Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices

Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices

Julie Stevens, Editor

Centre for Sport Capacity, Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada



Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices by Julie Stevens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.




Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices by Julie Stevens (Editor) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Vectors used in cover design and Figure 5.1 are derived from the free license. Unless otherwise noted, photos are used through Creative Commons licenses from Pixabay, Unsplash, Wikimedia, and Flickr. Unless otherwise noted, all figures should be credited to the chapter author and the editor.


How to Attribute this Book

Stevens, J. (Ed.) 2022Safe Sport: Critical issues and practicesEcampus Ontario. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Adopting this Book

If you adopt this book as a required or supplemental reading in a course or other educational forum, please let us know by emailing the Editor, Julie Stevens, PhD, at



This edited book is dedicated to all who enjoy participating in sport, no matter what the level or form. We hope our contribution builds upon the Red Deer Declaration, as well as the efforts of many others who place safety, inclusion, and diversity as a fundamental principle in their efforts to make sport better.


Alberta welcomes Canada’s young athletes. Photo by the Government of Alberta on Flickr
Alberta welcomes Canada’s young athletes. Photo by the Government of Alberta on Flickr.

We, the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Ministers responsible for Sport, Physical Activity, and Recreation recognize that all Canadians have the right to participate in sport—in an environment that is safe, welcoming, inclusive, ethical and respectful. An environment that protects the dignity, rights and health of all participants.

Red Deer Declaration for the Prevention of Harassment, Abuse and Discrimination in Sport, Conference of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation, February 2019.



Making Our Content Accessible

This edited book’s format is compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). The tools used to build this safe sport edited book are structured to ensure that our content reflects the POUR principle, meaning that the resource is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework used in the creation of this edited book gives students multiple ways to engage with content and demonstrate their knowledge by providing interactive content, audio recorder/written response opportunities, and videos.

To achieve AODA compliance we spoke with colleagues in the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation at Brock University and attended workshops including “Making Accessible Content with Pressbooks”, funded in part by eCampusOntario. We also conducted accessibility tests using the NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reader in the Chrome browser.

Pressbooks is designed to be accessible for users of all abilities and compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. We opted to pursue accessibility over aesthetics in many cases. For example, while formatting a page using the table function may result in a nicer layout, it would not be accessible for an individual using a screen reader. Here are some of the main items we focused on to ensure this edited reader is accessible. 

Alt Text

  • All charts, images and figures required to convey information are uploaded with alternative (alt) text. This ensures all information is retained for those using screen readers or assistive devices. Because alt text fields in Pressbooks have a limit of 125 characters, many of our figures with longer descriptions needed to be shown in a different way, so after each figure with a longer description we included a hyperlink to the full image description at the end of the chapter.


  • All of the videos in this edited book are embedded directly from YouTube, which has its own automatic captioning feature.
  • English transcripts have been created for each video in the edited book and are provided as PDF files. They can be accessed by clicking on the “Transcript” hyperlink listed in each video caption.


  • The colours in this edited book adhere to the minimum standards for colour contrast ratios as set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which can range from 1:1 (there is no difference between the colours) to 21:1 (the highest difference possible). Each colour combination passed a contrast checker test.


  • Headings are nested in proper sequence and provide people who use assistive technologies with a way to navigate through the chapter text. Using proper HTML headings in sequence (ie H1, H2, H3) enables users to distinguish between topics and subtopics regardless of heading size or indentation.


  • Icons indicating activities such as “In Practice” or “Case Study” are created to convey information, and to aid readers with wayfinding through the text.

Screen Reader

  • Screen reader accessibility has been tested on the entire edited book with the NVDA screen reader in the Chrome browser.
  • All hyperlinks in this edited book are programmed to open in the same tab, to ensure screen reader access.

Text Alignment

  • All of the text in this edited book is aligned left to increase accessibility, since some individuals with cognitive disabilities may have trouble reading blocks of justified text, or text that is aligned to both the left and right margins.

Contact Us

Should this resource require accessibility updates or corrections, please let us know by emailing the Editor, Julie Stevens, PhD, at

Official Languages



An abridged French version of Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices has been made available and can be accessed here.

About the Authors


About the Editor

Julie Stevens

Julie Stevens, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sport Management and Director of the Centre for Sport Capacity at Brock University. She currently serves as the Special Advisor to the President – Canada Games, where she leads the academic partnership between Brock University and the 2022 Niagara Canada Summer Games. For the past 30 years, Julie has conducted diverse and transdisciplinary research, and employs various models of organizational development to analyze dynamics of change and organizational design within sport. Her scholarly work emphasizes various topics such as institutional development, large-scale change, innovation, governance, managerial logics and practices, player development models, and ethics. Julie is also a North American Society for Sport Management Research Fellow (2013) and a Brock University 2020 Outstanding Co-op Supervisor Recognition Award recipient.

About the Authors

Isabelle Cayer

Isabelle Cayer is the current Director of Sport Safety at the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC). Her mission is to create a safer and more inclusive sport system for everyone. A former competitive athlete and NCCP certified coach, she is a current Coach Developer, facilitator, presenter and volunteer on a community sport board, and when the opportunity presents, at domestic national and international events. She has worked at the national level of sport for over 20 years at various organizations including the CAC and Skate Canada, and her work has focused on coach education and training, policy development, mentorship, women in coaching & leadership programming, diversity and inclusion initiatives for coach training and partner engagement, and the professionalization of coaching in Canada.


Karri Dawson

Karri Dawson is the Senior Director of Quality Sport at the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and the Executive Director of the True Sport Foundation. Karri holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Sports Administration from Laurentian University and has more than 25 years of professional experience managing corporate sponsorship, philanthropic donations and community engagement programs in amateur sport at the national level. Karri leads a team that engages sport leaders and organizations that share a common belief about what good sport can do, and works with partners and funders to develop initiatives that advance values-based sport in Canada.


Michele Donnelly

Michele K. Donnelly, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Brock University, specializing in areas of gender equality and sport. Michele also researches topics of alternative sport, girls and women-only activities in the sport realm, and research ethics. She is the co-founder and serves on the advisory board of the Girls on Track Foundation, whose mission is to help young girls build important life skills through participation in roller derby.


Peter Donnelly

Peter Donnelly, PhD, has recently retired as a Professor and Director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies at the University of Toronto. He has edited two major sociology of sport journals (Sociology of Sport Journal; International Review for the Sociology of Sport), and served as President of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, and General Secretary of the International Sociology of Sport Association. He began researching the maltreatment of athletes when he taught at McMaster University in the 1980s, and has continued that strand of research (among many others) by focusing in particular on the maltreatment of child athletes.


Hilary Findlay

Hilary Findlay, LLB PhD, is a recently retired Associate Professor of Sport Management at Brock who specializes in risk management, regulatory issues, contracts and other legal issues affecting sport and recreation organization.



Susan Forbes

Susan L. Forbes, PhD, is the Manager of the Teaching and Learning Centre, as well as an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ontario. Her research focuses on sports officials’ recruitment, development, retention, and attrition. She and her research partners recently published the book entitled Sports Officiating: Recruitment, Development and Retention (Routledge, 2020).


Gretchen Kerr

Gretchen Kerr, PhD, is a full Professor and Dean, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. She has spent her academic career devoted to promoting safe and equitable sport opportunities for all through research and knowledge transfer and exchange. As a co-Director of E-Alliance, the Canadian Gender Equity in Sport Research Hub, Gretchen is engaged in establishing a broad network of researchers and partnerships across the country to advance gender equity in sport. Gretchen was the senior author of Canada’s first national prevalence study of maltreatment among current and former national team members, and the subject matter expert for the development of the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment (UCCMS), and a contributor to Safe Sport education.


Bruce Kidd

Bruce Kidd, PhD, is the Ombudsperson at the University of Toronto. He is a Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and the founding Dean of that faculty. He also served as Warden of Hart House, Principal of the University of Toronto Scarborough and Director of Canadian Studies, all at U of T. Bruce’s scholarship focuses upon the history and political economy of Canadian and Olympic sport. He has been involved in the Olympic Movement as an athlete (1964), journalist (1976), contributor to the arts and culture programs (1976 and 1988) and accredited social scientist (1988 and 2000). He was founding chair of the Olympic Academy of Canada (1983-1993), served on the board for Toronto’s 1996 and 2008 Olympic bids and is an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Bruce has been a lifelong advocate of human rights and athletes’ rights.


Kasey Liboiron

Kasey Liboiron is the Manager of Sport Community Engagement at the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). In this role, she manages the outreach and engagement of True Sport. The True Sport Principles define Canada’s commitment to values-based sport and are activated and supported by Canadian communities, sport organizations, schools, groups and individuals who believe in the difference good sport can make. Previously, Kasey worked as a secondary school Physical and Health Educator – particularly passionate about inspiring a commitment to physical activity and wellness. Kasey holds Bachelors of Education, Science, and Physical and Health Education from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.


Lori Livingston

Lori A. Livingston, PhD, is the Provost and Vice-President, Academic and Full Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University. She has participated as an athlete, coach, official, and administrator at the provincial, national, and international levels in the sport of women’s field lacrosse. She continues to contribute to sport through her research, including work in the area of sport officiating.


Ellen MacPherson

Ellen MacPherson completed her PhD in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on social behaviour in sport and online contexts, as well as athlete welfare and development. Ellen has been recognized internationally by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) with the Sport Psychologist’s Young Researcher Award and her work has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). As the former Director, Safe Sport at Gymnastics Canada, she led the development and implementation of an organizational Safe Sport Framework and the corresponding policy, education, and advocacy initiatives. In her current role at the University of Toronto, she conducts research and works with sport organizations to mobilize knowledge into practice with the ultimate goal of safe, developmentally appropriate, and equitable sport for all.


Leela MadhavaRau

Leela MadhavaRau has served as the inaugural leader of equity, diversity and human rights initiatives at three different universities in both Canada and the United States, mostly recently as the Executive Director of Human Rights and Equity at Brock University. Leela’s expertise in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion has provided her with the opportunity to present at many national and international conferences, as well as becoming a mentor for individuals beginning their careers in this field.


Marcus Mazzucco

Marcus Mazzucco, JD, is Legal Counsel for the Ontario Ministry of Health and a Sessional Lecturer of Sports Law at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Marcus has a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education from the University of Toronto and a Juris Doctor from the University of Victoria, British Columbia. The opinions and views expressed in this chapter are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions or views of the Ontario Government.



Ian Moss

Ian Moss is the CEO of Gymnastics Canada, and has been involved with the organization since 2017. Ian’s involvement in national sport organizations reaches beyond gymnastics, and throughout his career he has worked with seven different NSOs and two MSOs, forming a well-rounded knowledge of Canadian and international sport at both the technical and management level. A seasoned sport association leader with over twenty years of national and international experience, Ian has built a strong vision and operating capacity to translate “big picture” needs into clear operating principles and partnerships.


Peter Niedre

Peter Niedre is the Director of Education Partnerships at the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), and oversees the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). This role involves working with over 65 National Sport Organizations, 13 Provincial and Territorial Coach representatives and other Canadian Sport System Partners in development and delivery of the NCCP. Prior to the CAC, he worked at Canoe Kayak Canada as the National Junior coach, and Director of Coach and Athlete Development. Prior to that, he was a physical education and outdoor education teacher at the secondary level for 10 years, and part-time lecturer at University of Ottawa in the School of Human Kinetics. Peter is also a Master Coach Developer in sprint Canoe Kayak and in multisport delivery with the Coaches Association of Ontario and actively volunteers at the community level coaching cross country skiing and biathlon.


Talia Ritondo

Talia Ritondo, MA, is a recent Master’s graduate of Brock’s Recreation and Leisure program, where she studied how postnatal women are affected by gendered expectations of motherhood while returning to team sport. She plans to pursue a PhD in the future, with a focus on bringing an intersectional social justice lens to the sport research field. She currently serves as Brock Human Rights and Equity’s Gender and Sexual Violence Education Coordinator, where she coordinates workshops, training and events that educate students, staff, and faculty about gender and sexual violence through an intersectional, anti-oppression lens. For leisure, they love to play volleyball, rock climb, watch Netflix, and play video games.


Kirsty Spence

Kirsty Spence, PhD, has a 20-year background of researching leadership topics and more specifically, leaders’ vertical development and its relationship to leadership effectiveness and program development. She is passionate about Safe Sport topics, having completed Master’s-level research on an inter-organizational network analysis of the implementation of the Speak Out! Program within Hockey Canada in 2001. Dr. Spence has received the Professional Coaching Certification (P.C.C.) designation with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as a certified Integral Master Coach™.


Georgina Truman

Georgina Truman, MHK, is the Manager, Athlete Relations and Operations at AthletesCAN. In her role, she is responsible for administration, programs and services, communications, athlete relations, and events. Her experiences as a multi-sport athlete in her youth translated into a passion for the sport industry and strong connection to athlete-centred sport. Prior to joining AthletesCAN, she developed experience in the recreation, university, and non-profit sport sectors in communications, marketing, and client relations. She holds a Master’s degree of human kinetics with specialization in sports management and Bachelor degree of human kinetics from the University of Ottawa.


Michael Van Bussel

Michael Van Bussel, PhD, has over 18 years of academic, administrative, and service experience in Sport Management. His educational background includes a PhD focusing on Sport Law and Policy Studies from Western University.  He held faculty positions at Jacksonville University and Wilfrid Laurier University in the field of Sport Management.  He has won awards in teaching and coaching and was named OUA (USPORT) Provincial Coach of the Year on two separate occasions with the Western University Women’s Soccer Program.  His research interests include sport law, risk management, governance and policy, and coach/athlete communication.


Erin Willson

Erin Willson, MSc, is currently a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. Her areas of research interest include maltreatment in sport, athlete empowerment and advocacy. Erin also sits on the Board of Directors at AthletesCAN. As a former Olympian, Erin brings a unique perspective to her research endeavors.


Production Team


Julie Stevens, PhD





Jessica Linzel, MA
Project Manager




Alison Innes, MA
Senior Instructional Design Developer




Monica Louie, MEd
Junior Instructional Design Developer




Catherine Beech, BSM
Research Assistant




Cole McClean, MA
Project Administrator




Student Reviewers

Four Brock University students reviewed sample chapters of this edited book in November 2021. We are grateful for the insight and comments of:

Support Team

Brock University’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) provided assistance in the realm of grant writing, accessibility, technology-enabled learning, and general support of our instructional design methods. We are grateful for the services of:

User’s Guide


How to Use this Edited Book

The Value of Open-Access

Creating an open access online resource like this is beneficial because it offers high-quality scholarship and professionally researched materials for free to anyone who is interested in the topic of safe sport. Open access resources like Safe Sport: Critical issues and practices ensure a secure transfer of knowledge from trusted sources for learners and for organizations looking to educate their members and the general public, many of whom are working with limited resources. By making this resource open access, this critical information is available to a wider audience, many of whom might not have the funding or resources to acquire such a book. 

Photo by coops456 on Pixabay.

Accessible for All

This is achieved through Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) compliant design and coding, captioning and transcription of all video and audio components, and full written descriptions for all figures and diagrams. We have also provided links to external resources, news articles, videos and podcasts for learners to explore particular issues in depth. There is also an abridged French version of this book, showcasing select chapters for learners looking to read about safe sport in both official languages.

The tools used to build this safe sport edited book are structured to ensure that our content reflects the POUR principle, meaning that the resource is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework used in the creation of this edited book provides multiple ways for learners to engage with content and demonstrate their knowledge. For example, chapters includes interactive content, audio recorder/written response opportunities, and videos. A student focus group review was conducted prior to publishing, and their feedback was incorporated into the pedagogical approaches taken towards the chapters.

