Coaching Association of Canada

Harassment in Sport Blog Series

Our intention for this four-part blog series on harassment in sport is to review the past, assess where we are and chart a course forward that addresses harassment both on and off the field of play. Recent major events in Canadian society – from inappropriate behaviour by Members of Parliament to shocking claims against the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi to Marcel Aubut and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) – have shown us that harassment is not only a field of play issue – it also still exists in our offices and boardrooms.

Over the past two decades, the Canadian sport sector has had to grapple with the issue of harassment in sport and we realize, as we step back today and assess where we are, that much still remains to be done. What has sport done in the past? What are we doing now? What should we do in the future?

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), and the Sport Law & Strategy Group (SLSG) have partnered together to explore answers to those three questions in a four-part blog series published by all four partners over the next few months. We encourage your comments (by email to and we will share key comments, future discussion points, and actionable items in a fourth and final “call-to-action” blogpost.

  • Blog One: Looking Back >>>

    December 16, 2015

    This blogpost focuses on looking back on what we have been doing in Canadian sport to reduce instances of harassment, abuse, violence, and bullying. Early work looked at harassment in sport through a gender lens – with the first significant instance being the CBC’s fifth estate program airing a short documentary in 1993 that featured female athletes from swimming, rowing, and volleyball speaking about being harassed by their male coaches. In 1994, a survey of 266 national-level athletes revealed that 22.8% had had sexual intercourse with persons in positions of authority over them in sport. CAAWS responded with the best early harassment-focused publication Harassment in Sport: A Guide to Policies and Procedures and Resources (1994) which was written in part by Rachel Corbett (co-founder of the Sport Law & Strategy Group).

    The early 1990s saw the creation of the “Harassment and Abuse in Sport Collective” (a collection of sport organizations) and the publication of various resources aimed to reduce harassment in sport. The Collective led efforts to produce a now-defunct website (you can access an archived 1998 version), generic harassment policies which Sport Canada required NSOs to enact, a harassment information line, and other informative resources that were stored in a registry on the website.


    Though it had already been established that girls and women had been subject to harassment in sport, it wasn’t until 1997 when NHL player Sheldon Kennedy revealed that he had been sexually abused by his coach that Canadian sport began to pay closer attention to issues of athlete maltreatment. An Action Plan was created in 1998 and Hockey Canada, in conjunction with the Canadian Red Cross, developed Speak Out!... Act Now: A Guide to Preventing and Responding to Abuse and Harassment in Sport (which is archived here).

    That resource built the standard for current harassment response and prevention efforts that we still follow today. For example, the Screening Personnel chapter of that resource described separating personnel positions into ‘low risk’, ‘medium risk’, and ‘high risk’ – which has become ingrained as part of the standard screening practice in sport. Also, the first chapter of that resource suggested two approaches to developing policies about harassment and abuse – either integrate current codes of conduct and discipline policies OR create a separate harassment policy.

    Organizations did in fact take different policy approaches (with Sport Canada, at one time, requiring National Sport Organizations (NSOs) to have a stand-alone Harassment Policy in order to receive funding) but we now know that a comprehensive integrated Code of Conduct alongside a Discipline and Complaints Policy is the preferred approach. Rachel Corbett wrote about the reasons for that preference, as well as the changes she saw between 1994-2012 in organizations’ approaches to harassment and abuse.

    In the late 1990s, stand-alone harassment and abuse policies included the creation of harassment officers, who would be individuals appointed by the Board of Directors to be the point-of-contact for harassment incidents in each sport organization. Harassment officers received training at harassment workshops – but many officers still felt under-qualified because of the complex subject matter, lack of experience, and the severe consequences of mistakes. Harassment officers were also tasked with investigating the harassment claim and were confronted with barriers ranging from confidentiality to honesty. Though some clubs still retain the position of harassment officer (and though Sport Canada until very recently required organizations to have this position as a funding requirement) this dated notion has, like stand-alone harassment policies, fallen out of regular use.

    Back in 1997, the Coaching Association of Canada produced Power and Ethics in Coaching (archived description, scanned Unit III: Boundaries). This resource focused on the power dynamic in the coach-athlete relationship and the consequences and results of abusing that dynamic. Nearly twenty years later, as a result of the Marcel Aubut situation, freestyle skiing Olympian Jennifer Heil called for a nationwide conversation on power and abuse, saying “We really need to take this opportunity to scrutinize and to self-examine the abuse of power at many levels”. It is interesting to note that the resources required to deal with these issues were available as far back as 1997, which indicates that resources alone are not enough to stop the abuse of power.

