You can prevent abuse in sport. Here’s how.

Sep 21, 2018

What happens when you search “abuse” on Google?

You’re returned with 1,900,000,000 results.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s evident that incidences of abuse is prevalent in society – from film to politics. Sport isn’t spared from abuse, either. Earlier this year, we stood with four, courageous Canadian women who spoke out against their former ski coach and called for universal standards to prevent abuse and harassment.

Abuse prevention is a long-term task. It’s also a task that requires national, provincial and local alignment. On the provincial level, viaSport has committed to working with leaders at all levels to minimize abuse risk and ensure positive sport experiences within B.C. Over the past year, we’ve developed a multi-phased, Safe Sport action plan to provide education and policy resources, build accountability frameworks and lead culture change.

To bring awareness to the realities of child abuse in sport, we hosted BUILDING SAFE SPORT: Protecting Youth From Sexual Abuse. Nearly a year ago, sport organizations gathered to watch Swift Current, a documentary on former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy who was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach. We also brought together experts and leading organizations, such as the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, to facilitate thought-provoking discussion and support sport leaders with means for action.

The desire for change has challenged us, as a collective sport sector, to do more. As part of our multi-phased action plan, we’ve mobilized ten of our provincial sport organizations to form a Safe Sport Working Group to help develop and inform system-wide solutions. Through training, policy development and ongoing support for our working group, we are establishing the tools to support safe sport, free of abuse and harassment, while identifying universal standards that can be adopted by sport organizations.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
– Arthur Ashe

Through our Safe Sport Working Group kick-off session last month, with the support of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, we have cultivated a deeper understanding of underlying challenges and identified opportunities, both individually and collectively, to take steps towards change. The organizations in the room showed phenomenal leadership and, despite having different organizational realities, all left with a continued commitment to make sport safer.

Fear can be used to your advantage

Fear can deter sport organizations away from practical measures to prevent sexual abuse. The fear of your organization’s ability to fully commit and successfully implement policy change can be overwhelming.

  • Why are these sport organizations partaking in this work?
  • Does sexual abuse exist in their sport?
  • Are their current policies ineffective?
  • Can they ensure 100% compliance to these policies?

These fears existed for sport leaders within our Safe Sport Working Group as well. But when it came down to the safety and well-being and children participating in sport, these leaders had a decision to make: remain status quo in the face of fear, or take action to better the existing culture of sport. For them, choosing to take part in the Safe Sport working group to foster positive sport outweighed their fears of public perception.  

Culture is slow to change but you can be quick to initiate change

Creating sustainable change requires adhering to safeguarding practices, even when they may require additional effort. A commitment is demonstrated in both words and actions – such as communicating values, creating clear guidelines for professional boundaries between sport leaders and athletes, developing reporting procedures for communicating concerns of misconduct towards athletes, and strengthening policies and procedures to protect athletes.

– Noni Classen, Canadian Child Centre for Protection

It’s easy to forget that a shift in sport culture is a long-term and difficult task. The scope of work that’s required to see desired impacts can seem unmanageable. But remember – you’re not enacting change on your own. You’re working as part of a greater collective to establish a culture of safe sport; there are other individuals and organizations to share ideas and collaborate with. Even though it can take several years to see desired impacts, focus on the upcoming year. Establish a starting point, and identify reasonable steps for yourself and/or your organization to keep the needle moving.

Grey areas exist among the black and white

Policies can serve as the framework to prevent abuse in sport. However, policies don’t often address those grey areas. When reviewing policies and procedures, we should also consider behaviours and expectations that, although not illegal, may still be unacceptable.

  • Is the Code of Conduct currently the standard for healthy behaviours and relationships?
  • What processes are in place to support individuals to speak up when behaviours are not aligned to standards?
  • Are the values of the Responsible Coaching Movement being applied across all roles within the organization? (ie. – officials, staff, board members, etc.)

What you can do, here and now

As we continue to work with our Safe Sport working group in the development of policy and resources for the sport sector, we encourage you and your sport organization to take meaningful action.

Listen and learn from the stories of sexual abuse survivors and other organizations.

Prioritize child and athlete safety in sport.

Take the Responsible Coaching Movement pledge.

Ultimately, equip your organization to be a safe place where athletes can participate in abuse-free sport.


Heather Beatty is the Director of Sport Development at viaSport. Her role is to help to build capacity of provincial sport organizations to deliver safe, inclusive and meaningful sport experiences. She’s an avid sport participant across many sports and has experienced how sport can play a positive role in people’s lives.