Here’s Hoping for Healthy, Human Sport in 2024

It’s hard to believe that this time last year, we were contemplating a national tour to connect with provincial and territorial sport leaders who were longing to re-imagine a healthier experience for sport participants.

The theme of ‘hope’ has been one that has kept us grounded, despite the turbulent waters we find ourselves in. In February of this year, we published Still Hopeful as a way of reminding the depleted sport leaders that what was happening to them, was a product of an outdated sport system.

Since then, leaders from Sport Law and the CCES have travelled to PEI, Newfoundland, North-West Territories, Ontario, British-Columbia, Yukon, Nunavut and New Brunswick. For those interested in what people had to say, we summarized our first leg of the Tour here.

Over 700 leaders including coaches, athletes, administrators and volunteers have joined us in a collective call to action in support of a values-based, principle-driven approach to managing, coaching and competing in sport. In order to do so, we’ll need to set aside our egos, commit to staying open, ensure new voices are invited into the dialogue, set aside divisive rhetoric, learn from and apologize for past failures, mine leading practices, and remain hopeful that Canada could lead the way for a holistic sport experience from playground to podium. Here’s a brief highlight of what they had to share when asked what their big wishes were for sport:

  • “My wish is that everyone becomes more knowledgeable on the matter before attempting to make change.”
  • “I wish people would do the right things for the right reason. Sport is great but it can be so negative. We need to use sport as the means to change society so that maltreatment is no longer tolerated.”
  • “Burn it all down. More funding for this approach.”
  • “Kinder and better educated group of parents and coaches.”
  • “A system that feels more positive. Stop the whiplash of priorities, policy changes and funding changes.”
  • “Safe space for all.”
  • “That the sport system embraces all of the Safe Sport programs, True Sport, Governance Code so we can all get back to what matters most.”
  • “Changing the paradigm from defining success as wins and money to success being the experience of all involved in sport from athlete to spectator and everyone in between.”
  • “That people remain active for life. That people let people play and have fun. That people don’t behave badly.”

It might be helpful to consider what we mean by hope. Hope is an ephemeral experience, a state shifter that allows us to pause and imagine a preferred future. Hope is the one thing that can change everything and is a complex process that occurs in the context of time. It is influenced by our past experiences, values, relationships and culture. Hope is something we turn to when we grapple with uncertainty, wrestling with what is and wishing for something different. Hope is often a temporary solution that eases our present pain. Hope invites us to pause and review our past experiences so that we can build a bridge towards a more aspirational horizon. If you are curious about ways to think about hope, you can read more here.

At Sport Law, we are hopeful that there is a growing desire to understand the complexities within the sport ecosystem in a manner that is future focused, past informed, and driven by a desire to be humanistic in our approach.

With the recent announcement by the Minister of Sport to launch The Future of Sport in Canada Commission, we are hopeful that this will invite participants to deepen their understanding of the limitations of our current system, work towards a shared understanding of what might be possible, align around shared values, be evidence and trauma informed, and inclusive in its approach.

For over three decades, sport has grappled with inequities, outdated approaches, and limiting beliefs. We wrote about how a Public Accounting is Needed to Save Sport in March 2022. Sadly, had we heeded the Honorable Charles Dubin’s plea to see doping as a symptom of a larger problem, we would have focused on dealing with the root causes. Continuing to play a game of ‘wack-a-mole’ is short-sighted and unsustainable. Our hope for a national conversation on the topics of wellbeing, safety, belonging, trust, modern approaches to governance, conflicts of interest, patriarchy, medals over morals, and so much more is for people to join forces and commit to a common vision for sport. As we look to the next year, we are hopeful that the Commission will make use of existing ethically sound frameworks to inform its approach. We are also hopeful that those leading the design of the process will be informed by inclusive engagement practices that recognize current leading approaches at the provincial, territorial and community levels.

We believe there is a better way forward. One that is guided by shared values, a principled approach to leading, and a reward system that recognizes a new bottom line.

Let’s make examples of exemplars. That is our hope.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Send us a note at hello@sportlaw.ca.

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