    What has happened since the late-1990s? Why haven’t we been more proactively engaged in ensuring that sport offers a safe, welcoming and respectful environment, both on and off the field of play?


    By the early 2000s, the Harassment and Abuse in Sport Collective had dissipated and the harassment in sport website was no longer in operation. But in 2003, the CCES and the Ethics Secretariat brought together stakeholders for a Sport We Want Symposium with the intention of creating a national strategy for values-based Canadian sport (Symposium report). True Sport was created from these efforts along with the True Sport Principles. Importantly, one of the Principles is: “Respect Others: Show respect for everyone involved in creating a sporting experience, both on the field and off.”

    In 2004, the True Sport Secretariat published Harassment & Abuse in Sport: Situation Analysis & Needs Assessment, written by Tom Kinsman. Based on interviews with key stakeholders in the sport community, this comprehensive report identified the following key areas of concern and need:

    • The challenges created by the dissolution of the Collective and the end of the harassment in sport website. Why was the website allowed to become inactive?  “Efforts are needed to increase the accessibility, frequency, and penetration” of existing activities and resources
    • The need for expert help in the development and implementation of policies for conduct and harassment
    • A broader awareness of the need for screening (including police records checks)
    • That policies are not enough – a harassment and abuse strategy is needed to support the policies – “policies are the place to begin”

    A holistic reading of the Kinsman Report suggests that most of sport’s efforts have been focused on the participant – with the Kennedy situation (coach/volunteer abusing younger athlete) framing most initiatives since 1997. In fact, one of the stated objectives of Sport Canada’s 2003 “Accountability Framework for National Sport Organizations” (precursor to the Sport Funding and Accountability Framework (SFAF)) explicitly referred to participants:

    “Fairness in Sport Objective: To create and maintain a sport environment that adheres to the highest ethical principles, ensuring that participants are treated fairly and with respect.

    Similarly, the Canadian Sport Policy 2002 (CSP 2002) set out a broad vision for sport over the next ten years. Part of this vision was to have an athlete-centred sport environment free from harassment: “Ethical conduct in sport involves the promotion of athlete health and safety; the rigorous struggle against doping, harassment, abuse, and violence; and procedural fairness and transparency in decision making”. The CSP 2002 further pledged to adopt the Canadian Strategy for Ethical Conduct in Sport: A Policy Framework (2002) which had three broad goals, yet a twelve-point vision statement that narrowed the focus of ethical conduct primarily onto the participant.


    • To reduce and prevent unethical behaviours in sport
    • To increase ethical conduct in sport
    • To create and sustain a supportive environment within Canadian sport for ethical conduct


    • 2. Participants in sport and physical activity do so in a manner that adheres to the highest ethical principles
    • 3. Those who participate in sport receive from their fellow athletes, coaches and officials, and parents/guardians and spectators, fairness and ethical treatment in a safe and welcoming sport environment, free of harassment and abuse


    If the Sheldon Kennedy incident was one of the catalysts for an athlete-centred focus on harassment in sport, will the Marcel Aubut situation stimulate a focus on expectations on respectful and safe practices in the work environment? We are already seeing examples in other areas of Canadian society. Expansion of legal definitions of harassment between the mid-1990s and 2015 has seen five provinces strengthen definitions of workplace harassment and bullying. Ontario specifically has taken a recent lead to publish an action plan about sexual harassment and pledge specific updates to its Occupational Health and Safety Act that will require additional obligations onto employers to better protect employees.

    Is sport presently in a position to react to these new developments? How are our policies communicated and implemented? What do prevention measures and procedures look like? Given the renewed focus on this topic, what is the sport sector’s responsibility to ensure safety extends beyond the field of play into the executive office? Are we prepared to move beyond managing-by-objectives to a philosophy of management that is centred on values and ethical conduct?

    The Kinsman Report in 2004 suggested that there was no apparent trans-Canada campaign aimed at developing awareness of a safe and welcoming sport environment. The good work that we have done in the past (Harassment Policies, True Sport Principles, broad goals for ethical conduct, etc.) was arguably not enough to stop harassment in sport. In an article posted earlier this month, NHL player Patrick O’Sullivan pointed to the power of bystanders who could have changed years of abuse he suffered as a young child. We all must work together to create systematic change.