For The Audience – From Classroom to Workplace

This edited book is a unique resource that has the potential to benefit a wide range of students, educators and professionals.

It may be used by learners at a university or college across several disciplines such as sport management, kinesiology, physical education, recreation, law, sociology, history, social justice, gender studies, child and youth studies, and policy studies. It is this generation of students who represent the next generation of coaches, parents and sport organizers who must implement the necessary changes required to realize the safe sport goals outlined in this resource. As such, they need to have access to these critical research and training materials.

This edited book is a robust resource for researchers examining legal, social, ethical, and managerial issues in sport. It also targets professionals who work across public, nonprofit, and commercial sectors, as well as Canadian sport organizations at all levels who must lead programs and services where safe sport issues must be addressed. Finally, this book is useful to community and grassroots organizations as educational training materials for their members and volunteers.


Photo by Peter Miller on Flickr.

For Use in the Classroom

The blocks of text in this edited book are split up with interactive figures and colourful text boxes designed to directly engage learners with the material. Instructors may utilize these text boxes, which contain relevant content and thought-provoking questions, for student assignments. These include the following:

  • In the News: These text boxes provide real examples from open-access news articles both past and present to illustrate chapter concepts in action and encourage students to think more deeply about the complexities of the issues. These may be used as the basis for student assignments and projects.
  • Self-Reflection: These encourage learners to pause while reading the chapter and consider their own thoughts and experiences relating to particular issues. These are numbered so they may be used as assigned questions or discussion questions in class.
  • In Practice: This encourages learners to consider how concepts are applied in the real world, or how they might apply concepts to their own sport practice(s).
  • Case Study: Similar to In the News, these text boxes provide a more complex case for analysis, as learners are asked to apply what they are learning to the case study. These may be used as the basis for student assignments or more detailed research and applied projects.
  • Counterpoint: These provide an alternative point of view to a safe sport topic or issue. Instructors may want to use these as the basis for a discussion or a debate in class. Professionals may want to use these for practical scenario-planning exercises.
Photo by Paul Chambers on Unsplash.

In addition to text boxes, there are multiple chapter sections that are useful for both learners, educators and professionals. To ensure accessibility, we structured the chapters with proper heading hierarchies as well as colour coding and icons to facilitate simpler way-finding throughout the text.

  • Themes: This section at the beginning of the chapter identifies the key chapter themes. Students can use these when writing chapter reviews or discussing their main chapter takeaways.
  • Learning Objectives: Also located at the beginning of the chapter, these can be used by students when writing chapter reviews, by instructors to identify chapters they want to use in their lessons, and by professionals for professional development and training.
  • Overview: This is the short abstract for the chapter.
  • Key Dates: These are important dates relevant to the chapter content so that learners can understand how the events they read about relate to one another, in a chronological and interactive format.
  • Further Research: This section found at the end of each chapter identifies areas where scholars need to provide more research. This can be used by instructors for class discussions or for research assignments.
  • Key Terms: This is a self-directed review activity that asks students to identify key terms and definitions within a chapter. Key terms are bolded throughout each chapter, so this is not a difficult activity. Instructors may choose to assign this activity to students as a pop quiz.
  • Suggested Assignments: These are potential assignments that instructors can assign to students. Instructors may need to adjust the level of difficulty to suit the needs of their learners.
  • Sources: This section is the bibliography and includes hyperlinks, where relevant, that researchers can use for further study, if desired.

List of Figures


Chapter 2

Figure 2.1 Differentiation Between Relationships and Terms Including Bullying, Abuse, and Harassment

Figure 2.2 Characteristics of an Athlete-Centred System

Chapter 4

Figure 4.1 Examples of “Troubling” Sport Organization Governance and Practices

Chapter 5

Figure 5.1 Opportunities to Play for University Men and Women

Figure 5.2 Sport Ecosystem

Figure 5.3 IDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility

Figure 5.4 Chapter Five Review

Chapter 6

Figure 6.1 Legal Relationships Between SDRCC, Sport Organizations and Participants

Figure 6.2 Pyramidal Structure of Sport Hierarchy

Figure 6.3 Contractual Options for Acquiring Jurisdiction at National Level

Chapter 7

Figure 7.1  Pathway of a Complaint in the Investigative Phase

Figure 7.2 Types of Evidence Matching Exercise

Figure 7.3 Standards of Proof Illustrated

Chapter 8

Figure 8.1 Parties Involved in Dispute Resolution

Figure 8.2 SDRCC Tribunals

Figure 8.3 Hierarchy of Canadian Courts and Tribunals

Figure 8.4 Decision-Making Hierarchy in Sports System

Chapter 9

Figure 9.1 Dispute Scenarios for Post-Investigation Decisions

Figure 9.2 Scope of Review Options

Figure 9.3 Standards of Review and Deference to Original Decision-Makers

Figure 9.4 Burdens of Proof as a Sporting Analogy

Figure 9.5 Standards of Proof Illustrated

Figure 9.6 Ambiguities in Language

Figure 9.7 Principles Relevant to an Arbitrator’s Review of an Original Decision with UCCMS Interpretation

Chapter 10

Figure 10.1 Pathways for Challenging a Sport Maltreatment Arbitration Decision

Figure 10.2 Objectives of Publicly Reporting Sanctions in the Sport Maltreatment Context

Figure 10.3 PIPEDA Information Principles

Figure 10.4 Contractual Relationships in Sport to Enforce Sanctions

Chapter 11

Figure 11.1 True Sport Member Type Infographics  

Chapter 12

Figure 12.1 Disciplines of Gymnastics

Figure 12.2 GymCan Organisational Structure

Figure 12.3 Gymnastics Canada Vision, Mission, Overarching Goals, and Values

Figure 12.4 Sample Skills and Responsibilities of a Safe Sport Portfolio Position

Figure 12.5 GymCan’s Six Key Steps to Developing the 2018 Safe Sport Framework

Figure 12.6 Phases of Safe Sport Policy Revitalization

Chapter 13

Figure 13.1 Relational Risk Management Plan

Chapter 14

Figure 14.1 Coaching Association of Canada Values

Figure 14.2 Sport Coaching Research

Figure 14.3 Pathways to Chartered Professional Coach (ChPC) Designation

Figure 14.4 A Socio-Ecological Model to Inform Safe Sport

Figure 14.5 Individuality and Lived Experiences of Participants

Figure 14.6 CAC’s Responsible Coaching Movement

Figure 14.7 The Rule of Two

Figure 14.8 The CAC Safe Sport Journey 2015-2021

Chapter 15

Figure 15.1 Rules Classification

Figure 15.2 Safe Sport Environment

Chapter 16

Figure 16.1 Why Female Basketball Referees Leave the Game

Chapter 17

Figure 17.1 Reasons for not Reporting

Figure 17.2 Steps to Realize the UCCMS

List of Tables


Chapter 2

Table 2.1 Maltreatment Types and Examples

Chapter 7

Table 7.1 Overlap Between Definitions of Maltreatment under UCCMS and Canadian Criminal Laws

Table 7.2 Summary of Duty to Report under Provincial/Territorial (P/T) Child Welfare Legislation

Chapter 8

Table 8.1 Safeguards for Ensuring Arbitrator Independence and Impartiality in Sport Maltreatment Cases

Chapter 9

Table 9.1 International Comparison of Scope of Review and Procedural Rules

Table 9.2 Summary of CAS and SDRCC Confidentiality Rules

Table 9.3 Purposes of Disclosing Arbitration Decisions and Relevant Considerations

Table 9.4 Privacy Rules in Sport Maltreatment Arbitration Context

Chapter 10

Table 10. 1 Grounds for Setting Aside an Arbitration Decision

Chapter 12

Table 12.1 GymCan Key Objectives for Safe Sport Advocacy Initiatives

Chapter 17

Table 17.1 Summary of Canadian Prevalence Study of National Team Member Maltreatment Experiences

List of Videos


Chapter 1

Video 1.1 Julie Stevens: A Summary of the Athletes’ Voices Panel

Video 1.2 Julie Stevens: A Summary of the Governance and System Re-Engineering Panel

Chapter 2

Video 2.1 Erin Willson: Body Image and Belittling Athletes

Video 2.2 Allison Forsyth: What is Complicity?

Video 2.3 Danielle Lappage: Attending the AthletesCAN Safe Sport Summit

Video 2.4 Camille Bérubé: An Athlete’s Perspective on Safe Sport

Video 2.5 Neville Wright: An Athlete’s Perspective on Racial Discrimination in Sport

Video 2.6 Erin Willson: The Definition of Safe Sport

Chapter 3

Video 3.1 Bruce Kidd: Sport and the Struggle for Inclusion

Video 3.2 Bruce Kidd: The Fight for Gender Equity in Canadian Sport

Video 3.3 Bruce Kidd: The Long Struggle for Safe Sport

Chapter 4

Video 4.1 National Sports Governance Observer: Play the Game

Video 4.2 Peter Donnelly: Athletes Rise

Chapter 11

Video 11.1 A Recipe for Good Sport

Video 11.2 The Power of True Sport

Video 11.3 True Sport Lives Here Manitoba

Video 11.4 The Ride Home

Chapter 14

Video 14.1 Safe Sport Training Promo, CAC

Video 14.2 Isabelle Cayer: Sport is in a Culture Renovation

Video 14.3 Isabelle Cayer: Support Through Sport Series

Chapter 17

Video 17.1 Gretchen Kerr: Why Safe Sport Now?

Video 17.2 Gretchen Kerr: Athletes’ Fear of Repercussions

Video 17.3 Gretchen Kerr: Studying Athletes’ Willingness to Report Incidents

Video 17.4 Gretchen Kerr: The Duty to Report Concerns in Sport


List of Key Dates


You’ll notice throughout this edited book that in the beginning of every chapter, there is a list of Key Dates that pertain directly to its content. The Key Dates listed below provides a master compilation of important dates from each of the chapters in this book, showing the interconnectedness of important themes and historic moments in the movement towards safer sport.

Click the arrows and scroll through the list to learn more about where we currently stand in this journey, and how we came to be here.


An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:




This project is made possible with funding by the Government of Ontario and through eCampusOntario’s support of the Virtual Learning Strategy. To learn more about the Virtual Learning Strategy visit

Part 1: Introduction


The Victorias, Women’s Hockey Team. Photo by Provincial Archives of Alberta on Flickr.

In Part 1, Julie Stevens, PhD, Professor of Sport Management at Brock University, briefly frames the safe sport edited book within current academic and professional contexts and explains the importance of understanding these selected contributions if safe sport progress is to be made in the Canadian sport system. 



Julie Stevens

Welcome to Safe Sport: Critical Issues and Practices!

I am excited to share with you this book on safe sport. Comprised of 18 chapters from 21 contributors across academic and professional realms, the book offers current and insightful commentary that addresses athlete, governance, human rights, legal, coaching, and officiating issues.

The creation of this open education resource (OER) was driven by a compelling necessity to ensure safe sport experiences for all athletes within all contexts. The organizers of the 2021 Safe Sport Forum hosted by the Centre for Sport Capacity at Brock University took this athlete-focused approach seriously. During our planning and staging activities, we were unified around two key priorities: First – that athletes be at the forefront of the discussion and second – that the discussion would continue beyond the Forum!

The Empty Chair

The first priority manifested in the Forum name – Athletes First: The Promotion of Safe Sport in Canada, an athlete panel to launch the program, and the positioning of athletes as the central beacon for shared discussion among attendees. The sessions applied various perspectives to address the harassment and abuse of athletes, and the lack of administrative action in these instances which have been highlighted in recent cases in the media and the courts. Most importantly, the Forum acknowledged that the long-term negative ramifications of a failure to ensure safe sport for athletes at all levels of the Canadian sport system is a significant issue that requires discussion and action.

Photo by USAG- Humphreys on Flickr

As someone who has held several roles in sport, including scholar, volunteer, coach, official, parent, advocate and most importantly, athlete, I have tried to cultivate a safe and respectful environment when I engage with others through sport. Finding a way to keep this focus at the forefront was a personal endeavour. But during a recent strategic planning session I attended, I learned about a perspective that Jeff Bezos has implemented in Amazon for a very long time – aptly described as the “One Empty Chair Rule.”Anders, G., 2012. The rule ensures that an empty chair is placed at the table in order to make certain the customer is top-of-mind at every company meeting.Koetsier, J., 2018. Bezos refers to his mantra as “customer obsession”.

The “Empty Chair” approach resonated with me and stirred thoughts about how it might guide safe sport innovation within the Canadian sport system. The lens made me think of ways a consistent positioning of the athlete – which in sport is the central stakeholder – at the forefront of decision-making might enhance safe sport. What if an empty chair is placed at the table at every meeting where sport leaders make decisions in order to ensure the athlete is top-of-mind?

Athlete-centredness is not new to the sport conversation. In the 2000s, criticism grew over the excessive bureaucracy, corporatization, and results-based orientation of the Canadian high- performance sport system. Calls for change, such as the introduction of athlete-centred initiatives have been made within the Canadian sport system.Thibault, L.& Babiak, K., 2005. The discussion has expanded into various areas of sport, such as anti-doping policy, and beyond the Canadian border to engage a global dialogueGrigaliūnaitė, I. & Eimontas, E., 2018. and competition at the international level.Ciomaga, B., Thibault, L., & Kihl, L., 2017. Further, arguments for a ‘deliberate democracy’ lens were raised as a concept that might counter power imbalance within the sport system and open the door for athletes to engage in decision-making.Kihl, L., Kikulis, L., & Thibault, L., 2008.

Photo by Major Tom Agency on Unsplash

Extending upon the notion of power, the politics of athlete-centredness in a sport system has been examined in the context of performance enhancement drugs resulting in claims that anti-doping policy development fails to include athletes as policymakers.Jackson, G. & Ritchie, I., 2007. More recent work connects athlete input with sustainable elite sport in relation to coaching, holistic perspectives, and the co-creation of an athlete’s overall development.Dolsten, J., Barker-Ruchti, N. & Lindgren, EC., 2019. Interestingly, a review of athlete representation within the decision-making forum of major sport event properties has revealed that Paralympic athletes have a vote through the International Paralympic Committee Athlete Council, whereas the voting representation of Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games athletes is not as evident.MacIntosh, E. & Weckend Dill, A., 2015.

While these works demonstrate how athlete-centredness has been addressed over the past 20 years, the difference now is momentum – the sport community seems far more resolute about hearing from athletes with respect to their view of a safe sport experience.

Hence, this book about safe sport begins with the athlete voice!


In Part 2, Erin Willson and Georgina Truman (AthletesCAN) share powerful insight about the athlete experience in relation to safe sport. The research they address demonstrates the importance of gathering athlete voices, including voices at the lower levels of the sport system, expanding our individual awareness and building our collective awareness about safe sport. It is critical to communicate and implement safe sport policies in ways that align with the level of the athlete.

Video 1.1 Julie Stevens: A Summary of the Athletes’ Voices Panel

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

Part 3 includes three chapters that draw upon different perspectives to examine how athletes are positioned within a larger sport system. Bruce Kidd examines the historical struggle for safe sport within a system fraught with contested terrain. Peter Donnelly critiques the long-standing autonomy of sport and argues that reengineering the way sport organizations operate will increase safe sport accountability. Finally, Leela MadhavaRau and Talia Ritondo propose encompassing a human rights framework into the broader context of safe sport and discuss how safe sport can be achieved.

