Canadian athletes, parents are calling for a change in sports culture

Libra should be banned from children’s gyms. Parents should be allowed to watch. Rules of acceptable behavior should be placed on the walls of the gym with a free line for reporting violations.

They may sound like basic precautions for children in sports, but they do not exist in Canada. Amid what Sports Minister Pascale Saint-Onge called a safe sport a “crisis”, many current and former athletes say the country is long overdue for cultural repairs.

More than 1,000 gymnasts, boxers and bobsleighs / skeletons have called for independent investigations into their sports in recent weeks, and former gymnast Amelia Klein filed a proposed group lawsuit last week against Canadian gymnastics and six provincial federations.

The plaintiffs allege abuse dating back to 1978, arguing that the organizations created a culture and environment in which abuse could occur and failed to protect athletes, most of whom were minors in their care.

St-Onge said she had received complaints of abuse and mistreatment or misuse of funds against at least eight national teams, including rugby and rowing.

The outpouring of stories sparked conversations, shared experiences and suggestions for corrections.

Ciara McCormack was the footballer who first publicly accused Canadian women’s under-20 coach Bob Biard of inappropriate behavior; he pleaded guilty in February to four sex crimes involving four different people.

She said parents “should have access to their children’s learning environments”. Few gymnastic facilities allow parents to watch.

McCormack also believes that non-disclosure agreements involving misconduct must be abolished, making it mandatory to educate athletes and parents on what abuse looks like and how to report violations. She also suggested an athlete-led organization with a hotline and disciplinary procedures – similar to those of teachers or practitioners – where cases of misconduct are recorded and made available.

“(National Sports Organizations) have benefited from having all the power and resources, resulting in great harm and I think it is crucial that athletes get power, resources and a voice in the children’s system as a recommendation to athletes until athletes from the national team, “McCormack told The Canadian Press. “It’s been a long time.”

Kim Shore, a former gymnast and mother of a former gymnast, said she would like to see bathroom scales banned from gyms. The gymnasts said that public weigh-ins left them with serious emotional scars years later around the body image.

She also suggested a register of offenders. Several national sports organizations, including Skate Canada and Athletics Canada, have stopped coaches and athletes listed on their websites.

But there are many loopholes, including the inability to track coaches locally or even at the provincial level. Coaches who are removed or allowed to leave a club, province or national team quietly can often simply switch to another – or even another – sport.

In a 32-page class action lawsuit, Klein claims to have suffered multiple injuries during training, including back and neck injuries, and fractures to her wrist, arm, fingers and toes. She claims that her coach Vladimir Lashin strained her thigh tendon to the point where it detached from her pelvis.

Klein told the Canadian Press that BC Children’s Hospital staff knew her by name.

“It’s kind of eloquent when they say, ‘Oh, it’s you again, you’re back,'” said Klein, who left the sport at the age of 14 and is now 32.

Lashin did not respond to a request for comment. He coached the Canadian national team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Canadian Gymnastics appointed him national coach and high-performance director of the women’s art program in 2009. He resigned in 2010.

Sports Canada announced this week that its new office of the Commissioner for Sports Integrity (OSIC) will be operational from 20 June. The Office will receive and review individual complaints of violations of the University’s Code of Conduct for the Prevention and Management of Harassment in Sport.

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