    In our next blogpost (published in late January) we will explore what organizations are currently doing to battle harassment in sport – both on the field and in the boardroom – and if these measures meet basic legal requirements. We will review current resources and look for potential gaps in our approach. Finally, we will speak to some of the stakeholders who have seen the evolution of our efforts, our shifting attitudes, and the possible barriers to ensuring a respectful environment both on and off the field of play.

    Do you have any comments so far?  Send them to

    For more information contact:

    Lorraine Lafrenière, CAC at 613- 235-5000 ext. 2363 or 613-769-6772
    Dina Bell-Laroche, Sport Law & Strategy Group at 613-591-1246
    Karin Lofstrom, CAAWS at 613-562-5667
    Paul Melia, CCES at 613-521-3340 x3221

  • Blog Two: Current State >>>

    January 28, 2016

    Our first blogpost reviewed what we had been doing in Canadian sport in the past to reduce instances of harassment, abuse, violence, and bullying. Attention began turning to these matters with the high-profile Sheldon Kennedy case in 1997 and the creation of the “Harassment and Abuse in Sport Collective”, which was a collection of sport organizations focused on reducing harassment in sport. A harassment in sport website was developed and many excellent resources were published. In 2002, the True Sport Secretariat was created and a seminal (if overlooked) document titled Harassment & Abuse in Sport: Situation Analysis & Needs Assessment was released soon after. Some of the recommendations in that report (such as the creation of a stand-alone Harassment Policy and harassment officers) were adopted by sport organizations and even mandated by Sport Canada, while other recommendations (such as a national strategy on decreasing harassment) were disregarded.

    Approaches to harassment in sport have continued to evolve. We now know that an integrated Code of Conduct with disciplinary procedures is preferable to a stand-alone Harassment Policy, We have a broad vision for sport that integrates ethical treatment of participants. We have a pan-Canadian movement called True Sport that is galvanizing communities, leagues, municipalities, sport clubs, and citizens to stand up for fair and ethical sport. But there are signs that we have focused primarily on the field of play experience, with little or no attention being paid to creating safe, welcoming sport workplaces. More needs to be done to coordinate efforts and raise the minimum standards to ensure safe sport for everyone involved.

    So what are we doing now? This blogpost focuses on our current efforts combatting harassment in sport – the integrated policies, additional training for sport leaders, the True Sport Movement that has over 3000 communities aligned with its principles, the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), and the newest Canadian Sport Policy 2012 that set the direction for Canadian sport in the years ahead. However, as we investigate what we’re currently doing, we should also look at why our previous efforts failed and how the lessons learned from these failures can improve and inform our present approach.


    The late 1990s saw the creation and beneficial activities of the Harassment and Abuse in Sport Collective, which we described in Blog One. One of the Collective’s most useful tools was the harassment in sport website which hosted policy templates, displayed helpful information, and inventoried all available harassment-related resources. But by 2001, the Collective and the website were both gone. Karin Lofstrom, who was involved in the activities of the Collective and who is the Executive Director of CAAWS, explains what happened:

    “I think funding was the biggest factor. Both Denis Coderre (Secretary of State for Amateur Sport) and Shelia Copps (Minister of Canadian Heritage) were involved in the launch and helped provide the funds. The funds stopped after Coderre left his role. The Collective had just barely started work on the harassment issue – so attention was being paid to it – but I wouldn’t say we were winning the battle yet”

    The lack of funding for a sustained cooperative effort to prevent harassment ended up creating a splintered approach with organizations focusing on their strengths. National Sport Organizations (NSOs) began intensive policy development, including harassment policies and codes of conduct. The CCES, in conjunction with the Sport Law & Strategy Group, launched a number of different initiatives aimed to build ethical literacy and capacity in sport organizations. These initiatives included the Risk Management Program as well as Management by Values workshops for NSOs and MSOs which, although not directly addressing harassment, contain mechanisms and tools for identifying and managing operational/program risks and enhancing resilience in the workplace. CAAWS has produced handbooks and assessment tools addressing gender equity and homophobia in sport including the most recent Leading the Way: Working with LGBT Athletes and Coaches.

    Although created in piecemeal, the various efforts across Canadian sport are building a national standard for how we deal with harassment. Perhaps none of the developments has been more prominent than the CAC’s Make Ethical Decisions (MED) training module and online evaluation that is a required component of the NCCP.