Video 1.2 Julie Stevens: A Summary of the Governance and System Re-Engineering Panel

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

Part 4 provides an exceptionally comprehensive five-chapter account of safe sport legal considerations. Hilary Findlay and Marcus Mazzucco examine key legal issues that arise from the creation of an independent body to oversee the implementation of the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS) and ensure the fair, transparent and effective management of reported cases of maltreatment. They break down the role of the new independent body in relation to four phases – jurisdiction, investigation, dispute resolution and enforcement. Understanding the legal aspects of the UCCMS as it becomes a mandatory element of the federal sport system, and possibly provincial/territorial and local levels of sport, is critical for students, researchers, professionals and other stakeholders within the Canadian sport system.

Part 5 offers two “from-the-field” exemplars from sport organizations that have effectively developed safe sport policies and practices. Kasey Liboiron and Karri Dawson (True Sport) champion the True Sport values-based approach to sport as a fundamental foundation for the intentional integration of effective safe sport policy by stakeholders throughout the sport system. Ellen MacPherson and Ian Moss (Gymnastics Canada) offer an insider account of the initiatives Gymnastics Canada completed in order to develop, support and foster safe sport throughout the organization.

Photo by Rowan Simpson on Unsplash.

Part 6 shifts the focus to coaches where two chapters address the role a coach plays in a safe athlete experience. Michael Van Bussel and Kirsty Spence outline how a care-driven model and relational risk management plan offer a constructive guide for safe sport relationships among athletes, coaches, and administrators. Isabelle Cayer and Peter Niedre (Coaching Association of Canada) explain the culture shifts that have impacted the safe sport movement and various actions to offer and promote training and coach education across the country.

Part 7 highlights sport officials as the lesser known yet essential stakeholder of the sport ecosystem. Spanning two chapters, Lori Livingston and Susan Forbes address the purpose of rules and their role in creating safe playing environments, and outline the role of officials and how officials have been historically maltreated by spectators, coaches and athletes.

Part 8 concludes the book by looking ahead to what needs to happen in order for the UCCMS to be realized. In one chapter, Gretchen Kerr explains why the UCCMS represents only a first step in the safe sport journey and suggests next steps must include the need for independent complaint and adjudication mechanisms, and extending the notion of safe sport beyond the prevention of harms to include optimization of the sport experience. In a second chapter, Michele Donnelly offers a summary of where we currently stand in this safe sport movement, and an important perspective on what steps need to be taken next to put the UCCMS words into action.

In conclusion, the wealth of information in this book offers ways we can counter challenges of structure in order to commit to safe sport values and enact these values through policies and programs. One resounding theme the authors have communicated in their own unique way is that safe sport requires effort from a variety of stakeholders (including you) at every level of the sports system. My hope is to build upon this initial edition by adding new chapters that respond to the evolving conversation about safe sport in our communities.

I am excited to share these insightful scholars and professional accounts from across the sport system, and to work with you to build ways of keeping the “Athletes First” focus at the forefront of our ongoing and collective safe sport efforts.

Yours in safe sport,





42 Courses. (October 16). Jeff Bezos’ one empty chair rule. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

Anders, G. (2012, April 4). Inside Amazon’s idea machine: How Bezos decodes customers. Forbes. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

Ciomaga, B., Thibault, L., & Kihl, L. (2017). Athlete involvement in the governance of sport organizations. In M. Dodds, K. Heisey, & A. Ahonen (Eds.), RouthledgeHandbook of International Sport Business. London: Routledge.

Dolsten, J., Barker-Ruchti, N., & Lindgren, E. C. (2019). Sustainable elite sport: Swedish athletes’ voices of sustainability in athletics. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 13(5), 727-742. DOI: 10.1080/2159676X.2020.1778062.

Grigaliūnaitė, I. & Eimontas, E. (2018). Athletes’ involvement in decision making for good governance. Baltic Journal of Sport and Health Sciences, 3(110), 18-24.

Jackson, G. & Ritchie, I. (2007)Leave it to the experts: The politics of ‘athlete-centeredness’ in the Canadian sport system. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, 2(4), 396-411.

Kihl, L., Kikulis, L., & Thibault, L. (2008). A deliberative democratic approach to athlete-centred sport: The dynamics of administrative and communicative power. European Sport Management Quarterly, 7(1), 1-30.

Koetsier, J. (2018, April 5). Why every Amazon meeting has at least 1 empty chair. Inc. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

MacIntosh, E., & Weckend-Dill, A. (2015). The athlete’s perspective. In M. Parent & J. L. Chappelet (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Sports Events Management. London: Routledge.

Thibault, L. & Babiak, K. (2005). Organizational changes in Canada’s sport system: Toward an athlete-centred approach. European Sport Management Quarterly, 5(2), 105-132.

Part 2: An Athlete View of Safe Sport in Canada


Photo by Play the Game on Flickr.

Understanding safe sport from the athlete’s perspective is vital as we continue working through safe sport issues in Canada. In Part 2, experts from AthletesCAN, which is the independent association of Canada’s national team athletes, highlight the different forms of maltreatment that athletes experience. Erin Willson and Georgina Truman identify the many ways in which athletes have influenced the Canadian safe sport system, especially in recent years. They also explain the athlete-centred approach to safe sport, and its importance in minimizing maltreatment within sport. 

Athletes First: The Promotion of Safe Sport in Canada


Erin Willson
Georgina Truman


Maltreatment in sport
Athlete-Centred approach
Change implementation

Learning Objectives

When you have completed this chapter, you will be able to:

L01 Identify four types of maltreatment;
L02 Draw connections between athlete advocacy and changes in sport;
L03 Identify 3 key changes;
L04 Explain how the athlete voice has led to key changes; and
L05 Identify key components of the athlete-centred approach. Provide suggestions to implement an athlete-centred sport system.


Maltreatment has become an increasingly documented concern in sport. For example, a 2019 study on Canadian National Team athletes revealed that 75% of athletes reported experiencing at least one harmful behaviour in their careers, with psychological harm and neglect being most common, followed by sexual and physical harm.Willson et al., 2021 In Canada, the athlete’s voice has been an essential component of advancing the safe sport movement, which gained traction in 2018.

First, national team athletes completed a survey on their experiences of maltreatment,Kerr et al., 2009 which was closely followed by a gathering of athletes at the 2019 AthletesCAN Safe Sport Summit, in which reviewed the findings and established consensus statements on the prominent findings and next steps (e.g., a need for an independent body for disclosure/reporting).AthletesCAN, 2019 These statements were presented at a National Safe Sport Summit, which included athletes, national sport organizations and multisport organizations, and led to the formation of a safe sport advisory board and action planning working group.

Since then, a Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sports (UCCMS) has been established and implemented, and a National Independent Mechanism (NIM) is being established by the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC). This chapter provides an overview of past actions athlete leaders have had in safe sport, including key learnings from this experience about why we believe the athlete’s voice is an essential component of driving change in sport.

This chapter includes multi-media content (videos/audio) of Canadian athletes sharing their experiences with maltreatment, disclosure/reporting concerns, and using their voices to create change. Additionally, it will provide an athlete’s perspective on what is essential to continue the movement toward a safer sport environment, and some practical examples of what safe sport looks like from the eyes of an athlete.

Key Dates

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

There has been mounting evidence of all forms of maltreatment occurring in sport around the world, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Over the past decade, several high-profile cases have emerged, including the USA Gymnastics case in 2016, in which the team’s doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison after two hundred athletes came forward with experiences of sexual abuse.Levenson, 2018 The investigation also revealed a culture of emotional abuse and neglect that is rampant in the sport of artistic gymnastics. Athletes around the world have disclosed experiences of body shaming, forced extreme dieting and water restriction, training on injuries and concussions, and frequent public humiliation and beratement.Gymnastic Alliance, n.d.; Levenson, 2018 The USA Gymnastics case was not an isolated incident, with many sports facing similar cases and public allegations, including swimming, alpine skiing, rugby, and artistic swimming.Davison, 2021; Ehekircher, 2020; Longman & Brassil, 2021; Muchnick, 2021 For instance, the British Athletes Commission called for a full investigation of British Gymnastics after several disturbing allegations of bullying and abuse arose in 2020.Ingle, 2021

There have also been research studies conducted from several countries which assessed the prevalence of maltreatment occuring in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. These studies have indicated high rates of athlete maltreatment in areas including psychological abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual maltreatment across sport.Alexander et al., 2011; Kerr et al., 2019, Parent & Vaillancourt-Morel, 2020; Vertommen et al., 2016 For example, in a study of Canadian National Team athletes, seventy-six percent of athletes from sixty-four sports reported at least one experience of maltreatment in their athletic careers.Kerr et al., 2019

In response to the growing awareness of maltreatment, several prevention and intervention initiatives have been instated. Some Canadian examples include the educational programs by Respect Group’s “Respect in Sport for Activity Leaders”, the Coaching Association of Canada’s Safe Sport Training,  and mandatory requirements and standards for federally funded sport organizations, including third party reporting officers.

Most recently, a Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS) has been implemented to outline all forms of harm in sport that are not acceptable. Furthermore, a National Independent Mechanism (NIM) has been developed to prevent and address maltreatment, and provide an independent body for athletes to report maltreatment. The latter initiatives were heavily influenced by athletes who had spoken out about personal experiences of maltreatment, highlighting the importance that the athletes’ voices carry in the movement towards a safer sport environment. In this chapter you will:

  1. Be able to explain the issue of maltreatment in sport within the Canadian context;
  2. Identify the ways in which athletes have influenced the Canadian sport system;
  3. Identify the steps required in adopting an athlete-centred approach; and
  4. Explain the importance of an athlete-centred approach in minimizing maltreatment within sport.
Attention: The content below discusses intricacies of sexual violence. We acknowledge this is a sensitive subject that can be triggering for some people. If you do not feel comfortable engaging with this material, please skip this section.

Overview of Maltreatment

Sport participation offers many benefits that lead to physical, social, and mental well-being (Hansen et al., 2003, Neely & Holt, 2014). However, it is important to acknowledge that there are athletes whose sport experiences have been harmful due to various forms of maltreatment.Willson et al., 2021; Vertommen et al., 2016 Maltreatment refers to: “all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.World Health Organization, 2020

Table 2.1 Maltreatment Types and ExamplesAdapted from Stirling, 2008
Type of Abuse Example
Sexual Abuse Touching or non-touching offenses (e.g., contact, exposure)
Physical Abuse Punching, beating, kicking, biting
Psychological Abuse Yelling, belittling, demeaning comments, humiliation
Neglect Refusing recovery time of injury/illness, inadequate supervision, inadequate attention of basic needs
Bullying Teammate exclusion, theft, teasing
Hazing Initiation specific activities – drinking excessively, personal servant, performing criminal activities

Use of Power

In the News:
McGill’s History of Hazing


McGill basketball teams in spotlight for brutal hazing allegation” by Jason Magder, Montreal Gazette, March 14, 2017.


Photo by Michelle Myers on Unsplash.

Montreal’s McGill University is no stranger to traumatic hazing incidents. In both 2005 and 2015, separate allegations surfaced regarding sexual abuse towards student athletes. In both cases the university investigated the issue. A ban on hazing was enacted after 2005, yet according to students hazing continued as a yearly tradition, pointing to the fact that many individuals feared coming forward.

In this situation, what types of power relationships might have made athletes vulnerable to hazing?

Power is a fundamental component of maltreatment because violence is often used to assert or maintain dominance over another person.Hu & Liu, 2017; Pense & Paymer, 1986; Russo & Pirlott, 2006 One example of a use of power to establish dominance is veteran athletes using their status as a means to force newcomers to partake in harmful hazing activitiesAllan et al., 2019; Waldron et al., 2011

Hazing is frequently cited as a way for athletes to “know their place” on a team, which reinforces the player hierarchy with senior athletes holding their position of power over  junior or new athletes.Waldron et al., 2011 As such, hazing is an example of maltreatment that can happen between peers. Although hazing can result between peers when a power differential occurs through age, rank, seniority, or skill level, it is important to note that athletes are typically prescribed equal amounts of power in the sport system making hazing between peers less likely to be addressed at an institutional level.Kerr et al., 2016

There are several relationships in sport that have predisposed imbalances of power, which can often leave athletes vulnerable. Examples of these relationships include coach-athlete, team captain-athlete, trainer-athlete, and sport administrator-athlete (e.g., CEO of an NSO, high-performance director). Within each of these relationships, athletes are seen to be in a lower position of power since the other roles are positions of authority. Moreover, there is increased vulnerability because of the culture of control and obedience that is instilled throughout sport.

Athletes are taught to respect these positions of authority, which can lead to an unquestioned compliance  to the demands from someone in a higher position (e.g., coach).Brackenridge, 1994; Burke, 2001 Moreover, this compliance is often expected from those people who are in positions of power. This power imbalance and unquestioned compliance can significantly reduce an athlete’s power since they are conditioned not to deviate from what is expected of them.

Therefore, our stance at AthletesCAN is to empower athletes by including them in important conversations about their training in order to lessen the power imbalances inherent in sport. It is our hope that steps taken to nurture athlete empowerment will contest traditional methods of coaching and reduce athlete vulnerability .

Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr.

For more insight about the history of athletes’ involvement in the high-performance sport system, review these resources. In his 2006 thesis and co-authored research article with Dr. Ian Ritchie, Greg Jackson examined the involvement of athletes in Canada’s anti-doping policy process.

Differentiation between Relationships and Forms of Maltreatment

Several terms are frequently interchanged when discussing maltreatment in sport. Therefore, this section provides an overview of the different terminologies that are used. Figure 2.1 outlines these terms in a more concise way and is broken down based on the positions of power. The figure indicates that a misuse of power is the underlying mechanism of harm. Abuse is harm that occurs between two actors, with one person having significant influence over another’s sense of security, trust, and/or fulfillment of needs.Crooks & Wolfe, 2007 This is often known as a “critical relationship,” and in sport this can be relationships between athletes and authority figures that commonly interact (e.g., coaches, parents, etc.). Maltreatment between peers is referred to as bullying since athletes are typically within the same prescribed social rank, and in most instances do not have the power differential of a critical relationship. Harassment is maltreatment that occurs outside of a critical relationship. There is typically a power imbalance that occurs between the two actors; however, the perpetrator does not have a direct influence on the others sense of safety or trust. Examples of this could be a sport administrator that only interacts with the athletes occasionally. At the bottom of the diagram are the types of harm that can occur, which will be discussed in the following section.

Figure 2.1 Differentiation Between Relationships and Terms Including Bullying, Abuse, and Harassment
Differentiation Between Relationships and Terms Including Bullying, Abuse, and Harassment
[Image description]

Four Types of Maltreatment

1. Psychological Harm

Psychological harm in sport is defined as “a pattern of deliberate non-contact behaviours that have the potential to be harmful” (Stirling & Kerr, 2008, p. 178). Psychological abuse has been found to be the most frequently experienced type of harm by athletes.Alexander et al., 2011; Vertommen et al., 2016; Willson et al., 2021 Psychological abuse accounts for many harmful behaviours including being yelled at and publicly humiliated. Given the nature of sport, these types of harmful behaviour occur routinely, resulting in the normalization of abusive behaviour and higher rates of psychological harm. Simply put, these behaviours occur so frequently in public training environments that they have become accepted as  “part of the game”.Stirling & Kerr, 2008

Stirling and Kerr (2008) have proposed examples of psychological harm, which include:

The  most common behaviours reported by Canadian athletes in 2019 were being shouted at, being gossiped about or having lies told about them, and being put down, embarrassed or humiliated.Kerr et al., 2019

Video 2.1 Erin Willson: Body Image and Belittling Athletes

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

2. Physical Harm

Physical harm is understood to be an infliction of physical pain or injury, which can include contact or non-contact behaviors.Durrant, 2006; Perry et al., 2002 Contact behaviours include hitting, slapping, and punching, whereas non-contact behaviours can include being forced to hold an uncomfortable position for a prolonged period of time.

