Harassment in Sport – Eradicating Harassment in Your Sport Organization

Published January 27, 2017

In 2016, the SLSG partnered with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), and the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) to write a three-part Harassment in Sport blog series. Those blogposts reviewed the initial efforts at battling harassment in Canadian sport, discussed current practices and policies, and proposed new ideas and tactics. You can read the blogposts at these links:

Blog One: Looking Back

Blog Two: Current State

Blog Three: Looking Ahead

This blogpost outlines a step-by-step plan for your organization to follow as you work toward removing harassment in your organization. Our recommendations are based on expert advice, feedback from the sport community, and a thorough review of the available practical resources and materials.

These steps are intended to be useful and applicable to all sport organizations – local clubs, leagues, provincial/territorial organizations, and national associations. Many of the steps below can be taken at minimal cost and with only a moderate time investment from volunteers.

Step 1 – Begin a Culture Shift

Risk management measures and efforts at battling harassment should be embedded throughout your organization – they should be part of your organization’s culture and core values. Skate Canada was the first National Sport Organization (NSO) to employ a Safe Sport Director whose role is to heighten awareness for harassment and risk management issues. This individual is part of Skate Canada’s management team, working alongside other positions like the Skating Development Director and the High Performance Director. By elevating the importance of the position, Skate Canada has demonstrated that it considers safe sport to be a vital part of the organization’s operations.

Not all organizations have the capacity to employ an individual to focus on harassment and risk management, but at the very least we recommend that organizations create or expand an existing committee to focus on harassment and risk management issues. Make it as important as your Finance Committee, High Performance Committee, and other standing committees. The committee should be small (three to five people), meet regularly (at least three times a year, or as required), and have the authority to direct the organization’s risk management measures and efforts at battling harassment. Please feel free to contact us for assistance developing a Terms of Reference.

Organizations are also encouraged to work toward a system of managing-by-values rather than a singular focus on managing-by-objectives. Managing-by-values activates the organization’s commitment to its core values (which should include safe sport for participants and volunteers) and can help shift the organization’s culture. Shifting culture to cultivate a safe sport environment should also be accompanied by a promotional component – the organization should intentionally spread the safe sport message in all of its communications and activities.

Step 2 – Join True Sport

True Sport is a national movement created by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) that promotes the benefits of sport through shared values of fairness, excellence, inclusion, and fun. True Sport is based around seven principles: Go For It, Play Fair, Respect Others, Keep It Fun, Stay Healthy, Include Everyone, and Give Back. Committing to the True Sport principles indicates that your organization believes sport has the power to build character in young athletes, strengthen your community, and increase opportunities for excellence in sport. True Sport also offers resources and tools for bettering your sport organization and assisting with a sustained culture shift toward safe sport.

Step 3 – Pledge to join the Responsible Coaching Movement

The Responsible Coaching Movement is a national initiative developed by the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) and the CCES that aims to create realistic change in coaching best practices. One of the key components of the Movement is that organizations can access an Enhanced Police Information Check (E-PIC), an extensive criminal record check, at a low standard price of $25+tax per coach or volunteer. The Responsible Coaching Movement also promotes the “Rule of Two” (two adult coaches must be with a single minor athlete at all times) as well as respect and ethics training for coaches. Resources are provided by the CAC to help organizations move from pledge to action and develop capacity for their coaches and volunteers.

Step 4 – Improve Gender Equity and Diversity

The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) produced an assessment tool for sport organizations to measure whether their programs, services, and facilities meet an acceptable standard of gender equity. Your organization can commit to annual improvements of your score as you move toward a more equitable and diverse organization. CAAWS has also published resources and reports to help organizations engage women and girls, increase the number of women on the Board of Directors, and address homophobia and discrimination.

Step 5 – Policy Development

What policies does your organization have? The Sport Law & Strategy Group wrote a useful article on what policies are recommended for each type of sport organization. Your organization should first conduct a policy audit of your existing policies – check your website and connect with current and former Directors to understand what you currently have. Also understand which policies are required by your governing sport bodies and if they can provide, or have already provided, policies for your organization to use.

Your policies should reflect your values and the True Sport principles. Focus on creating four policies: Code of Conduct, Discipline and Complaints, Dispute Resolution, and Appeals. These four policies will create mechanisms by which your organization can introduce a standard of behaviour for its volunteers and stakeholders and then properly, and fairly, enforce that standard.