    The NCCP was launched in 1974 and underwent significant revision beginning in 2001 changing from a ‘Levels’ system to aligning with the competition streams of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model. The NCCP requires that all 800,000+ certified coaches update their training by taking the Make Ethical Decisions module, and all new coaches entering the system must complete this core training as part of their coach education pathway. Lorraine Lafrenière, Chief Executive Officer of the CAC, describes the purpose of the MED module:

    “Ethical coaching practice is a cornerstone of the NCCP and Canadian sport. The MED module trains coaches to use a decision making process that will enable them to make good decisions when faced with challenging ethical situation – such as harassment – but also in terms of conflict of interest, athlete safety, return to play, athlete selection, abuse, etc. The corresponding online evaluation provides the opportunity for coaches to practice using the model and to demonstrate their competency through various scenarios”

    The CAC is also taking the lead on background screening for coaches. A partnership with a third-party organization has resulted in a flat rate cost ($25+tax) for an Enhanced Police Information Check (E-PIC) which is available to all coaches in organizations that have signed up to participate in the program.

    Criminal record checks are but one part of a comprehensive screening process that organizations use to screen volunteers. Volunteer Canada’s 10 Steps of Screening resource has contributed to guiding the screening policies of many sport organizations. Organizations generally understand that volunteers should be interviewed, submit an application along with references, receive orientation and training, and then receive support and supervision once in the position. Once screened, volunteers (along with participants and other members) become under the jurisdiction of the sport organization’s policies.

    Each sport organization operates as a private tribunal - which means that they are empowered to determine their own rules for belonging and participating, and then discipline members and participants if those obligations are not met. Each sport organization therefore uses its own methods (informed by past practice, context and capacity, national or sport-specific standards, or other criteria) to determine how to best address harassment within its own organization.

    This freedom has led to the development of thousands of slightly-different codes of conduct, and thousands of slightly-different processes and procedures for handling instances of harassment in Canadian sport. A hockey association in Alberta may have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for harassment while a football organization in New Brunswick may have a different view of whether an action is even defined as harassment. National and provincial organizations (and Sport Canada as the national funder) may further have their own prescriptions that are adapted to varying degrees.

    At the request of Sport Canada, to address this lack of a standard, the CCES partnered with the Coaches of Canada (now the CAC’s Professional Coaching Department) to lead a group of sport organizations in releasing two documents – the Code for Prohibited Conduct in Sport (which described the standards of behaviour expected by volunteers and the procedures for handling misconduct) and the Canadian Policy on Prohibited Conduct. It was intended that sport organizations would adapt these two documents and thereby contribute to a baseline national standard. Unfortunately the initiative gained little traction. Paul Melia, President and CEO of the CCES explains why:

    “The idea was that sport organizations at all levels of sport would adopt the Policy into their rules and adopt and enforce the Code. However, over time, what we heard was that the administration of the Policy and Code were beyond the resource capacity of sport organizations, as was the process for receiving complaints, conducting hearings, and meting out sanctions”

    Organizations are beginning to recognize that their policies simply are not enough. The Canadian Sport Policy 2012 focuses heavily on ethical behaviour as a policy benchmark for all sport activity – and there is clearly more than can be done. The CAC’s Make Ethical Decisions module for coaches is an excellent baseline for coaches’ ethical training, and an organization’s internal policies may provide additional guidance for behaviour, but what else is being done to increase our knowledge and guide our actions?


    Hockey Canada took the lead with additional ethical behaviour training with its Speak Out!... Act Now! program introduced back in 1997. That program gradually faded out and was replaced with a suite of online training programs developed by the Respect Group. The Group was formed by Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil in 2004 and began offering Respect in Sport certification in 2006. Other modules offered include Respect in the Workplace and Respect in Sport for Parents. The Respect in Sport module provides coaches with training tools enabling them to be better child-centred leaders and role models, and educates coaches on how to prevent bullying, harassment, abuse, and discrimination.