Physical harm in sport can be:Stirling, 2009

Exercise as punishment (e.g., running laps when late, doing sprints because of poor performance) was the most frequently reported form of physical harm by Canadian athletes in 2019.Kerr et al., 2019

3. Sexual Harm

Sexual harm is understood as Any sexual interaction with person(s) of any age that is perpetrated against the victim’s will, without consent, or in an aggressive, exploitative, coercive, manipulative, or threatening manner”.Ryan & Lane, 1997

Sexual harm in sport can be contact or non-contact including, but not limited to:

The  most frequent forms of sexual harm reported amongst Canadian athletes were sexist jokes and remarks and intrusive sexual glances, sexually explicit communication, and sexually inappropriate touching.Kerr et al., 2019

4. Neglect

Neglect is characterized by acts of omission or inaction.Brittain, 2006 Examples of this are intentionally ignoring someone or their needs, purposeful exclusion, or purposeful inaction.

Training when injured or exhausted, sacrificing education and/or career, training in unsafe conditions, and inadequate support of basic needs were the most frequently identified behaviours by Canadian athletes.Kerr et al., 2019

Video 2.2 Allison Forsyth: What is Complicity?

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:


Case Study:
Identifying Types of Harm

Photo by Eduardo Cano Photo Co. on Unsplash.

In the middle of the season, a high-performance gymnast was complaining of pain in her heel. Their doctor advised her to take it easy at practice for a month since it could lead to a tear in her Achilles’ heel. Her coach put her on a modified training program, so she would do primary upper body, core, and flexibility training on her own.

The athlete was mostly ignored by the coach because the coach would focus on the other athletes who were “there to train”. One example of the modified training was being told to hold a split position for five minutes on each leg and if her coach felt she was not as flat in her splits as she could be, then the coach would come by and press down on her shoulders to make her legs touch the ground.

Often, tears were formed in the athlete’s eyes because of the sharp pain this extra pressure would cause. She was diligent about training plan but if her coach ever saw her “taking it easy” even if it was for a water or bathroom break, the athlete would be yelled at from across the gym and humiliated in front of all the other gymnasts. As a consequence, she would be forced to complete one hundred push ups and one hundred sit ups to make up for the perceived lack of effort.

Two weeks before the upcoming qualification, the coach told her that if she did not start participating in full practices, she would not be allowed to compete in the qualification which meant she would not be eligible for the larger competitions that season. Knowing this, the athlete decided that she would train full-time against their doctor’s orders.

Which of the four types of harm are being seen here?

AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, is the only fully independent and most inclusive athlete organization in the country and the first organization of its kind in the world. As the collective voice of Canadian national team athletes, AthletesCAN ensures an athlete-centred sport system by developing athlete leaders who influence sport policy and, as role models, inspire a strong sport culture.

AthletesCAN: First in Canada to Hear the Athletes’ Voices

In 2019, AthletesCAN, in partnership with the University of Toronto, and with the support of the Government of Canada, announced that a baseline prevalence study would be carried out to provide a snapshot of Canada’s national team athletes’ experiences with abuse, harassment and discrimination in sport.

About AthletesCAN

AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, is the only fully independent and most inclusive athlete organization in the country. It is also the first organization of its kind in the world. As the collective voice of Canadian national team athletes, AthletesCAN ensures an athlete-centred sport system by developing athlete leaders who influence sport policy and, as role models, inspire a strong sport culture.

Mission: To unite and amplify the voices of all Canadian National Team athletes.

Vision: We are the collective athlete voice in the unwavering pursuit of an athlete-centred sport system.

Values: AthletesCAN promotes and lives the following athlete focused values in our work and through our actions

  • Integrity: We lead with an honest and moral approach to everything we do;
  • Courage: We find the strength to stand up for what is right;
  • Inclusivity: We represent a diverse membership and support the voices of all athletes; and
  • Transparency: We are open and vulnerable in our effort to create a better sport system.

AthletesCAN History

AthletesCAN serves an important and unique purpose in sport. Led by a committed group of current and retired national team athletes – AthletesCAN benefits from a rich history.

Over two decades ago, passionate trailblazers including three-time World Indoor Championship bronze medalist and Pan-Am Champion Ann Peel (Race Walking); two-time Commonwealth Games Champion and two-time Pan-Am Games silver medalist Dan Thompson (Swimming); ‘Crazy Canuck’ and Olympic bronze medalist Steve Podborski (Alpine Skiing); 1988 Olympian, Heather Clarke (Rowing); 2-time Olympic Champion Kay Worthington (Rowing); 1984 Olympian, Sandra Levy (Field Hockey); 1984 and 1988 Olympian, Shelley Steiner (Fencing), Tour de France Women’s Champion, Pan-Am Games bronze medallist and 2012 and 2016 Olympic coach, Denise Kelly (Cycling); and former CEO of Freestyle Canada Bruce Robinson, came together to challenge the Canadian sport system.

They identified the need for and founded an independent body, then known as the Canadian Athletes Association, that would represent all national team athletes as a stronger collective voice on key issues and initiatives in sport. These early days helped to build an increasingly athlete-centred sport system and provided hundreds of athletes with the opportunity to contribute in a number of important ways.

Since then, AthletesCAN has invested in athlete leadership development through effective representation and education. The organization has created resources to build and formalize athlete feedback mechanisms across the sport system. As a result of strengthening strategic partnerships both within and outside of the system, AthletesCAN has continued to pioneer innovative ways to ensure inclusive decision-making by informing, educating, and advocating for an athlete-centred sport system. One of the major contributions in the past few years to the Canadian sport system was ensuring athletes’ voices were heard in the safe sport discussions and policy formations. One of the ways this was done was through a formalized research study in partnership with the University of Toronto, in which athletes were asked about their experiences of maltreatment in sport.

In the News:
Athletes Speak Out

Rugby 7s women say they were let down by Rugby Canada’s bullying/harassment policy” by Neil Davidson, CBC Sports, April 28, 2021.

NWSL’s abuse scandal reveals normalization of toxic culture in sport” by Myles Dichter, CBC Sports, October 8, 2021.

Aly Raisman: Conditions at Karolyi Ranch made athletes vulnerable to Nassar” by Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post, March 14, 2018.

My swim coach raped me when I was 17. USA Swimming made it disappear” by Sarah Ehekircher, The Guardian, August 25, 2020.

In more recent years, athletes have begun to speak out about the abuse they experienced.

These headline news stories of psychological harm, neglect, physical harm and sexual harm reveal the challenges that athletes can experience while training and competing. In the Canadian context, it has been difficult for athletes to try to file complaints and initiate formal review processes and these stories show that this is also the case in the United States. Read through these news stories to see some examples of maltreatment in sport that has come to light since 2018, particularly towards young girls and women.

AthletesCAN & Prevalence

The last prevalence study of Canadian athletes’ experiences was conducted over twenty years ago.Kirby & Greaves, 1996 Since that time, the culture with respect to reporting sexual violence as well as child and youth protection has changed dramatically. Not only does this current prevalence study provide a snapshot of athletes’ experiences but it serves as baseline data against which to assess the impact of future preventive and intervention initiatives. It also signals the importance of addressing the human rights and welfare of athletes in Canada.

The online, anonymous survey was developed by Dr. Gretchen Kerr, Ph.D., Erin Willson, Ph.D. Candidate, and Ashley Stirling, Ph.D., in collaboration with AthletesCAN and the AthletesCAN safe sport working group. The survey was distributed to current national team members as well as retired national team members who had left the sport within the past ten years.

In total, 1,001 athletes participated in the study by completing an online survey. Of this total, seven-hundred-sixty-four were current athletes and two-hundred-thirty-seven were retired athletes who had left their sport within the past ten years.

A discussion of the study’s results is provided in Chapter 17.

Athlete Consensus Statements

In 2019, AthletesCAN, together with their partners, hosted the AthletesCAN Safe Sport Summit in Toronto, Ontario. The event brought together fifty athletes, sport partners, subject matter experts, survivors, and advocates to courageously share their experiences, knowledge, and vision for a safer sport environment from grassroots to high-performance. The results from the prevalence study conducted by Kerr et al., (2019) were shared with the athletes (see Chapter 17  for more information).

After meaningful discussions, the athletes agreed to a number of consensus statements, including, but not limited to the following

  1. That all forms of maltreatment be prohibited.
  2. For athletes above the age of 18 years:
    1. Any sexual relations between a person in a position of authority and an athlete is prohibited as it creates a perceived bias, perceived conflict of interest, negative implications for other teammates, and an imbalance of power that puts an athlete’s ability to consent in question.
    2. Upon implementation of this code, any sexual relationship that has been initiated between a person in a position of authority and an athlete must be disclosed and the person in the position of authority must leave the organization. Failure to disclose should result in sanctions.
    3. Retaliation against an athlete who has not consented to sexual advances or solicitation of sexual conduct or relationships is strictly prohibited and should be sanctioned accordingly.
  3. That a Safe Sport Canada body be established and responsible for all aspects of Safe Sport including but not limited to policy, education and training, investigation and adjudication, support and compensation.
  4. That Safe Sport Canada be independent of all other sport governing bodies.
  5. That there be a universal code of conduct that applies to all stakeholders and addresses all forms of maltreatment and applicable sanctions.
  6. That there be mandatory education on Safe Sport for all stakeholders driven by minimum and harmonized standards to ensure good standing.

Read the following section to better understand the extent to which each of these six consensus statements has been fulfilled.

Key Learnings

Over the past few years there have been significant shifts towards a safe sport environment in Canada. AthletesCAN believes the driving forces of this shift have risen because of the strength in the athletes’ voices. Athletes came together to ensure that safety in sport was a main priority for sport administrators. They did this through formalized surveys and unified consensus statements to ensure their requests and proposed actions for meaningful change were heard. In addition, the Safe Sport Working Group was formed through AthletesCAN as a group of current and retired athletes to represent the collective athlete voice at national practitioner conferences, and in the committees responsible for creating the UCCMS and NIM. As demonstrated by the timeline presented at the beginning of this chapter, many of the critical steps occurred based on the consensus statements from the athletes in 2019.

Explanations of the Consensus Statements from the 2019 AthletesCAN Safe Sport Summit

Statement #1 reads that all forms of maltreatment should be taken into consideration. Previously, the prevention and intervention initiatives in sport had been primarily focused on sexual harm, with policies such as the “Rule of 2” implemented to protect young athletes from being alone with potential sexual perpetratorsCoaching Association of Canada, n.d. (see Chapter 14 for more information on coaching and the “Rule of Two”). The implementation of the UCCMS outlines all forms of unacceptable harm , which includes sexual, physical, physiological and neglectful behaviors.Canadian Safe Sport Program, n.d.

Statement #2 which pertains to all athletes regardless of age, is also incorporated within the UCCMS. The UCCMS does not specify age because there is the understanding that the behaviors outlined can be harmful at any age.Canadian Safe Sport Program, n.d.

Statements #3 and #4 were addressed in 2021 when the National Independent Mechanism (NIM) was established. While the body is not completely independent since it is run through an existing organization, it is a 3rd party resource that equally advocates for all parties (athletes, coaches, sport administrators). In addition, the NIM is also responsible for research, education, and training (statement #3).

Statement #5 has been addressed with the creation and implementation of the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport.

Statement #6 has also been addressed through mandatory education that is being provided through the Coaching Association of Canada that was created in 2020. At this time, safe sport training is mandatory for all stakeholders, but there is a lack of data to assess whether this is being upheld.

Given these changes aligned with athletes’ requests, AthletesCAN believes that athletes were an essential part of this movement. However, it is also interesting to note that many decisions made about athletes do not incorporate athletes themselves. For example, many athletes do not have representation or voting rights on their sport organizations’ Board of Directors where many decisions are made. We implore sport organizations to continue collecting feedback from their athletes and incorporating athletes in their decision-making processes. This can be done through formalizing athlete representation into government structures and practices.

Video 2.3 Danielle Lappage: Attending the AthletesCAN Safe Sport Summit

Video provided by AthletesCAN. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:


Photo by socialcut on Unsplash.

“Canadian athletes have a proud history of representing this country with honour, class, and overall success. NSOs in Canada work hard to provide the structures which contribute to our athletes’ achievements. In order to best utilize these structures, it is paramount for athletes to both literally and figuratively have a seat at the table. In addition, by including the athlete voice in NSO decision making and governance, Canadian sport institutions will increase their level of effectiveness and transparency, while promoting democratic ideals. Acts of good faith, inclusivity, and a will for success are all virtues needed for promoting the voice of athletes within Canadian sport governance.” – AthletesCAN, 2020

Read the full report “The Future of Athlete Representation within Governance Structures of National Sport Organizations” online.AthletesCAN, 2020

Athlete-Centred Approach

An athlete-centred approach allows athletes to take a more active role in their sporting career, particularly around the decision-making process. Jowett and Cockerill (2003) propose that this approach minimizes the dependency of an athlete on the coach, by becoming an equal contributor in the process. In the 1994 discussion paper “Athlete-Centred Sport” Clarke, Smith and Thibault discuss properties of an athlete-centred sport system:

  • In an athlete-centred sport system, the values, programs, policies, resource allocation and priorities should be based on athletes’ needs and goals;
  • “The primary focus of sport should be to contribute to the all-round development of athletes as whole, healthy people through sport;”
  • “Athletes are the ‘raison d’etre’ of the sport system. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity and value of sport, it is critical that the sport experience be positive for athletes;”
  • Athletes are the ACTIVE SUBJECTS, not the objects of sport.
Figure 2.2 Characteristics of an Athlete-Centred System
Characteristics of an Athlete-Centered System
[Image description]

Canada’s Formal Commitment to an “Athlete-Centred Approach”


After the 1988 Ben Johnson doping incident, a formal inquiry was conducted to assess the sport environment.CCES, n.d. This investigation was conducted by Ontario Appeal Court Chief Justice Charles Dubin and was known as the “Dubin Inquiry”. Results from this investigation posited that the win-at-all costs approach that was rampant throughout the Canadian sport culture was detrimental to the health and well-being of athletes.Dubin, 1990 Following this commission, Canada began to make changes towards a more athlete-centred approach, which included the creation of AthletesCAN in 1992 and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), then known as the Canadian Anti-Doping Organization (CADO).

Canada has made formal commitments to an athlete-centred approach through policy documents including:

Case Study:
Ben Johnson’s Doping Scandal

Photo by Chau Cédric on Unsplash.

Dealing with doping: Sports world can learn from Canada and Ben Johnson legacy” by Sarah Bridge, CBC, Feb. 12, 2018.

At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Canadian Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson won the gold medal in the 100 meter sprint in 9.79 seconds. It was later discovered that he and five other finalists had taken performance-enhancing drugs. What followed was the Dubin inquiry, a historic commission that revealed the ineffective testing policies and procedures of the Canadian government. This inquiry spurred by Johnson’s doping revelations resulted in the establishment of the Canadian Anti-Doping Organization (CADO), an independent body that oversees nationwide drug testing. The CADO is known today as the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). The Dubin Inquiry focused upon high-performance athletes rather than the sport system as a whole when identifying reasons why performance enhancing drugs were prevalent in Canadian high-performance sport.

What do you think sport leaders have learned from this scandal about implementing an athlete-centred approach? What lessons still need to be implemented?

Video 2.4 Camille Bérubé: An Athlete’s Perspective on Safe Sport

Video provided by AthletesCAN. Used with permission [Transcript].

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

Perceived Barriers for Athletes

One of the main challenges identified by athletes is that they do not feel they have a safe place to report maltreatment. Most complaints must be brought to the athletes’ superiors, who have power over the decisions that are made against the athlete. For example, a national team athlete who had an issue with a coach would need to go to the national sport organization to submit a complaint, but this could also have implications for their own careers since the sport organizations makes decisions on team selection. Many athletes feel as though they do not have a safe place to report their experiences.

