In recent years, the term “Safe Sport” has come to refer to a sport environment that is free from all forms of maltreatment, which involves acts that cause physical and/or emotional harm to participants, such as hazing and sexual violence by team members, uttering racial slurs on the field of play, verbal abuse of officials by coaches and spectators, coaches isolating athletes as a form of punishment and coaches weight-shaming athletes for poor performance. “Safety in sport” is the broader term and has, for years, encompassed practices (such as concussion guidelines) that minimize injuries.

The challenge of ensuring safe sport is not new, but it has reached a critical juncture due an increase of reports of maltreatment with the Canadian sport system. For example, 75% of current and retired Canadian national team athletes reported experiencing at least one harmful behaviour in the sport context.[1] Further, of 1,000 athletes aged 14-17 years, 79% reported at least one experience of psychological violence, 40% reported physical violence, 28% reported sexual violence, and 6% reported neglect.[2] While the spotlight is primarily on the response of the sports community, especially the federally funded National Sport Organizations (NSO), the sector must also recognize and define its role. It is essential for the sector to take proactive steps to ensure community sports at the local level are safe, welcoming, and free of harassment, abuse, and discrimination. This responsibility involves not just addressing traditional safety concerns but also implementing innovative strategies to engage and retain participants who may be hesitant due to worries about physical and psychological safety. Moreover, safety extends beyond policies and practices to include the thoughtful design and utilization of facilities. By taking a comprehensive approach to safety, the recreation and parks sector can play a pivotal role in ensuring sports remain a positive and secure experience for all community members. The recreation sector should follow closely the review and recommendations stemming from the Future of Sport in Canada Commission.

 

[1] Willson, E., Kerr, G., Stirling, A., & Buono, S. (2022). Prevalence of Maltreatment Among Canadian National Team Athletes. Journal of Interpersonal Violence37(21-22), NP19857-NP19879. https://doi.org/10.1177/08862605211045096, cited in SIRC, Safe Sport and Safeguarding in Canada (https://sirc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Safe-Sport-Lit-Review.pdf)

[2] Parent, S., & Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P. (2021). Magnitude and Risk Factors for Interpersonal Violence Experienced by Canadian Teenagers in the Sport Context. Journal of Sport and Social Issues45(6), 528-544. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193723520973571, cited in SIRC, Safe Sport and Safeguarding in Canada (https://sirc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Safe-Sport-Lit-Review.pdf)

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