    Some organizations, including the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, have taken steps to make these certification programs required training for their participants and parents. Wayne McNeil notes the benefits of making these programs required:

    “Many organizations have no idea how many incidents occur in their organization. Respect in Sport is a preventative program but also encourages reporting of the incidents that do occur. The main aim of the program is a standard knowledge across sport – and the success of that aim is based on organizations being required to implement the training – it cannot be optional”

    It is also promising to see some community clubs take the lead on educating parents about their role in creating a positive environment. The West Ottawa Soccer Club, the country’s second-largest soccer club, produced a video aimed to sensitize parents on what children liked most about their sport experience and the things that get in the way of their enjoyment. Feedback from viewers suggests empowering parents and athletes to stand up against the vocal minority who have an outdated mindset of how to motivate children.


    When we consider where we’ve been, and where we are, in the context of harassment in sport for the participant – then it seems that we are having moderate, if fractured, success. Sport organizations have policies and guidelines for behaviour, coaches (who have the most interactions with participants) are required to have baseline certification and training, criminal background checks are an integrated part of screening procedures, and additional ethical behaviour training is available.

    But where are we for issues of harassment in sport outside of the field of play? There is no required training for individuals (though ‘Respect in the Workplace’ is offered by the Respect Group) and policies and codes of conduct may reference the Director, employee, or other volunteer – but the emphasis is definitely on the participant. There is little focus on power dynamics (i.e., supervisor-subordinate or head coach-assistant coach) and evidence of a sustained, cooperative approach to harassment in sport (at all levels) is non-existent.

    The fragmented efforts that have been variously developed by different sport organizations are components in the broader harassment battle. We have an opportunity to create a sustained, effective national strategy with the goal of completely extinguishing harassment from Canadian sport. Where do we go from here?

    In our next blogpost (published in late February) we will explore ideas for the future – how we can work together to address harassment in sport both on the field and in the sport workplace. We will weigh the pros and cons of different approaches and apply lessons learned from our past successes and failures. We will speak with proactive leaders in harassment in sport and find out what the experts advise. Finally, we will issue a call-to-action. We will ask for your opinion on how we can create and sustain momentum for a coordinated effort to eliminate harassment in sport.

    Do you have any comments so far? Send them to

    For more information contact:

    Lorraine Lafrenière, CAC at 613- 235-5000 ext. 2363 or 613-769-6772
    Dina Bell-Laroche, Sport Law & Strategy Group at 613-591-1246
    Karin Lofstrom, CAAWS at 613-562-5667
    Paul Melia, CCES at 613-521-3340 x3221

  • Blog Three: Looking Ahead >>>

    April 4, 2016

    Our first blogpost in this series reviewed our initial anti-harassment efforts in Canadian sport over the past twenty years. We discussed the creation of the harassment in sport website and the national collective (and their respective demises), the overlooked Kinsmen report, the rise of the ethics-based national True Sport movement, and the introduction of the first Canadian Sport Policy. Our second blogpost addressed the lost coordinated momentum, the effective (but fractured) approaches by various stakeholder organizations, our current status with policy development and training opportunities, and our focus on the participant rather than on the entire sport environment.

    So what’s next? This blogpost highlights burgeoning new ideas for how we can make sport harassment-free. We present interesting concepts and possible new options, and we suggest stronger partnerships across different sectors. We quote individuals who are leading successful initiatives and individuals who can offer important guidance. Finally, we present a call-to-action to everyone who has followed this blog series – from parents of recreational athletes to executives of national federations – we want to learn about your experiences and hear your best ideas for eliminating harassment in all areas of sport.


    We have spent over twenty years battling harassment in sport yet we still encounter high-profile and occasionally systemic issues involving harassment. It is vital to understand our past failures, know why they failed, and how not to repeat them.

    In our previous blogposts we referenced harassment discussion papers produced by CAAWS and the CCES, among other organizations. There is also the extensive report produced by the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine (CASEM). While there have been many reports produced at various times by different sport organizations, it is past time to move beyond reports and begin true action.

    When we consider the option of establishing a network of partners working together to battle harassment in sport we should look to the example of the failed Harassment Collective (referred to in Blog One) and the lack of funding that led to its dissolution. We now know that a network relying on funding from the government is not a sustainable strategy.

    As a more specific example, we see that Manitoba has created a 1-800 number for individuals to call when they experience or see harassment or abuse. We know that the hotline established by the Collective received very few calls and such an approach is better redirected to professionals (as in Saskatchewan).

    We should be attuned to the developments in the United States – where the US Olympic Committee (USOC) announced that an independent advisory council would guide the launch of the Center for Safe Sport in early 2016. From this example, we can learn whether a national effort on battling harassment in sport works best as an arms-length agency for the national Olympic committee. It is worth noting that a working group studying the issue was struck in 2010 and six years later the Center still has not launched.