Video 2.5 Neville Wright: An Athlete’s Perspective on Racial Discrimination in Sport

Video provided by AthletesCAN. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

During her presentation at the 2021 Safe Sport Forum hosted by the Centre for Sport Capacity at Brock University, Allison Forsyth, Olympian and AthletesCAN board member, addressed the difficulty an athlete faces when reporting maltreatment. The following six themes related to perceived barriers are highlighted by these direct quotes provided by athlete participants in the maltreatment study.Kerr, et al., 2019

Theme 1: Lack of safe reporting

“While some could view the outcomes of this study as negative, highlighting the extreme nature of the issues and having a baseline to then work from to effect change is actually positive.”

“Athletes rarely report. Plain and simple. They are not comfortable or feel safe doing so with anyone who has a vested interest in the outcome. I reported and did not experience a positive outcome. It is not easy being the whistle blower. We need to support athletes through this – they need a safe place to report free from conflict of interest.”

“The reporting system is broken or useless as it stands right now. Other coaches knew about abuse and did nothing. Turning a blind eye was the norm. Everyone feared consequences of confronting the issues.”

“When an athlete or team says that the coach is unfit and that her behaviour is considered harassment, listen! It is not ok to “wait and see” what will happen and expect that all problems will resolve themselves. When twelve people give you different instances of unacceptable behaviours, that means there is a problem, don’t tell your athletes that they are “just being dramatic and will have to deal with it.”

“I did not make a formal complaint because the process was lengthy and I was afraid of repercussions and mentally it would be difficult to deal with and continue training.”

“If athletes speak out or questions decisions, they are told to be quiet.”

In Practice:
Athlete-Centred Sports Environment

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Pretend you have been hired to do an evaluation of a sport environment (perhaps one that you are or were a part of). Can you identify aspects of the sport environment that would be considered athlete-centred? Are there suggestions that you can think of for to make the sport environment more athlete-centred?

Theme 2: No whistleblower protection

“My NSO did support me very well during a harassment investigation. The parties accused were found guilty but very minor consequences were given. The harassment put a cloud over my entire career.”

Theme 3: Lack of meaningful consequences

“Over 5 players have left our program due to mental health issues in direct correlation with the head coach. Our team finished 3rd so they kept him on board despite the abuse.”

Theme 4: Not being included in conversations and lack of formal representation

Athletes’ voices are often ignored in the conversation of maltreatment. Reasons athletes have received for not being included are:

“This included the use of conflict of interest to exclude athlete representative positions from NSO boards, issues with recruiting athlete representatives who lack the preferred board member skills and qualifications, as well as geographical barriers which may prevent athletes from attending board meetings and performing their athlete representative role.”AthletesCAN, 2020, p. 19

Theme 5: Lack of education on right vs. wrong

Normalization of behaviours, grooming contributes to a lack of education.

“All athletes, coaches and sports officials should take a mandatory Safe Sport course.”

“Coaches should be required to go through training to help them navigate harassment and abuse issues between team members. My coach always put his head in the sand and used the ‘that’s not my job’ excuse. I know there is a focus on dealing with harassment and abuse perpetrated by coaches, but I think that issues between peers also must be seriously addressed.”

Theme 6: Call for More Education

“More education is needed on ‘It’s not okay to do X’ anymore.”

“Teach male coaches that it isn’t appropriate to talk about sexual things, whether or not they relate to the athlete, ever. Teach coaches to not discuss the negatives of their personal/home life with the athlete, ever.” As one athlete wrote, “Coaches are educators. Most math teachers would be fired for negatively screaming at a person for a wrong answer. Out with the old in with the new.”

Conclusions and A Way Forward

Video 2.6 Erin Willson: The Definition of Safe Sport

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

There continues to be improvements and action toward a safer sport environment for all, however, there is still great deal that must be done. We believe one of the most essential parts of this movement are the athletes, which includes their protection and their voice within this movement. We believe the best way forward is through a collaborative approach with all stakeholders, including sport administrators, sport organizations, coaches, and athletes. This does not necessarily mean that athletes get “all the power”  but we do propose that athletes are involved in a meaningful way.

Moreover, this means removing the “us vs. them” mentality that continues to persist between sport stakeholders, specifically between athletes and other stakeholders. There are concerns that if athletes have more power then there will be chaos in sport, and it will no longer be manageable. We are at a moment in time where athletes are demanding protection, and we believe that a system that includes all stakeholders’ voices and puts athletes at the centre of all decisions will lead to a safe, welcoming, and inclusive sport environment.


Key Terms 


An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:


Suggested Assignments

  1. The 1990 Dubin Inquiry, titled the “Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance” summarizes the facts and circumstances surrounding the use of drugs and banned substances intended to increase athletic performance. Review the recommendations noted in Chapter 26 of the report. Has the Canadian sport system met the recommendations Dubin proposed? Why or why not?
  2. A 2017 study by Laurie de Grace at the University of Alberta found that sport culture can push athletes towards drug and alcohol addiction to cope with pressure. Review the CBC’s report “Part of the Culture: Study suggests links between sports and addiction.” How might an athlete-centred approach reduce the risk of alcohol and drug dependency for athletes?
  3. Read “Next Steps in the Safe Sport Journey: From Prevention of Harm to Optimizing Experiences” by Gretchen Kerr and consider the following questions:
    1. In your perspective, what elements would create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive sport environment?
    2. What social influences on sport increased the focus on human rights?
    3. Why might a coach, or sport administrator resist change with respect to safe sport? List one example for each of the stages of change.
  4. Review “The Future of Athlete Representation within Governance Structures of National Sport Organizations” from AthletesCAN and consider the following questions:
    1.  How did the 2011 Canada non-for-profit act impact athlete representation on NSO Boards?
    2. What are prominent concerns and areas of concensus in the sport system around athlete-centred approach to governance?
    3. In your opinion, where would you place Canadian NSOs on the athlete representation continuum and how does this impact Canada’s athlete-centred approach? How does this impact the athlete-centred approach regarding safe sport? How would a shift to the democratic end of the continuum?

 Image Descriptions

Figure 2.1 This figure demonstrates the differentiation between relationships and terms including bullying, abuse, and harassmentMaltreatment is committed through the misuse of power. Within a dependent relationship this is called abuse. Between peers this is called bullying. Within an authority-based, non-dependent relationship this is called harassment. These three types of harm are manifested in physical, psychological and sexual harm, as well as neglect. [return to text]

Figure 2.2 This figure demonstrates the nine characteristics of an athlete-centred system which include accountability, dual respect, empowerment, equity & fairness, excellence, extended responsibility, health, informed participation, mutual support, and rights. [return to text]


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Part 3: History, Governance and Human Rights Perspectives about Safe Sport


Photo by Colleen Patterson.

When it comes to the safe sport movement, implementing change requires a solid understanding of where we currently stand and how we got to be here. At the same time, it is crucial to reposition the conversation with an intersectional focus on athletes as individuals operating in multiple systems of power. Part 3 of this reader covers important conversations around the history of safe and inclusive sport, the changes that have taken place in sport governance, and the need for sport organizations to embrace cultures of equity and inclusion. 

In Chapter 3, Bruce Kidd, PhD, from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at University of Toronto writes about the long struggle towards safe sport in Canada. In Chapter 4, Peter Donnelly, PhD, who is from the same department at University of Toronto discusses the recent challenges posed to the autonomy of sport organizations. Finally, in Chapter 5, a human rights perspective is offered by Leela Madhava Rau and Talia Ritondo of Brock University. These topics are crucial for understanding the broader context of safe sport and how it can be achieved. 

The Long Struggle for Safe Sport in Canada


Bruce Kidd


Sport is a contested terrain.
People have always struggled to make sports safer and more inclusive, despite resistance.
The current Canadian campaign for safe sport must be understood in its historical context.
Students, teachers, athletes, and coaches must continue to push for reforms.

Learning Objectives

When you have completed this chapter, you will be able to:

LO1 Understand the complex, contested history of modern sports—that sports are not socially neutral but have been constructed to advantage some and disadvantage others;
LO2 Understand the contingent nature of the historical process—that campaigns to make them safe and more inclusive can succeed but they also can be defeated or rolled back; and
LO3 Understand the current state of the campaign for safe sport in Canada and what needs to be done to ensure its effectiveness.


The current campaign for “safe sport” is an expression of a long history of efforts to make societies and sports safer and more inclusive. In their origins in the early modern period, modern sports were violent, rough, and unruly, with success more often the result of brute strength than skill, and participation limited for the most part to European upper-class males and a few male “professionals” from the working classes. Since then, a succession of leaders, participants, and public bodies have sought to reduce or eliminate violence from sports, introduce rules to enhance the fairness of competition and encourage the values of self-restraint and “fair play,” while those excluded from sports, particularly women, the working classes, Indigenous peoples, Black people, persons with disabilities and other marginalized people have fought for opportunities and fair treatment. In 20th century Canada, such efforts included the campaigns against hockey violence, racial discrimination and doping, and for free public recreation, gender equity, and universal accessibility.

This chapter will briefly set out this long, tumultuous history, arguing that while the overall trend has been towards safer, more inclusive sports, there is no guarantee that particular campaigns will succeed. On the contrary, many efforts have been blocked or defeated by those who benefitted from the unsafe and exclusionary status quo, and even successful efforts can and have been rolled back. In Canada, strong policies to prevent and address gender-based violence (GBV) were first proposed in the early 1990s. While Sport Canada required National Sports Organizations (NSOs) in 1996 to take steps to eliminate GBV, in 2016 Donnelly, Kerr, Heron, and DiCarlo found that few NSOs had met that requirement and that Sport Canada had failed to monitor compliance.Donnelly et al., 2016. The chapter will conclude with recommendations for ensuring that the current new initiatives for safe and inclusive sport are sustained.

Key Dates

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Sport is a contested terrain. We compete on the playing field and contend for opportunity and meaning. While we are engrossed in the challenges and emotions of a race or a game, it seems like the world and its complications are far away. To enjoy any game, we certainly want it to stay that way. But as students of sport, society, and public policy, we need to understand that the sports we play and how we experience them are inextricably bound up with the same enabling and constraining social structures within which we live. Gruneau (1983) captured this relationship best in his “paradox of play”:

“While one of the purposes of rules is to separate play from reality, the very act of rule construction has the effect of embedding play deeply in the prevailing logic of social relations and thereby diminishing its autonomy. For this reason, the study of play is haunted by a fundamental paradox. Play gives the impression of being an independent and spontaneous aspect of human action or agency and at the same time a dependent and regulated aspect of it.”Gruneau, 1983, pp. 20-21

That realization is the starting point for this chapter. I will make three extended historical points: (1) modern sports bear the stamp of ongoing debates and struggles about what constitutes safe sport; (2) those struggles for safer sport have always been intertwined with struggles for access and inclusion by those who have been excluded; (3) while “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice”, as the US civil rights leader Martin Luther King argued in many of his speeches,King was paraphrasing the 19th century American Christian reformer, Theodore Parker; see Susan Manker-Seale, ‘The Moral Arc of the Universe: Bending Toward Justice’, 15 January 2006,  there is no guarantee that every episode of those struggles results in progressive change. History is contingent, and even very good campaigns have been defeated and victories reversed. From these three points, I will consider the current Canadian struggle for safe sport and draw the lessons for vigilance, study, and activism.

The Origins of Modern Sports

Photo by ChabotPhoto on PixaBay.

The origins of modern sports can be traced to the early 19th century in the rapidly industrializing societies of Europe and North America. In England, the boys and men of upper-class schools, universities, and clubs gradually transformed the rough and unruly games of the early modern period into what we recognize today. In an earlier time, every community had its own way of playing and games could go on all day. It mattered little because most people never travelled more than 25 kms from their birthplace and life followed the rhythms of agriculture and the seasons. But as the railway and telegraph shrunk distances and inter-town competition became possible, the factory clock drastically reduced leisure and urbanization eliminated open space, organizers gradually agreed upon or imposed standardized rules and equipment, fixed limits to the playing area, the number of players and the duration of games, established a clear distinction between players and spectators, and encouraged an ethic of fair play.Dunning & Sheard, 2005; Guttmann, 1978.

In North America, men who once played bat and ball games under local rules negotiated, embraced, or were forced to accept regional rules. By mid-century, the best known were the New York rules, the Massachusetts rules, the Western rules, and the Canadian rules. By the 1870s, the New York rules pushed out those other ways of playing and by the turn of the 20th century, simply became “baseball”. The same process occurred in the traditional games that became hockey, lacrosse and football.Gruneau & Whitson, 1983. At the same time, physical educators invented completely new sports like basketball and volleyball. So widespread is the acceptance of standard rules today that communities vie for the right to be declared the “home” of sports like hockey, failing to realize that evidence of such play in the early modern era does not constitute origins—simply that people played something similar. The new sports soon spread around the world by trade, imperialism, Christianity, and elite emulation.Mangan, 1998. These processes continue to this day.

The Struggle for Safe Sport


  1. Reflect on the extent to which you take responsibility for the safety and accessibility of your sport. How do you advocate or model safe sport on your team?
  2. Reflect upon the demography of participation and leadership in your sport and compare it to the demography (gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc.) of your city/region as a whole. Would you say your sport is inclusive? Why or why not?

For our purposes, concern and contention about safe rules and conditions have always been integral to the making of sports. Early modern sports were extremely violent, with few restrictions upon fighting and other tactics. There were no limits to the size or weight of players and success was more often the result of brute strength than skill. Players could and were seriously hurt. In boxing, what was known as prize fighting, men fought “bare knuckle”, and although there were rounds (measured by knockdowns), participants fought until one competitor could no longer stand. Gradually, rules were introduced to curb violence and referees to enforce them. Gloves (in boxing and baseball), weight categories and round limits in the combative sports were introduced to reduce injury. Skill rather than the size of players became more valued. But none of these changes occurred without long debates among players, organizers, and the growing sports media, often in response to death and serious injury.

The German British sociologist Norbert Elias (1971, 1978) argues that these changes in sport were part of a larger transformation he called “the civilizing process”. As urban densities increased, medical science advanced and the working class and women pressed for better opportunities, Western societies became more socially conscious. States began to provide clean water, control sewage, and regulate food products. They introduced universal public education to inculcate a culture of respect and self-restraint and sought to reduce interpersonal violence. Duels were outlawed and police forces were created to ensure public order.

In this context, every generation of Canadian sport has experienced the pressure to make sport safer. Some changes, such as new equipment and practices that reduce the risk of injury—think protective gear and water stations at fun runs—have provoked little controversy, but other proposed changes have touched off bitter debate. The federal government once made prize fighting illegal, but organizers defied the law and held matches clandestinely. Although boxing was subsequently allowed under strict provincial regulation, such is the risk of lifelong brain injury, that medical associations continue to call for its abolition.Kidd, Corner & Stewart, 1983; Kidd, 1995. Hockey, too, has long been a site of struggle over safety, as players, parents, and the public decry the seeming indifference of the sport’s rule makers and coaches to fighting and other injurious tactics.

We can place the current effort to realize “safe sports” in that trajectory. Recent campaigns against “win at all costs”, doping and for “fair play” are also part of this story. Recent examples include the campaigns to prevent concussions in Canadian football (e.g. “Grey Cup haunted by brain injury but doesn’t need to be”) to combat doping around the world (e.g. “‘Nigerian sprinter Okagbare faced 3 charges in doping case”), and to require athletes to double vaccinate against COVID-19 in the Olympics (e.g. “Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 – Update on Spectators, Vaccination, and COVID-19 Countermeasures”). Several of the research and project questions invite you to explore these efforts in sports with which you are familiar.