Step 6 – Dispute Resolution

We recommend a robust dispute resolution process that is efficient, effective, and procedurally fair for all parties. Volunteers, participants, players, and coaches should trust that the organization’s dispute resolution process will work properly and that their dispute can be resolved without bias. The Sport Law & Strategy Group has over 25 years of experience managing disputes in amateur sport and we can help organizations at any stage of the process – even if the organization does not have dispute resolution policies. You can read more about our dispute resolution service here.

Some organizations should also have a mechanism to report complaints against fellow Directors or employees. It can daunting for an individual to make a harassment complaint against the organization’s President, for example, if the President is involved in the dispute resolution process! To avoid this conflict, the Sport Law & Strategy Group also offers an Ombudsman service – where we will act as the confidential guide for the process and have the authority to appoint a neutral investigator to investigate the complaint.

Step 7 – Policy Awareness and Enforcement

We know from previous efforts at battling harassment in sport that simply having the policies is not good enough. Every member of the organization needs to be aware that the policies exist and know how they can be used. Individuals should be aware:

  • What behaviour is considered harassment
  • What standards of conduct apply to all individuals in the organization
  • Who to contact about the harassing behaviour
  • What mechanisms can be applied to seek a resolution

To increase awareness of the organization’s policies and the behaviours that are considered unacceptable, we recommend that your organization ensures that the policies are:

  • Referenced during the registration process or on a registration form
  • Distributed to all volunteers, participants, and parents and guardians
  • Posted prominently on your organization’s website

Coaches, volunteers, and any interested parents and guardians should also be trained or briefed on why the policies apply and how they can be used. We recommend that your organization host an in-person meeting or training session on how to recognize harassment and how it can be addressed at your organization. Your organization must also be able to enforce the policies, ensure any complaints about harassment are handled in a timely manner, encourage reports of any instances of harassment, and measure commitment to standards of behaviour.

When communicating and enforcing the policies, your organization should make an intentional effort to communicate and model values that reflect your organization’s commitment to respectful engagement. The risk of offensive or inappropriate behaviour decreases when an organization invests in creating and maintaining a healthy and respectful culture.

Step 8 – Commit to Continued Learning

Your organization should be aware of new developments related to harassment in sport. Keeping up-to-date with the resources provided by True Sport, CAAWS, and the Responsible Coaching Movement is a good starting point. Additional training opportunities, such as Respect in Sport and the NCCP’s Empower+ module, should be regularly identified to coaches and other volunteers. The maintenance component of the NCCP now requires that coaches continue their professional learning in order to remain certified.

The Sport Law & Strategy Group also offers Integral Coaching™ services to sport leaders. This type of personal coaching can help individuals unlock capacity and continue to grow and thrive professionally. Examples of focused conversations to address leadership gaps include strengthening active listening skills, enhancing interpersonal relationships, increasing confidence, and managing conflict fairly and with compassion.

Step 9 – Evaluate Commitments

As part of your organization’s annual review, staff and volunteers should be asked the question “what does a safe and welcoming sport environment look like to you?” Answers to the question can be used to set measurable targets for how your organization can reach that ideal end goal.

Other questions that can be used to evaluate your organization’s commitment to safe sport include:

  • To what extent are we using resources provided by True Sport, CAAWS, and other organizations?
  • What is the extent of our progress along the Responsible Coaching Movement matrix?
  • How many of our coaches and volunteers are screened?
  • How many parents, volunteers, and athletes are aware of our policies?
  • Do we have an effective dispute management process that our members trust?
  • How many complaints are we fielding? What are we learning from these situations?
  • How effectively are we shifting our culture and managing by values?

Setting measurable targets for your organization’s progress will help your organization “own” the process of committing to safe sport and allow you to monitor the positive effects. Also, communicating the results of this evaluation with participants and volunteers can serve as an important demonstration of leadership and commitment to organizational excellence.


The intention with the Harassment in Sport Blog Series was to review past, present, and future efforts at battling harassment. We wanted to provide an informative overview of where we have been, how far we have come, and what still needs to be done.

We hope that the context supplied by the first three blogposts and the guidance imparted in this final blogpost will help spark proactive action in our sport community. We encourage any questions or comments.

Dina Bell-Laroche (DBL@sportlaw.ca)
Kevin Lawrie (KRL@sportlaw.ca)

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