Bar raised for safety of children in sports
A new standard has been set to make sports safer for children in Manitoba.
All coaches and teachers who work with students in the K-12 school system will now have to complete an online-training program designed to prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination, the province announced Tuesday morning.
The Respect in Sport program, run by Respect Group, has been mandated by Sport Manitoba since 2007 for those coaching sports at the community level. Manitoba is the first province to make it a requirement for school staff.
“I think by mandating this type of training and making it a priority in our organizations, it becomes important, and that’s critical,” said Sheldon Kennedy, co-founder of Respect Group, who was present during the announcement.
Kennedy, a victim of sexual abuse in sport, said a goal is to build confidence around issues of maltreatment in sport so that coaches and provincial sport organizations can properly handle them as they arise, rather than stuff them away for years.
“We talk about abuse, we talk about bullying, we talk about discrimination, those words themselves carry a significant amount of fear. And they also carry a lot of grey area,” he said.
“I think our job is to bring clarity to not only the words, but the pathway to be able to respond.”
Janet McMahon, president and CEO of Sport Manitoba, admitted Sport Manitoba hasn’t done a great job of asking athletes what their experiences were while playing. The key now for coaches, she said, is understanding the social interactions that happen in sport.
“Think about what (coaches) take on: dealing with teenagers, dealing with parents, all of the organization’s logistics, it’s a crazy amount of stuff,” she said. “We want to put in place empowering them to phone that line, implement the whistleblower policy.”
The training session is currently three hours long, but McMahon noted the training could change soon, as her team is looking at enhancing process.
Sport Manitoba will also implement a screening policy for coaches in the next year that will vary based on what level they are coaching. While a number of sports organizations already do their own screening, McMahon said the organization is going to create some minimum standards.
Along with its declaration of the new mandate, the province also announced a $250,000 investment for its new Pathway to Safer Sport program.
The program, ran by Sport Manitoba, will help build new awareness campaigns, prevention strategies and promote existing resources that are available to athletes who have been maltreated in sport.
The awareness campaigns will take a multi-pronged approach, according to McMahon. Provincial campaigns in the fall and spring – the registration periods for many sports – will include billboards, signs within sports facilities and social media campaigns.
The initiative has been in the works for a while, said Andrew Smith, minister of sport, culture and heritage. Smith’s predecessor, Cathy Cox, tabled the idea during her time in cabinet.
The announcement of the investment is a timely one, however, as it comes amid an ongoing crisis involving Hockey Canada withholding information about sexual assault allegations on eight of its players, dating back to June 2018.
Smith noted the Pathway to Safer Sport program will also launch enhanced services that respond effectively when maltreatment has occurred.
The province did not specify if the announced changes will effect codes of conduct within schools.
While adamant that Tuesday represented a big step in the right direction, Kennedy stopped short of saying the new mandates and investment are the answer to ending maltreatment in sport.
“I don’t want to think that what was announced today is going to end the abuse in sport tomorrow. I think we’re seeing more and more cases come forward because of the work we’ve done.”
“This is not about ‘sports are scary.’ This is about how we keep getting better to keep inviting people to try the sport and hopefully find a lifelong passion.”
As a final announcement, the province said school staff in Manitoba are expected complete a newly updated version of the Respect in School program by Feb. 28, 2023.
Athletes concerned about abuse, harassment, bullying or hazing in sport are encouraged to call the toll-free Safe Sport Line at 1-833-656-7233 or email [email protected]