Video 3.1 Bruce Kidd: Sport and the Struggle for Inclusion

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

The Struggle for Inclusion 

Case Study:
Inclusivity in Sport

Photo by Joseph Two on Unsplash.

Paralympics Classification
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Classification was created to allow non-able-bodied athletes to participate in sport, creating more subgroups with fair and balanced domains of competition. Classification determines which athletes are eligible to compete and how athletes are grouped for competition.

In May 2017, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) voted to allow female players to wear hijabs and male players to wear turbans and yarmulkes following a ban initially imposed for safety reasons. American-Muslim basketball player Indira Kajlo helped campaign to have FIBA loosen its restrictions on headgear, spearheading an online petition that drew around 70,000 signatures, working with women in India, Turkey, Sweden and the UK.

A closely related struggle is for access and inclusion. Modern sports were developed by men for able-bodied boys and men in male-only institutions. It was not that they forgot about girls and women, sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, the working classes, Indigenous Peoples, and other non-Europeans; the first organizers deliberately excluded them as a way of strengthening upper-class, European masculinity. But such were the joys and benefits of sports, that those excluded soon sought to play themselves, crashing the established sports bodies’ competitions, creating their own competitions and organizations (think Workers’ Olympiads and Women’s Olympics) and pushing governments to create public opportunities for their children in schools and playgrounds, while many of those who already enjoyed sports pushed back.Kidd, 1996. For me, this is the most fascinating thread of Canadian and international sports history, and it continues to this day.

The struggle for inclusion directly affects the struggle for safe sports, because as different people took up sports, they demanded that some rules and conditions be altered to make them easier and safer to play. These ideas, too, were frequently contested, as the century-long debates about distinct rules for women’s sports and events illustrate.

The Contingency of Reform

As the ongoing debates in boxing, hockey and women’s sports demonstrate, not everyone agrees that reform is desirable. Some players and coaches resist because change might alter the skills required, even their very understanding of and love for the game. In hockey, traditionalists have long argued that hockey should teach boys and men the courage to stand up and fight, and therefore oppose any proposal to eliminate fighting from the game. During the 1970s, independent task forces in virtually every province in Canadae.g Downey, 1973; McMurtry, 1974. recommended the elimination of fighting from hockey, yet very few associations agreed. The current effort to reduce concussions from hits to the head in hockey faces similar opposition.

Many progressive campaigns have met a similar fate. In the 1920s and 1970s, educators sought to eliminate abusive coaching, only to be told that toughening athletes was needed to make them successful. The advances of first-wave feminism in sports after WW1 were obliterated in the patriarchal post-WW2 reconstruction so that the 1960s generation of women leaders had to learn to organize all over again. In recent years, while there has been a welcome growth in legislation designed to bring about safer sports, e.g. Quebec’s Act Respecting Safety in Sports (2021) and Rowan’s Law (Ontario 2018) in Ontario, and university and foundation programs devoted to sport safety research (e.g. Concussion Research Clinic at the University of Toronto, Think First Foundation), there continues to be resistance.

Campaigns for access and inclusion have often faced resistance, as those who have already enjoyed sports seek to preserve them for themselves.

In both of these struggles, there have been cycles of public concern, government consultation and policy response, sport sector resistance and government failure to follow up, monitor and enforce compliance. In the early 1990s, following Ben Johnson’s shocking disqualification for steroids from the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the anguishing nationally televised hearings that heard other Canadian athletes admit to doping, chief justice Charles Dubin concluded that the intense pressure upon athletes and coaches to win was a major contributor. He recommended a more “athlete-centered” approach and more representative sports bodies. Yet within a few years, the idea of “athlete-centered sport” was reduced to rhetoric and the newly established, much more representative Canadian Sport Council discontinued in the renewed push to the podium. Widespread concern over gender-based violence in Canadian sport led Sport Canada to require National Sports Organizations (NSOs) to create preventive policies with independent harassment officers. Yet in 2018, Donnelly and Kerr found that few NSOs had developed the requisite policies, only one had an independent investigative officer, and Sport Canada had failed to monitor compliance.Kerr, Kidd & Donnelly, 2020.

Video 3.2 Bruce Kidd: The Fight for Gender Equity in Canadian Sport

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

Applying the Lessons of History

In 2018, federal Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, rejected calls to create a completely independent mechanism to address gender-based violence in sport and chose instead to renew and strengthen the failed 1996 policy. But further revelations of athlete abuse, intensified athlete activism, and the recommendations of several task forces and the 2019 meeting of the federal, provincial, and territorial sports ministers led her, her successor as sports minister, Steven Guilbeault, and Sport Canada to initiate a more rigorous approach. A new Universal Code of Conduct to address Maltreatment in Sport at the national level (Canadian Safe Sport Program, Sport Information Resource Centre, n.d.) has been promulgated and the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) engaged to create a new independent mechanism to implement the Code.Canadian Heritage, 2021. The Code not only addresses gender-based violence but other forms of mistreatment, including bullying and neglect.

In the News:
Inequalities and the Pandemic

Jumpstart State of Sport Report,” by Respect Group Inc, March 2021.


Photo by United Way of Greater St. Louis on Flickr.

Inequalities related to accessibility and sport worsened during COVID-19. Those who have already been disproportionately inactive – girls and women, the poor, BIPOC, and persons with disabilities – have suffered the most.

While the media have reported on every challenge and pivot faced by their business partners in corporate sports, they have been largely silent about the impact upon school and community sports. In those sectors, closed facilities, plummeting revenues, staff layoffs, and social distancing requirements have sharply reduced, even eliminated physical education and co-curricular sport and many forms of adult fitness.

In March 2021, the Jump Start Canadian Tire Foundation (2021) found that three in ten Canadian sports organizations were temporarily or indefinitely closed, six in ten were struggling to provide modified programming, and one-third were bankrupt. 69% of surveyed parents said that their children were already showing signs of being less physically fit because of the pandemic. In July, a MLSE Foundation (2021) study of Toronto youth found that alongside a slight increase in participation in individual activities like running, strength training or conditioning, there were large declines in team and facility-based sports such as soccer, basketball, hockey, swimming, and baseball.

These are extremely encouraging steps forward. Very few other national efforts have defined the abuse of athletes so comprehensively. The SDRCC has a well-deserved reputation for timely, athlete-sensitive, and independent adjudications.

Yet given the long history of resistance to athlete-centered policies and the deep belief that harsh methods are sometimes necessary to get athletes to the podium, the athletes, researchers, and activists who have fought for safe sport must continue to press for significant change in the culture of sports, the widespread dissemination of the expectations of the Code and its effective implementation. How can athletes, equity advocates and members of the public hold the sports bodies accountable for their use of the UCCMS and the new independent mechanism and their efforts to change their culture? How can they hold Sport Canada accountable for its oversight of publicly funded high-performance sports?

Given that many sports bodies claim the “autonomy of sports”, despite their extensive public funding and immersion in the prevailing logics of society, it will be important for advocates to hold them up to their social responsibilities. Essential to this task will be independent monitoring and evaluation. This is a task to which researchers and students should give special attention.

Given that the UCCMS and the SDRCC only cover national programs, further efforts will be needed to bring the provinces and territories into the new regime.

Finally, the campaign for safe sport cannot lose sight of related efforts to improve the access and inclusion of sports. There can’t be much to cheer about if sports become safer yet are only available to a few. Yet, Canadian sport is largely a white, middle-and upper-class practice, where “pay for play” requirements exclude the poor.

The fight for safe and more equitable sport is far from over.



Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash.



Video 3.3 Bruce Kidd: The Long Struggle for Safe Sport

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:


Further Research

One area for future research is the exploration of implicit cultural biases (e.g. racism, toxic masculinity, homophobia) in sport through the lens of intersectionality. As Cooper and colleagues (2020) note “inequities, inequalities, and discrimination” are barriers to developing an inclusive, welcoming sports environment. 

Key Terms

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Suggested Assignments

    1. Reflection on the safety and accessibility for Canadian sports: Choose a sport and answer the following questions in relation to that chosen sport:
        1. How would you characterize its safety and accessibility for Canadians?
        2. What accounts for the assessment you have made?
        3. Can you suggest improvements?
        4. What’s standing in the way?
        5. What would be needed to realize those improvements?
    2. Athletes’ Rights: Write an assessment of athletes’ rights in a sport of your choice. To what extent are athletes involved in major decision-making?


Canadian Heritage. (2021, July 6). Minister Guilbeault announces new independent safe sport mechanism. Government of Canada. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

Canadian Safe Sport Program. Sport Information Resource Centre: Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS), (5)1, 1-16. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

Canadian Tire Jumpstart Foundation. (2021, March). Jumpstart state of sport report. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

Connolly, J. & Noseworthy, M. (2017, November 22). Grey Cup haunted by brain injury risk – but doesn’t have to be. The Conversation. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

Donnelly, P., Kerr, G., Heron, A., & DiCarlo, D. (2016). Protecting youth in sport: An examination of harassment policies. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 8(1), 33–50.

Downey, L. W. (1973). Report of an inquiry into the rights of individuals in amateur sport (hockey). Edmonton: Alberta Branch of Cultural Development.

Dunning, E. & Sheard, K. (2005). Barbarians, gentlemen and players: A sociological study of the development of rugby football. New York: Routledge.

Elias, N. (1978). The civilizing process. New York: Urizen Books.

Elias, N. (2017). The genesis of sport as a sociological problem. In E. Dunning (Ed.), Sport: Readings from a Sociological Perspective (pp. 88-115). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Gruneau, R. S. (1983). Class, sports and social development. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Gruneau, R. S. & Whitson, D. (1983). Hockey night in Canada: Sport, identities and cultural politics. Toronto: Garamond.

Guttmann, A. (1978). From ritual to record: The nature of modern sports. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kerr, G., Kidd, B., & Donnelly, P. (2020). One step forward, two steps back: The struggle for child protection in Canadian sport. Social Sciences, 9(5), 68–.

Kidd, B. (1995). Capturing the state for amateur sport: The Ontario athletic commission 1920-1947. In K.B. Wamsley (Ed.), Method and methodology in sport and cultural history (pp. 203-234). Brown & Benchmark.

Kidd, B. (1996). The struggle for Canadian sport. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kidd, B., Corner, F. & Stewart, B. (1983). For amateur boxing: The report of the Ontario amateur boxing review committee. Ministry of Tourism and Recreation.

Legislative Assembly of Ontario. (2018). An act to enact Rowan’s Law (concussion safety), 2018 and to amend the Education Act.—text-41-2-en-b193ra_e.pdf

Mangan, A. J. (1998). The games ethic and imperialism: Aspects of the diffusion of an ideal. London: Cass.

Manker-Seale, S. (2006). The moral arc of the universe: Bending toward justice. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

McMurtry, W. R. (1974). Investigation and inquiry into violence in amateur hockey. Ministry of Community and Social Services.

MLSE Foundation. (2021, July). Change the game research: A study focused on sport access, engagement, and equity factors in the wake of the pandemic.

Quebec Publications. (2021, August 1). An act respecting safety in sports.

Safe Sport eReader. (2021, December 2). Bruce Kidd: Sport and the struggle for inclusion [Video]. Youtube.

Safe Sport eReader. (2021a, December 31). Bruce Kidd: The long struggle for safe sport [Video]. Youtube.

Safe Sport eReader. (2021b, December 31). Bruce Kidd: The fight for gender equity in Canadian sport [Video]. Youtube.

The Associated Press. (2021, October 7). Nigerian sprinter Okagbare facing 3 charges in doping case. The Toronto Star. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

True Sport pur. (2018, July 16). Succeed clean program[Video]. YouTube.

Autonomy, Governance and Safe Sport


Peter Donnelly


Autonomy of Sport
Sport Governance
Safe Sport

Learning Objectives

When you have completed this chapter, you will be able to:

LO1 Understand the benefits, and also the problems associated with the autonomy of sport;
L02 Be better able to determine the organizational context under which abuse may occur, or may be prevented;
L03 Raise questions about sport governance in a sport organization, determine whether it is responsible, accountable and transparent; and
L04 Question whether athletes in an organization have a say in decisions that affect them, and if not, how the organization may be changed to genuinely include athletes in decision making.


It is usual to think of athlete abuse in terms of the individuals involved – the “abuser” and the “victim”. This chapter takes a larger view of the system in which athlete abuse occurs, the culture of abuse that is often seen in sport, especially high-performance sport; and the structure and organization (“governance”) of sports. The sport system may turn a blind eye to abuse, and it may cover up abuses, but it is also the system that could prevent abuses.

This chapter critiques the dominant “prolympic” sport systemDonnelly, 1996 the convergence of professional and Olympic sports both nationally and internationally, because it is widely recognized by researchers, the United Nations (UN), and non-government organizations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) as a system that harbours abuse.Erin Willson provides strong evidence of the prevalence of athlete maltreatment in Canadian sport (see Chapter 2); and there have been well-publicized examples of sexual abuse in Canadian boys' hockey, English boys' soccer, girls' gymnastics and swimming in the US, and women's soccer in countries such as Afghanistan and Haiti This does not mean that there are no exceptions – some sport clubs, organizations, and federations are run well, and are not subject to the critiques made here. Nor does it mean that the system cannot be changed. The chapter concludes with an indication of some changes that are being made.

Key Dates

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Autonomy of Sport

Who makes the rules? How are they enforced?

In 2011, Belgian scholar Hans Bruyninckx pointed out that “Sports… take place in a sort of separate [autonomous] sphere, detached from normal rules and regulations in society”.Bruyninckx, 2011 Autonomy refers to “the ability of a sports body, without undue external influence, to establish, amend and interpret sporting rules, to select sporting leaders and governance styles and to secure and use public funding without disproportionate obligations; this autonomy is commonly justified as an important tool through which the values inherent to sport can be safeguarded from political, legal, and in the modern era, commercial influences”.Chappelet, 2010; Parrish, n.d.

We can see this, for example, in the levels of violence that are permissible in some sports but not in the larger society. Autonomy gives those sports the right to attempt to regulate the level of violence, and to determine penalties for those who exceed a permitted level. Sport organizations also claim the right to regulate athlete abuse and to determine penalties, although the degree of conflicts of interest in such proceedings has become increasingly evident.

Photo by Mike_fleming on Flickr.

This autonomy came about because governments and legal systems did not wish to take on the burden of organizing and policing sport. Sport organizations assured governments and legal systems that they could organize and police themselves. However, the number of cases of violence and athlete abuse that end up in law courts raises questions about those assurances.

There are many autonomous (self-governing) organizations and institutions in societies, including universities and all of the professions. Professional standards and codes of practice are maintained by “Colleges” of, for example, teachers, lawyers, accountants, and health and medical professions which, in Canada, are organized on a provincial level. Colleges govern professionals and organizations in the public interest by ensuring that people are served by those who meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct, and by disciplining those who fail to meet the standards.

Sport has a very different, unregulated type of autonomy. There is no “College of Coaches” and, for the most part, each sport organization has a responsibility for governing and disciplining itself. There is no overall standard of learning, code of practice or code of conduct. Of course, autonomy has limits. Complete autonomy is not possible, although sport has attempted to make it so. For example, the European Union offers sports bodies a degree of supervised autonomy. They can exercise their autonomy as long as “they are respectful of European law and demonstrate a clear commitment to transparency, democracy, and the protection of the values of sport”.Geeraert & Bruyninckx, 2014, p. 11 However, if sport organizations had successfully practiced this form of responsible autonomy (where organizations responsibly practice good governance ­­– transparency, accountability and democratic decision making), a supervised autonomy (where the autonomy of sport is monitored by, in this case, the European Union) would not be necessary.

