“More than 1000 athletes from over 14 sports have called for a national inquiry into toxic culture of abuse” – Trudeau, Where Are You?

2023-06-01 Reading Time: 3 minutes

Global Athlete and a Coalition Against Abuse representing “more than 1,000 athletes from over 14 sports”, have called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to launch a national inquiry into maltreatment and abuse in sport.

In an Open letter, Global Athlete notes that athletes have requested the same of Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge for more than a year – to no avail in terms of official inquiry. The minister has stated that “We have to talk about the safety of athletes and their well-being as a whole” but so far her words have not translated into agreeing to the call for inquiry coming from athletes,. including abuse victims.

Elite athletes appeared before a House of Commons committee in April to accuse the Canadian government of doing nothing in response to abuse claims and to demand a public inquiry.

The athletes included Olympic boxer Myriam Da Silva Rondeau, soccer players Ciara McCormack and Andrea Neil, and fencer Emily Mason. They told MPs of physical and mental abuse endured at the hands of coaches and officials.

A fundamental re-think of how elite sports are governed in Canada was required, said the athletes. Existing protections are inadequate and whistleblowers are all too often frightened to come forward because they fear retribution from those they seek to report for abusing them.

Reporting systems for whistleblowers have long been a bone of contention and reforms are underway across a wide range of sports organisations and authorities (including the World Anti-Doping Agency, which launched its “Speak Up!” program in 2017 and highlighted barriers against reporting in a 2020 edition of its ‘Spotlight’ feature)

A key element of the Canadian abuse complaints was that many of those accused still work in sport despite allegations against them and a lack of adequate processes to investigate the claims.

Ciara McCormack told MPs she was forced to leave Canada for Ireland to escape abuse at the hands of Bob Birarda, a former Vancouver Whitecaps and national coach convicted of sex offences.

Ciara’s statement to the Canadian Government from December 2022:

Global Athlete & Coalition Against Abuse – Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Canada

Coalition Against Abuse Calls for The Government of Canada to Launch a National Inquiry

1 June 2023

Dear Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

On behalf of thousands of Canadian athletes, we are calling on you to exercise your powers as leader of this country to protect every child, youth, and elite athlete by launching a national inquiry into the toxic culture of abuse across Canadian sport. 

As you are aware, athletes and leading sport organizations in this country have called on the Minister of Sport, the Honourable Pascale St-Onge, to launch a national inquiry for over a year. Sadly, not only have these countless requests been ignored, survivors and advocates, who are not paid by the sport system, have been sidelined instead of engaged to collaborate. Survivors have lived experiences and expertise that is critical for developing solutions to this crisis. The limiting of their involvement in these discussions has been deeply troubling.

To date, more than 1000 athletes from over 14 sports have called for a national inquiry. Their demands have been echoed by Scholars Against Abuse in Canadian Sport, Global Athlete, the Coaching Association of Canada, Canadian Women in Sport, Own the Podium, and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. 

Furthermore, the Minister of Sport’s most recent announcements have not staved off these calls for an inquiry, but rather fueled them. Days following her announcement, both the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and Own the Podium reinforced the need for an inquiry.

Many sport organizations and agencies have openly said the system is broken and needs to be fixed. They, along with athletes, are begging for help. It is clear they do not have the resources or skills to fix the current sport crisis. More importantly, they lack the independence and transparency necessary to sufficiently investigate and analyse how the unaccountable governance model of Canadian sport has bred and maintained a culture rife with harrowing maltreatment. 

The systemic issues within the sporting system are too entrenched in human rights abuses to deny a human rights approach to finding a solution.  We cannot look to sport to police itself or fix its problems anymore. We need strong, empirical data and evidence to guide the way forward, which can only be achieved through a national inquiry. 

This is about protecting every child, youth, and adult athlete with meaningful changes. Ultimately, this is also about your legacy and how you respond to thousands of Canadian citizens identifying a crisis that only the highest echelons of political power can address. With the authority you wield as Prime Minister, we are asking you to launch a national inquiry into maltreatment and abuse in sport, to contribute to a safer Canada and to preserve your legacy as a leader that cares for all Canadians.


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