    We can also learn lessons from recreation. Sharon Jollimore, former National Initiatives Director of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA) and co-creator of the Making All Recreation Safe (MARS) toolkit (which was designed to help communities implement abuse and harassment strategies), has interesting insights:

    Sheldon Kennedy’s disclosure of sexual abuse was the crisis that brought awareness to the important role that municipalities have in creating a nurturing and supportive environment. To support the need of our members (recreation and parks professionals) CPRA implemented the (MARS) - Awareness to Action Initiative. The initiative was designed to support municipal recreation departments in implementing abuse and harassment prevention strategies – and make their programs, services, and facilities safer. Many municipalities took action and made changes to protect their residents.


    In fact, municipalities are beginning their own initiatives – though there does not appear to be a sharing of information or resources or any focused strategy. One medium-sized Ontario city recently contracted the production of an extensive manual for sport clubs – providing template policies, basic legislation awareness, and instructions on what to do with a harassment complaint. Swift Current, Saskatchewan, with the assistance of the Respect Group launched a “Youth Certification and Safe Places” strategy that is intended to, at minimum, ensure that all individuals who work with children undergo a background check and take special training on how to be a better role model.

    Provincially, ViaSport BC has created a Pink Shirt Sport Challenge to stop sport bullying. The initiative sounds very promising – organizations share best practices and become acknowledged for their efforts – but, apart from a video message from the provincial sport minister (viewed by fewer than 100 people as of this writing), details so far appear to be light. In Ontario, the provincial sport ministry is creating a Minister’s Advisory Panel to guide Game ON – the Ontario government’s (first) formal sport strategy. The preliminary Sport Plan documentation admirably places significant focus on the participation of women and girls in sport. But the Plan operationalizes “sport safety” in the context of physical injury – unfortunately and startlingly not mentioning harassment or abuse even once.

    Federally, there exists a national and provincial network on Ethical Sport populated by federal and provincial government representatives and chaired by Sport Canada. The network discusses best practices across the country but it isn’t clear what its mandate is and very little information was available to inform this blog. 


    Important ideas for preventing harassment in the future are being discussed across the country. Here are a few:

    • Preventative Policies. Harassment prevention is often explained as having robust Code of Conducts that describe prohibited behaviour. But preventative policies should also eliminate the potential for harassment. For example, prohibiting coaches from ever being one-on-one with athletes (by always requiring the presence of another coach or multiple athletes) reduces opportunities for athlete maltreatment. In the Board room, committees or work teams individuals should be made aware of the potential for abuse of power and be sensitive to  the use of language, inappropriate jokes and behaviours that others may construe as offensive.
    • Whistleblower Policy. A companion policy to the common Discipline and Complaints Policy is a Whistleblower Policy. This policy would differentiate between members/participants and staff and give employees and other contracted individuals a mechanism to report (even anonymously and to a third-party) instances of abusive behaviour by superiors or other staff.
    • Policy Training. It’s not enough to simply have the policies – individuals should be trained on their use. When someone sees harassment what do they do? To which person should the complaint be directed and how is it handled? Some organizations are adopting a mix of policy workshops, backgrounders, and illustrative flow charts to train everyone – staff, participants, Directors, coaches, etc. – on the purpose of each policy and how they are supposed to work.
    • National Initiatives. The CAC is finalizing consultations with the sport community and preparing to launch the first phase of a national ethical coaching movement. This initiative will give organizations a baseline for responsible coaching and the CAC intends to add resource capacity to organizations that adopt the movement. Also nationally, the federal government (via new sport minister Carla Qualtrough) has called for a “national strategy to raise awareness for parents, coaches, and athletes on concussion treatment”. A similar federally-backed call could be made to address harassment in sport.
    • Legislation. Ontario is taking the lead by introducing the new Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, 2016.The Act amends other legislation to include new definitions of “sexual violence” and other required policy implementation and monitoring in Ontario workplaces and post-secondary schools.

    We asked Rachel Corbett of the Sport Law & Strategy Group, and co-writer of both the CAAWS (1994) and CCES (2015) harassment discussion papers, to summarize what she sees as the best option(s) for battling harassment in the future:

    Policies to address harassment, bullying and abuse in the sport environment are necessary, but never sufficient. The only thing that stops these kinds of behaviours are people: people who are prepared to do the right thing when they see wrongs committed. I have written about this before and stand by the same words today. All the laws, policies, standards, protocols, rules, and screening systems in the world don't protect people from harm: other people do. I resolve not to be a bystander, and invite everyone else in sport to make the same commitment.