Headlines for the past 40 years or more have shown that sport organizations have been remarkably effective at increasing standards of athletic performance, and at organizing themselves in ways that appeal to corporate sponsors, mass media organizations and fans. At the same time, sport organizations have been remarkably incompetent at governing and disciplining themselves. While cover-ups exist at every level of sport, here are a few examples of this troubling behaviour:

Figure 4.1 Examples of “Troubling” Sport Organization Governance and Practices

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

[Image description]

In 2000, British journalist and activist Sunder Katwala wrote, “It is difficult to think of anything that is so badly governed as international sport.”Katwala, 2000, p. 90 He wrote this as part of his scathing review of the global sporting industry, from bidding scandals during the Olympic Games to doping charges in the Tour de France (an annual multiple-stage men’s cycling road race).

Following the corruption scandals associated with Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics, researchers and investigative journalists began to pay increasing attention to governance in sport organizations. Their investigations frequently confirmed Katwala’s (2000) claim about the poor level of governance. Play the Game (PtG), a Danish-based sport advocacy organization, developed the Cologne Consensus (2011), one of the first steps toward a global code for good governance in sport. PtG followed by establishing a unit on Action for Good Governance in SportAGGIS, 2012 which, in turn, developed the Sport Governance Observer— a measurement tool to determine whether sport organizations were governed in ways that were transparent, accountable, and followed democratic principles.


Case Study:
Play the Game

The Play the Game logo

Play the Game is an initiative supported by the Danish Institute of Sport Studies, an independent research centre set up by the Danish Ministry of Culture in 2004.

Check out their website to learn more about Play the Game (PtG) including its mission, vision and values, and activities with the Council of Europe, UNESCO, and the European Union (EU).

Rigorous reports are also generated by the centre – here are some to review:

Watch an interview about Play the Game with Dr. Arnout Geeraert.

Video 4.1 National Sports Governance Observer: Play the Game

Video provided by Play the Game. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

Governance and Challenges to Autonomy

Finally, autonomy is under threat! So, what happens next?

As students of sport management are well aware, governance of national and international sport organizations has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. The former system of amateur sport became politicized during the Cold War, leading countries into a “sporting arms race” based on winning Olympic Games and World Championship medals (see Chapter 2 where political forces influencing the origin of modern sport and the struggle for safe sport are addressed).Chataway & Goodhart, 1968; Donnelly, 2009 The growth of sponsorship and global media communications helped to commercialize this politicized sport into what we see now as a global “sportainment” industry. Governance shifted from the kitchen tables of amateur sport to a more professionalized model, with sport receiving both government and sponsor funding in many countries. However, despite accepting public (government) funding, sport organizations continued to assert their autonomy.

Just as funding from sponsors has conditions attached, public funding is usually distributed with the public interest in mind. The policies introduced by Sport Canada, which is the government agency that distributes funding to Canadian national sport organizations (NSOs), should have had the effect of regulating the autonomy of sport. These Sport Canada policies obliged NSOs to:

Unfortunately, these policies did not have much effect on sport organization autonomy in Canada. Initially, only the failure to introduce a harassment and abuse policy carried with it a threat of having funding withdrawn. Subsequently, with the introduction of the Sport Funding and Accountability Framework (SFAF), NSO funding became contingent on implementing the various policies.Accountability is one of the key components of good governance -- in this case accounting for the sources of all funding, how it has been spent, and why it has been spent.

SFAF involved an annual check-list for Canadian NSOs to assure Sport Canada they were in compliance with the policies. However, in a failure of accountability, Sport Canada never completely monitored the NSOs. Whether this was because of a lack of capacity and resources at Sport Canada, or an unwillingness to challenge the organizational autonomy of sport, Sport Canada acquiesced in their autonomy and, as far as we know, funding was never withheld. For example, in the case of safe sport (the harassment and abuse policy), Donnelly et al., (2016) showed that many NSOs ignored, or only partially implemented the policy.

Alternatives to Supervised Autonomy


Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash.

The European Union offers sports bodies a degree of “supervised autonomy” – “…they can exercise their autonomy as long as they are respectful of European law and demonstrate a clear commitment to transparency, democracy and protection of the values of sport”.Geeraert & Bruyninckx, 2014, p. 11

The International Olympic Committee suggests an alternative position; namely, that sport organizations should practice “responsible autonomy”; in other words that they should practice good governance without any government interference or supervision.

A third alternative might be that a government agency such as Sport Canada takes over the governance of all sport organizations, relieving them of the burdens of administration and adjudication.

The chapter argues for “supervised autonomy”, but there may be a better alternative. What do you think?

As a consequence, in 2018 then-Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, announced that addressing the abuse of athletes was a priority of her office, that “national sporting organizations will lose their federal funding if they don’t immediately disclose to her office any allegations of abuse or harassment that occur within their ranks” and “effective immediately, funding agreements also require sporting associations to establish an independent third party to investigate all allegations of abuse and have mandatory prevention training in place as soon as possible and no later than 1 April 2020”.CBC, 2018 The Minister may not have been well informed by her Sport Canada staff, since these were essentially the same requirements from the 1996 harassment in sport policy that neither the NSOs nor Sport Canada had been able to implement.

Canadian NSOs saw their prime directive as developing high-performance athletes, and that was affirmed by the connection between funding and success – the more medals they won, the more public funding they received. This became even more pronounced in 2005 following the introduction of additional Own the Podium funding. Ultimately, it is believed that the failure to fully realize Sport Canada policies was a result of:

  1. NSO push-back against Sport Canada and a lack of will to implement these policies; and/or
  2. A lack of capacity on the part of many NSOs to both develop high-performance athletes and to implement these policies; and/or
  3. Denial that a harassment policy was needed since, they claimed, harassment did not exist in their organization; and a reluctance to add to their tasks by implementing what they considered to be social policies such as the equity and inclusion policies.

It should be noted that a number of smaller Canadian NSOs applauded the idea of an independent mechanism, or a regulatory body with the authority to implement safe sport policies,  because they were prepared to admit their lack of capacity to manage a safe sport policy autonomously, and were aware of the increasing costs associated with legal action in cases of current and historical abuse.

Ongoing investigations of sport governance by researchers and investigative journalists, together with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) 2008 introduction (but not enforcement) of the Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance, and monitoring by the Sport Governance Observer have had an increasing impact on many sport organizations around the globe. The IOC now advocates for sport organizations to practice “responsible autonomy”. In other words, sport organizations retain their autonomy but should do so responsibly by practicing good governance. However, it is difficult to see how responsible autonomy will work in a sport culture where most of the rewards go to those organizations that will do whatever it takes to win.

As noted, the European Union offers sports bodies a degree of “supervised autonomy”.Geeraert & Bruyninckx, 2014, p. 11 Introducing supervised autonomy in Canada will both challenge and enhance sport governance. It will involve empowering and providing capacity to Sport Canada to monitor and enforce policies such that sport organizations practice good governance, are more democratic and transparent in their governance, and that public funding is spent accountably in the public interest.

The introduction of a new independent mechanism to investigate and adjudicate safe sport issues in Canada represents another step towards supervised autonomy. Just as there are independent agencies to regulate doping (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport or CCES) (see Chapter 11  for more details about the CCES and True Sport) and dispute resolution (Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada or SDRCC), the SDRCC has now been contracted to establish the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner to administer the Independent Safe Sport Mechanism (more information about these entities in relation to legal considerations for safe sport is addressed in Part Four). With the very clear Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS)Canadian Safe Sport Program, 2020 as the guiding document now in force for all NSOs in Canada, the Safe Sport Mechanism should now begin to provide athletes with a safe place to report maltreatment without retaliation from the sport organizations or the abusers; and NSOs have much clearer guidelines to prevent abuse in their organizations.


In the News:
Development of a National Independent Safe Sport Mechanism

Photo by josh bis on Flickr.

Here’s a summary of the steps taken towards creating an independent safe sport mechanism in Canada.

  1. In an important first step, the 2019 Red Deer Declaration recognized the responsibility that the government has to protect its athletes.Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat, 2019
  2. The Canadian government followed this by committing to creating a code of conduct for sport, and the UCCMS was officially released in December, 2019.Canadian Safe Sport Program, 2020
  3. A few months later, it was decided through further analysis of the UCCMS final report that a National Independent Mechanism (NIM) was required to administer the UCCMS as an independent body. A Request for Proposals (RFP) was announced by the UCCMS leadership group in 2020, seeking a Canadian organization to establish and deliver a NIM, or in other words, to enable the delivery of services already identified, to achieve independent administration and enforcement of the UCCMS in Canada.Government of Canada, 2020b
  4. In 2021 it was announced that the SDRCC was the independent body contracted to oversee the implementation of the UCCMS, via the creation and efforts of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner.Canadian Heritage, 2021

We have heard the calls from the sport community for a safe, independent and trusted space to address maltreatment in sport. It is crucial that victims feel that they can speak out, call attention to harmful behaviour and challenge the system to be better. This new independent mechanism will give them the opportunity to do so in a supported environment.The Honourable Steven Guilbeault as cited in Canadian Heritage, 2021, para. 4

What about the athletes?

In the era of politicized and commercialized sport, athletes’ voices have, for the most part, been silenced. Despite sport organizations making positive statements (rather than actions) about human rights in sport in the last few years, the position of some international sport organizations on human rights in the commercial world of modern “prolympic” sport was made very clear recently. For example, FIFA has done very little to relieve the plight of construction workers whose rights are being violated while building the facilities for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. And in a statement about sex testing women athletes (another human rights issue), World Athletics identified itself as “a private body exercising private (contractual) powers… [and] not subject to human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) or the European Convention on Human Rights”.IAAF, 2019 The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights reported that there is no existing mechanism to assure compliance with human rights by the International Olympic Committee and International Federations. These positions all filter down to national levels, and athletes’ rights have not been given consideration in decision-making in sport.UNHCHR, 2020

Despite claims that, in Canada for example, following the Ben Johnson doping scandal at the Seoul Olympics (1988) and the subsequent Dubin inquiry (1990), sport was to be more “athlete-centred”, only token actions were taken in the 1990s. Some examples of this include appointing a single athlete to the Board of a Canadian NSO or establishing relatively powerless Athletes’ Commissions at the IOC and at National Olympic Committees. That has begun to change in recent years and athletes are beginning to become more involved in making the decisions that affect them.

Video 4.2 Peter Donnelly: Athletes Rise

Video provided by Brock University Centre for Sport Capacity. Used with permission. [Transcript]

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:


In the News:
NFL Strike

The Lights Go Out on the NFL” by Hal Quinn, Macleans, October 4, 1982.


Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash.

In the fall of 1982, a strike shut down an NFL game in Kansas City for the first time in the league’s history. At that time there was no mechanism or governing body responsible for protecting the rights of athletes, and striking to demand higher pay was the final option. Fast forward to today, and annual salaries for NFL players have risen from an average of US$100,000 to around US$2 million.

In the lead up to a strike in 1982, the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA, 1981) declared, “We Are the Game”, and it has become increasingly evident that, without athletes, there would be no sport – no need for sport organizations, no political bragging rights, no profits for all of the people who take a profit from international and professional sports events.Donnelly, 2015  Athletes began to realize their potential power as investigations increasingly showed how badly sport organizations were governed, how badly many athletes were treated, and how little input athletes had into decisions that affected everything about their career as athletes.

The increasing power of athletes has been associated with the increasing recognition of the violation of human rights in sport. It has been spurred by the courageous voices of some athletes speaking out against abusers, against sex testing, against exploitation; but it has been most evident in the growth of athletes’ organizations and unions (e.g., AthletesCAN, Global Athlete). See Suggested Assignments 3 at the end of this chapter for three examples of Canadian athletes who spoke up and helped to make a difference: Ted Lindsay, Ann Peel, Allison Forsyth.

In Canada, athletes have gone from one seat on the Board to determining the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 OlympicsDonnelly, 2020 in a very short time, and AthletesCAN sponsored the prevalence study which found that, of 1,001 current and retired national team athletes, 67% of current athletes and 76% of former athletes reported experiencing at least one form of maltreatment mostly at the hands of their coaches.Kerr et al., 2019 Through AthletesCAN, athletes became a key voice in developing the UCCMS and in lobbying for the Independent Safe Sport Mechanism.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash.

Full application of an athlete-centred policy would give athletes the right to be involved in every decision that affects them; and a truly democratic system would see coaches and sport organizations working in the service of athletes.

A Culture of Control

The unregulated autonomy of sport, the absurd and oxymoronic popularity of authoritarian coaching which takes highly motivated athletes and uses bullying and punitive coaching practices to motivate them, the failure to consider athletes’ rights, and the single-minded focus on medals, have created a culture of control in the “prolympic” sport system. When dealing with highly motivated individuals such as athletes, implementing authoritarian coaching practices speaks to, frankly, a poverty of the imagination. What we are dealing with is a systemic issue, and prevention requires more than getting rid of “a few bad apples.” Changing cultures and social structures is slow, and it is difficult. But perhaps we are seeing the first steps in changing the culture and structure of sport with challenges to the autonomy of sport, and with the active measures being taken to address safe sport.



  1. Apply the Sports Governance Observer tool to your own sport organization (including university athletics departments). How transparent, democratic and accountable is your organization? Do athletes have a voice in running the organization, and are their concerns heard? How “safe” is your organization, and what procedures are in place if an athlete is concerned the s/he or another athlete may be suffering from maltreatment (as defined in the UCCMS)?


Key Terms 


An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:


Suggested Assignments

  1. Analyzing a case study: Take the case of Megan Brown regarding alleged abuse by former University of Guelph and Team Canada coach Dave Scott-Thomas. (Content note: discusses sexual abuse). Read the linked article, and as many other articles that you can find about her case. Provide an in-depth analysis of who (individuals, organizations, institutions) was to blame for Megan’s abuse. How many bystanders and enablers knew about or suspected that she was being abused (or at least in a completely inappropriate and illegal relationship with her coach)? What policies and rules were in place at the track club, and at the University of Guelph that were not enforced? What steps might be taken in such organizations to prevent this from ever happening again?
  2. Sport Governance Observer (SGO) Group Assignment: Each person in a group applies the SGO benchmarking tool to a sport club or provincial sport organization that they are familiar with. Compare the results, and develop a plan to for the clubs and PSOs to become good governance organizations, focusing particularly on safe sport and athlete inclusion in decision making.
  3. Speaking Out: Some examples of Canadian athletes who spoke up and helped make a difference include those noted in the list below. Choose one of the people below and research their story. What steps did these individuals take to change their sport? How did their sport organizations respond?
    1. NHL player Ted Lindsay, who led the movement in the 1950s to unionize professional players (NHLPA) despite powerful resistance from team owners.
    2. International race walker Ann Peel, who in the 1990s fought and won against Sport Canada’s automatic reduction of Athlete Assistance Programme funding for pregnant athletes.
    3. Alpine skier Allison Forsyth, who testified against Alpine Ski coach, Bertrand Charest, for engaging in sexual relations with under-age girls on the national Alpine ski team; more recently (2019) she led a class action suit against Alpine Canada for failing to protect young athletes. (See also Chapter 2 for more about Allison Forsyth.)

 Image Descriptions

Figure 4.1 This interactive figure depicts four examples of “troubling” sport organization practices. These include complicity, financial corruption and cronyism, conflicts of interest, and violation of athletes’ rights. [return to text]


Action for Good Governance in International Sport Organizations (AGGIS). (2012). Retrieved January 7, 2022.   

Bruyninckx, H. (2011). Obsession with rules vs. mistrust in being ruled. Play the Game Conference, Cologne, Germany.

