Canada’s Top Athletes Begin Mobilizing to Change High-Performance Culture

Canada’s top athletes are willing to redress breaches of trust with those who manage them, their leaders say, but the question is how.

In what she calls a crisis, Canada’s new Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said there have been reports of mistreatment, sexual abuse and misuse of funds against at least eight national sports organizations since she took office in October. and wait more.

The minister is organizing round tables on the subject and inviting athlete representatives to the table.

A unified message is needed, said Erin Willson, a former artistic swimmer who is now president of the national athlete association AthletesCan.

“There is a trust that has been broken, but from what we have heard from the athletes, they are willing to take those steps,” he said Friday. “The big question is how do we change the culture and I think there is no answer.”

About 110 athletes participated in a virtual assembly on Thursday night.

It was moderated by Willson, and Rosannagh MacLennan and Tony Walby representing the Canadian Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee athletes’ commissions, respectively.

“The call was supposed to be a starting point,” said MacLennan, a two-time Olympic champion in women’s springboard. “It’s by no means the only conversation we have with athletes.”

Safe sport was a hot topic in Canada before the recent wave of athlete unrest.

Former Canadian Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan made harassment and abuse training mandatory for athletes, coaches, parents, officials, administrators in 2019, adhering to a universal code of conduct, and establishing an independent third party to investigate complaints.

The pandemic slowed implementation

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down national sports organizations in their implementation. The priority was to prepare athletes to compete and overcome the pandemic challenges of the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

“I think athletes get very frustrated that things aren’t moving as fast as they’d like,” said Willson, who competed in artistic swimming for Canada at the 2012 Olympics.

“There’s a frustration that conversations start out with good intentions, but sometimes get sidetracked into some essentials and financials and things like that instead of the number one priority of athlete safety.”

‘There is a lot of mistrust’

Athletes want a change in a culture they believe puts medals and the money it takes to win those medals before their mental health and well-being.

Do they trust the organizations that created the culture to change it?

“For the most part right now, no,” said Walby, a two-time Paralympic judoka. “There’s a lot of mistrust and a lot of that comes from stories in the media and from history.

“Are you going to trust the NSO to make the cultural changes or are you going to trust the NSO or Sports Canada or another body, like the minister? That’s where we’re coming in. That’s where our voice will be strongest.” .”

Said Willson: “There’s this notion that the athletes are here to burn everything. I really don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s a willingness to work together and be on the same side.”

St-Onge announced $16 million in safe money for sports in the recent federal budget and has appointed a sports integrity commissioner who will take office on May 1.

While there are safe sport mechanisms available to athletes in unhealthy training environments, preventing those environments is preferable to athletes forced to defend themselves above the training and competitive pressures, Willson said.

“If you’re in a training environment that’s abusive and causing these mental health issues, then now it’s the athlete’s responsibility to seek the help they wouldn’t need if they’d been in a more positive environment.” she said.

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