Safe sport advocate, former Olympic skier Allison Forsyth says major change is needed

Former Olympic skier Allison Forsyth told a parliamentary committee that Canada’s safe sports crisis will continue “unless we do something big”.

Forsyth was among witnesses appearing Thursday before a cultural heritage standing committee that has held a series of hearings on safe sport in Canada since last year.

Forsyth works in the field of safe sport, but also posed as a survivor of “egregious sexual abuse in our Canadian sports system.”

Ski coach Bertrand Charest was not found guilty of assaulting Forsyth, but he served 57 months in prison for sexually assaulting other athletes, including minors, under his care in the 1990s.

He was granted parole in 2020.

Forsyth said Alpine Canada ignored their complaints about the coach’s behavior during their competition.

“The reality is that our sports system has accepted and encouraged mistreatment and abuse for decades,” said the 44-year-old from Nanaimo, BC

“Cases are coming in and brave survivors are coming forward faster than we can investigate and protect recruitment. Coaches are afraid of coaching and officials, we lose them every day.”

CLOCK | Allison Forsyth speaks about advocating safe sport:

‘If you’ve experienced it, you know it’: Olympic skier who was sexually abused by coach opens up about her advocacy for safe sport

*WARNING: This article contains details that may concern those who have experienced or know someone who has been sexually abused.* Allison Forsyth, Olympic skier and sexual abuse survivor, shares her emotional journey through the sport and her work, which she now does as an advocate for safe sport.

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A wave of athlete complaints of mistreatment and abuse that gathered pace in the wake of the Beijing 2022 Olympics has continued to accelerate over the past summer, in large part because of Hockey Canada.

A furor erupted when news broke about Hockey Canada’s handling of alleged sexual assaults.

The federal committees on the heritage and status of women have held hearings and heard from tearful athletes from the sports of gymnastics, soccer, track and field, water polo, cycling and boxing.

Heads of national sports organizations, including Hockey Canada, as well as federal sports minister Pascale St-Onge and new sports integrity officer Sarah-Eve Pelletier were grilled by MPs at these hearings.

Fencing will be another next sport to be called to the carpet.

Heritage Committee deputies Thursday voted in favor of a motion to convene the Canadian Fencing Federation’s board of directors and have it submit financial records and minutes for the past five years.

Progress “way too slow”

While Forsyth spoke to the Status of Women committee about her experiences as an athlete in December, Thursday her knowledge of working in the safe sports field was sought.

“Progress has been far too slow,” she said. “We’ve seen some organizations stand up and embrace safe sport.

“But unfortunately we have also seen that far too many others have only implemented safe sports programs because they had to do so as a condition of receiving funding. And we’ve seen organizations that just put in place the minimum standards to tick the box and then move on.”

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Forsyth says a safe-sport policy and online training module in non-sports activities is not enough.

She is Chief Executive Officer of ITP Sport and works with sports organizations to educate leaders and athletes and to assess the sports environment.

ITP is also responsible for processing and processing complaints.

Alias ​​Solution does the same work for 90 sports organizations in Quebec.

Sport is unhealthy

President Vicky Poirier and Vice President Danny Weill told the committee Alias ​​had received 500 complaints since February 2021, 12 percent of which concerned sexual abuse.

There have been calls for a judicial inquiry into Canadian sport, but there were disagreements on the issue on Thursday.

“A judicial investigation is a powerful mechanism for uncovering the truth to promote accountability and transparency in government and other public institutions that receive funding,” said Teresa Fowler, assistant professor at Concordia University of Edmonton.

“Exercise is unhealthy. I think we all agree, that’s why we’re all here. That’s why all this time and energy is flowing.”

But Gretchen Kerr of the University of Toronto believes a forensic investigation will eat up valuable time needed to implement changes in the sports system.

“We’re going to lose time and money and we’re going to lose progress,” Kerr said. “We have all the information we need to move forward.”

Kerr’s U-of-T colleague Bruce Kidd, 1964 Olympic runner, says he’s seen the greatest advances in safe sport in the last four years than ever in his 60 years as an athlete, researcher, athletic director and chairman of many sports federations .

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“Progress can be undone,” he said.

It needs an aggressive campaign for passage of the universal code of conduct to prevent and combat abuse in sport and a mass signing of the new office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), Kidd said.

Randall Gumbley, an advisor to the World Association of Ice Hockey Players Unions, said OSIC could be an advantage for the big junior hockey players in the CHL, but says the CHL operates as a professional league.

“The CHL operates in a vacuum,” he said. “They are not covered by the NSO, Hockey Canada. They are a pro league. The NSO and the federal government cannot enforce laws with the CHL.

“There would have to be some governance changes within the policy of the federal government, the NSO, to bring the CHL under this umbrella.”

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