the future – how we can work together to address harassment in sport both on the field and in the sport workplace. We will weigh the pros and cons of different approaches and apply lessons learned from our past successes and failures. We will speak with proactive leaders in harassment in sport and find out what the experts advise. Finally, we will issue a call-to-action. We will ask for your opinion on how we can create and sustain momentum for a coordinated effort to eliminate harassment in sport.


Do you have any comments so far?  Send them to safesport@sportlaw.ca

For more information contact:

Lorraine Lafrenière, CAC at 613- 235-5000 ext. 2363 or 613-769-6772
Dina Bell-Laroche, Sport Law & Strategy Group at 613-591-1246
Karin Lofstrom, CAAWS at 613-562-5667
Paul Melia, CCES at 613-521-3340 x3221

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