    We also asked Dr. Margo Mountjoy, one of the writers of the CASEM paper and member of the IOC’s Medical Commission, about her thoughts on the best way(s) to address harassment going forward:

    Respect is the key to ensuring a harassment-free sporting environment. To develop a culture of respect requires implementation of a few necessary steps: 1) policies and procedures that address the issue must be in place and activated, 2) all sport stakeholders should be educated to raise awareness of the risks through prevention interventions, and most importantly 3) stakeholders should be empowered to speak up for their rights and must have confidence in a reporting system to respond fairly to allegations.


    We know that small, almost imperceptible instances of differentiation within a group or team can begin to establish a culture of harassment. Consider the formerly common practice of having a “rookie” carry equipment or perform menial tasks for other, senior athletes. In the past, these practices would be considered “team-building”. But our progressive thinking, and academic research, now recognizes this to be harassment – or more specifically hazing:

    “Any potentially humiliating, degrading, abusive, or dangerous activity expected of a junior-ranking athlete by a more senior teammate, which does not contribute to either athlete’s positive development, but is required to be accepted as part of a team, regardless of the junior-ranking athlete’s willingness to participate. This includes, but is not limited to, any activity, no matter how traditional or seemingly benign, that sets apart or alienates any teammate based on class, number of years on the team, or athletic ability. (Crow and Macintosh, 2009, p. 449)”

    Hazing rituals, though not as extreme as they may have been in the past, still exist in professional sport culture. Consider the annual example (video) of ‘rookie’ professional athletes dressing as women (which, in this case, is not only harassment but offensive). Per the above video clip, and this link, and this link, these examples are excused by the media as being humourous and light-hearted. Excusing harassment as “funny” is just as dangerous as excusing it as “team-building”.

    Sports broadcaster (and humourist) James Duthie included the following passage in his 2015 book The Guy on the Left. The passage is presented as humour and was further highlighted via retweet by Duthie on his Twitter feed:

    [In Bantam AAA,] Versteeg complained a lot, so the manager gave him the handle Bitch. It stuck. One night, they were losing 1-0 and Versteeg was struggling. His grandmother was in the stands, and she started yelling, “Skate, Bitch, Skate!”

    This example displays harmful harassing behaviour on the part of the coach. Calling a thirteen-year-old child “bitch” because of his “complaining” to the effect that the child’s family joined in on the harassment paints a frightening picture of a coach abusing his position. Consider the effect on the child – being cursed at by his coach, being called a word used to demean females, and being punished for “complaining” with a derogatory nickname. That this example is published as humour – readers are expected to laugh – normalizes the behaviour and simply changes the former “team-building” excuse that we have rejected to an “it was funny” excuse. Either way – the harassment is still there and now we are not recognizing it.

    We need to stop making excuses for harassment, on the field or in the boardroom. This will start to shift our focus onto the behaviour itself rather than on making excuses for why it happens. Recall that one excuse used in the COC example to explain away former President Marcel Aubut’s alleged harassing behaviour was “That’s our Marcel – he’s like that”.


    We received a number of responses to our previous blogposts and we invite you now to share your experiences, opinions, and ideas for the future. Is a broad government-nonprofit partnership the way forward? Should we resurrect a national collective or assign the responsibility for harassment-free sport to a single advocative organization? Are our fractured initiatives progressing satisfactorily?

    Have you experienced or witnessed harassment in the sport environment (particularly off the field of play)? Was it resolved and, if not, how could it have been resolved? Have you seen anti-harassment policies and training work as intended or fail ineffectively? What barriers are there in your sport organization to eliminating harassment? What do we want to have in place in ten years?

    We welcome comments and suggestions from everyone and we will share the best (with your permission) along with shortlist of actionable items in a fourth blogpost published at the beginning of May. You can email us at

    For more information contact:

    Lorraine Lafrenière, CAC at 613- 235-5000 ext. 2363 or 613-769-6772
    Dina Bell-Laroche, Sport Law & Strategy Group at 613-591-1246
    Karin Lofstrom, CAAWS at 613-562-5667
    Paul Melia, CCES at 613-521-3340 x3221