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). (n.d.). Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Canadian Heritage. (2021, July 6). Minister Guilbeault announces new independent safe sport mechanism. Government of Canada. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. (2019, February 15). Red Deer Declaration – For the prevention of harassment, abuse and discrimination in sport. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from

Canadian Safe Sport Program. (2020). Sport Information Resource Centre: Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS)(5)1, 1-16.

CBC (2018). National sports organizations have to report allegations of abuse immediately. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from 

CBC Sports. (2016, January 13). COC boss on Marcel Aubut scandal: ‘We could have done more’. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Centre for Sport and Human Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Chappelet, J-L. (2010). Autonomy of sport in Europe. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.

Chataway, C., & Goodhart, P. (1968). War without weapons. London: W.H. Allen.

Donnelly, P. (1996). Prolympism: Sport monoculture as crisis and opportunity. Quest, 48, 25–42.

Donnelly, P. (2009, December). Own the Podium or rent it: Canada’s involvement in the global sporting arms race. Policy Options. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from

Donnelly, P. (2015). ‘We are the Game’?: Player democratization and the reform of sport governance. In, Y. Vanden Auweele, E. Cook & J. Parry, (Eds.), Ethics and governance in sport: The future in sport imagined (pp. 102-108). London: Routledge.

Donnelly, P. (2020). We are the games: The COVID-19 pandemic and athletes’ voices. Sociología del Deporte1(1), 35-40.

Donnelly, P., Kerr, G., Heron, A., & DiCarlo, D. (2016). Protecting youth in sport: An examination of harassment policies. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 8(1): 33–50.

Dubin, C. (1990). Report of the commission of inquiry into the use of drugs and banned practices intended to increase athletic performance. Ottawa: Canadian Government Publishing Centre.

Francis, A. (2019, May 9). AthletesCAN survey finds strong prevalence of maltreatment of athletes. Running Magazine. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Geeraert, A. (2018). National sports governance observer. Final report. Play the Game. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Geeraert, A. (2021). National anti-doping governance observer. Indicators and instructions for assessing good governance in national anti-doping organisations. Play the Game. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Geeraert, A. & Bruyninckx, H. (2014). You’ll never walk alone again: The governance turn in professional sports. In, J. Mittag & S. Güldenpfennig (Eds.), Sportpolitik im spannungsfeld von autonomie und regulierung: Grundlagen, akteure und konfliktfelder (pp. 1-23). Klartext Verlag: Essen.

Government of Canada. (2020a, March 17). Spot funding and accountability framework. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Government of Canada. (2020b, December 18). Application guidelines – Independent safe sport mechanism. Retrieved January 5, 2021, from

Human Rights Watch. (2020, December 4). “They’re chasing us away from sport”. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). (2019, May 7). IAAF publishes briefing notes and Q&A on female eligibility regulations. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

International Olympic Committee (IOC). (2008). Basic universal principles of good governance of the Olympic and sports movement.

IOC. (n.d.). Universal principles for integrity. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Joyce, G. (2019, March 4). Lindsay knew fighting for players’ rights would hurt, but he did anyway, Sportsnet. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Katwala, S. (2000). Democratising global sport. London: The Foreign Policy Centre.

Kerr, G., Willson, E., & Stirling, A. (2019). Prevalence of maltreatment among current and former national team athletes. University of Toronto. 1–51.

Kunti, S. (2019, December 28). Crashing down: A decade of corruption cripples FIFA. Forbes. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Larsen, K. (2019, June 26). B.C. skier launches class-action lawsuit against over coach convicted of sex crimes. CBC News. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner. (n.d.). Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Own the Podium. (n.d.). Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Parrish, R. (n.d.). The autonomy of sport: A legal analysis. Sport and Citizenship. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Peel, A. (2019, February 26). The over-regulation and under-protection of the female athlete. The Chester Group. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Play the Game. (2011). The Cologne Consensus

Play the Game. (2017, September 19). National sports governance observer – Interview with Arnout Geeraert [Video]. Youtube.

Play the Game. (2019). Sports governance observer – Benchmarking governance in international sports organizations. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Play the Game. (2021, September). Strengthening athlete power in sport.

Play the Game. (2021, November). National sports governance observer 2: Benchmarking governance in national sport organisations.

Play the Game. (n.d.). About play the game. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Play the Game. (n.d.). Use the SGO benchmarking tool yourself and compare with previous data. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Quinn, H. (1982, October 4). The lights go out on the NFL. MacLeans. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Running Magazine. (2020, February 8). Megan Brown shares her story about what happened at Guelph. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC). (n.d.). Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

SIRC. (n.d.). Policies & procedures. Retrieved December 30, 2021, from

Sports Research Institute. (n.d.). About the Danish Institute for Sport Studies. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

The Associated Press. (2018, December 18). Despite 2002 bribery scandal, Salt Lake City aims to host 2030 Winter Olympics. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). (2020, June 15). Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved December 31, 2021, from

Human Rights and Identities in Safe Sport: Considering the Whole Athlete


Leela MadhavaRau
Talia Ritondo


Human rights in sport
Safe Sport policies
Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) 

Learning Objectives

When you have completed this chapter, you will be able to:
L01 Understand the premise of Safe Sport policies as well as critiques;
L02 Identify how equity, diversity, and inclusion are relayed in Safe Sport policies and practices;
L03 Interrogate the possibility of a shift in a Safe Sport approach that encompasses a human rights framework focusing on each athlete’s lived experience; and
L04 Identify how IDEA (or inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility) are relayed in Safe Sport policies and practices.


Marginalized communities have publicly fought for the right to participate in both recreational and high-level sport for the past century. Racialized communities’ ongoing fight against racism in sport began in the early 1900’s with American Jack Johnson’s boxing victory over his white opponent in a white-dominated sport.Cooper et al., 2019 Canadian women have been working towards equitable sport participation since the late nineteenth century through community movements as small, yet pivotal, as riding a bicycle.Hall, 2002 2SLGBTQIA+ athletes have also participated in sport since their conception, fighting for visibility and safety in sport as of 1966 when the International Olympic Committee began mandating sex-based testing for women’s events, targeting and outing intersex women.Pieper, 2016 Advocacy for disabled athletes’ participation in sport began in the post-World War 2 era, with recent evolutions to include meaningful and equitable participation.Smith & Sparkes, 2019 The impact of these movements are still felt today, paving the way for modern forms of activism to ensure sport is a safe space for all.

Within more recent years, global movements across a variety of sports have worked to generate awareness surrounding the impact of societal discrimination towards athletes. Contemporary methods of activism through media campaigns, including BBC’s “#changethegame”, the Union of European Football Association’s (UEFA) “Equal Game”, and Nike’s “EQUALITY”, inform the public of discrimination that occurs within sport. Although some aspects of the above campaigns include sizable donations to grassroots organizations, rarely do they include concrete, holistic initiatives to ensure athletes of all levels from diverse backgrounds have equitable access to Safe Sport participation.

Effects of sexism, racism, ableism, and homophobia remain abundant in far too many sporting spaces.Caudwell & McGee, 2018 Approaches to growing Safe Sport initiatives in sporting organizations have taken similarly siloed approaches with a focus on singular identities (race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability) rather than the athlete as an intersectional being operating in multiple systems of power.Kerr & Kerr, 2020 As such, this chapter posits that for sporting organizations to fully embrace cultures of equity and inclusion, they must apply human rights and intersectional lenses to Safe Sport frameworks.

Key Dates

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Safe Sport in North America

The term “Safe Sport” commonly refers to a policy which safeguards athletes and protects them from maltreatment in sporting spaces while optimizing the sport experience for all those involved.Gurgis & Kerr, 2021 Despite the presence of a generally universal understanding of Safe Sport, the creation of Safe Sport policies and the definition of Safe Sport is often left up to the discretion of National Sport Organizations (NSOs). In Canada, for example, large-scale Canadian sport organizations came together in 2019 to create a Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS). This joint initiative brought together a code of conduct to serve as a guideline for Safe Sport policies and practices regarding maltreatment in general. Further, coaches and leaders are directed to engage in Safe Sport training. However, the application of said training and the UCCMS changes depending on the NSO’s policy and implementation.

As another example, the United States’ approach to Safe Sport is done through their U.S. Centre for Safe Sport. Their Safe Sport interventions operate under an independent non-profit organization, separate from NSOs, who developed a centralized Safe Sport Code that applies to all participants involved in Olympic and Paralympic teams. This centre is in charge of receiving complaints, guiding the reporting process, creating training, and developing and updating the Safe Sport Code. Similar to the Canadian context, this organization has little jurisdiction over how sporting agencies adhere to and implement Safe Sport practices. Therefore, a centralized approach to implementing Safe Sport practices at the ground-level is lacking in two major sporting bodies: Sport Canada and the U.S. Centre for Safe Sport.Kerr & Kerr, 2020

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Safe Sport

The history of sports exists as a separate, albeit fascinating, field. However, it is impossible to interrogate the current move to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) without reviewing the origins.

The origins of organized sport are commonly held to begin with the ancient Greek Olympiad in 776 BCE. However, there is a growing historical record pointing to team sports around the world prior to the first century. Most ancient sports featured only men, although there is some evidence of women’s participation in separate games in ancient Greece. On Turtle Island, now Canada, what we now know as lacrosse has a long history of spirituality, fitness, and resolving conflict.

In most of these instances, sport was a means of promoting a social good, although moving into the era of colonialism, sports have been implicated in establishing and securing patterns of social inequality and marginalization. Indeed, sport played an active role in many colonial practices, civilizing missions, and processes of empire-building. By the turn of the twentieth century, missionary coaches or teachers, driven by political, ideological, and commercial motives, had taken sports to virtually every corner of the non-European world.Kidd, 2011


In the News:
“We Play to Please the Creator”

“An Indian Ball-Play” by George Catlin, circa 1846-1850. Wikimedia/Google Art Project. Public Domain.

We Play to Please the Creator” by Chris Swezey, Washington Post, July 20, 1998.

“The Iroquois called the game “tewaarathon,” meaning “little brother of war,'” Peter Lund wrote in “The History of the Game of Lacrosse: From the American Indians to the Present.” “They used the sport to keep their warriors in shape, to settle disputes between tribes and as a spiritual exercise to amuse and please the Creator, believed to be the god-like figure Deganawidah who, according to Iroquois legend, united the Six Nations of the Iroquois.”

Sport: A Tool of Colonial Control for the British Empire” by Isobel Roser, Butler Scholarly Journal, April 30, 2016.

“Sport did not have a singular role in [the British] Empire, it had multiple purposes which changed and developed over time. Sport was used to create bonds, enforce British control and “civilise” the natives. Much like a pushy parent, the motherland tried to encourage her colonies to take up as many sports as possible. Ironically, the British failed to recognise that by bestowing her sports upon the Empire she was empowering her colonies, rather than suppressing them. However, initially, it was a successful imperial tactic, allowing the British a subtle, yet potent means of cultural control.”

When the modern Olympic Games began in 1896, women were not allowed to compete. In 1900, twelve female competitors were permitted to compete in tennis or golf. Through much of history, there was little interest in developing any form of equity in sport – indeed there was no need to do so. People around the world participated in casually organized sports in their villages. The emphasis of sport and strength holding masculine qualities came from a late nineteenth century push in Europe to eradicate what was seen as growing sensitivity amongst men, with compulsory sport woven into educational programmes.MenEngage, 2014 Sportsmen became symbols of strength and national pride comparable to military warriors, leading a form of celebrity which their female counterparts were unable to replicate. The sculpting of a sportsperson’s image has traditionally been masculine. Thus, while sport has the ability to promote societal good, sport has also been a contributor to social inequality through centuries of rules and practices that restrict access to participation for certain populations.

Photo by Colleen Patterson.

The earliest attempts to address inequalities often focus on bringing in individuals who were missing. This brings in people who may be different in terms of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and other identities but does little to ensure they feel comfortable in the environment. Equity is juxtaposed against equality. Early efforts to ensure equality provided the same standards for everyone without making allowances for individual differences. A phrase commonly thrown around among IDEA professionals is “Diversity is a fact and Inclusion is an act/choice.” Creating an inclusive environment will only happen with intentional action. Accessibility within sport is a move to ensure the greatest number of individuals can participate in the most effective way possible.

An obvious example is Title IX in the United States, passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, which banned sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. While the protections were wide-ranging and included gender and sexual violence committed in institutions that received federal funds, it is best known for its impact on expanding opportunities for women and girls in sports. Prior to the implementation of Title IX, female athletes received two percent of college athletic budgets, with virtually no athletic scholarships. Today, more than 100,000 women participate in intercollegiate athletics, a four-fold increase from 1971. That same year 300,000 women (7.5%) were high school athletes; in 1996, that figure had increased to 2.4 million (39%).NCWGE, 2012b

However, that startling change in participation rates does not mean equity exists for female athletes in either the United States or Canada. Once regulations laid out exactly how Title IX would work, one of the central ideas in athletics was that opportunities should fall roughly in line with enrolment. Women now make up about 58% of undergraduates but get just 43% of roster spots and 46% of Division I scholarship money. Researchers at the University of Toronto found much the same in Canada. For every 100 men in Canadian universities, there are 2.9 chances to play a sport. For every 100 women, there are just 1.8 chances.

Figure 5.1 Opportunities to Play for University Men and Women
This figure visually depicts the opportunities that men have compared to women when it comes to university sports. Men have 2.9 opportunities to play sports per 100 men, while women have 1.8 opportunities to play per 100 women.
Woman silhouette and human vectors by Vecteezy.


  1. Why do you think the number of women in coaching has declined since the 1970s?
  2. How might Canadian university and college sport better incorporate IDEA?

Canadian Interuniversity Sport data shows that an identical proportion—40%—of male and female athletes received scholarships last year. However, men got 6.7 million dollars while the women only received 4.8 million dollars. Given that the enrolment rate is higher for females than males, females should represent more than half of student athletes and receive more than half of the scholarship funds distributed. However, current statistics indicate that scholarship funding is not even reporting a 50:50 split between men and women.Sportsnet, 2019

The primary lens through which we view accessibility is that of disability. When we discuss accessibility of sports, we must think holistically. When does socioeconomic status impede participation in certain sports? When does geography make it difficult to participate in some sports? Disability in sport did not exist to a significant degree until Dr. Ludwig Guttmann created a competition for war veterans with spinal injuries in 1948. Guttman led a Spinal Injuries Centre in England which was known for its progressive rehabilitation programmes, including introducing competition and sportsmanship back into patients’ lives.

The debut games – named the Stoke Mandeville Games, after the hospital facility they were in – was timed to coincide with the 1948 London Olympic Games to encourage morale and competitive spirit. Holland recognised Guttman’s successful rehabilitation work for veterans and joined the Games in 1952. Today, we recognize this movement as the first Paralympics. The Olympic-based format of the competition and official recognition as part of the Games did not occur until Rome 1960 when four hundred athletes competed and were dubbed with the official Paralympic title in Tokyo 1964.Studio Republic, 2020

Furthering Sport and Human Rights

The Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) serves as a human rights organisation for the world of sport. The CSHR notes that the foundational principles of the world’s preeminent sport bodies speak to universal humanitarian values, harmony among nations, solidarity and fair play, the preservation of human dignity, and commitment to non-discrimination. In Convergence 2025, the strategic plan released by CSHR in September 2021, a sports ecosystem model is used to examine power differentials in sport.

“Power dynamics in traditional sports structures can exacerbate human rights risks to athletes and others. Reimagining sport from a holistic people-centred perspective is an important way to address these concerns. By applying a human rights lens to the ecosystem of sport, an arena that represents an intricate web of symbiotic relationships is revealed encompassing those affected and between different groups of institutional actors (see Figure 5.2). A rights-focused ecosystem model with people at the centre, shows that each of these interactions between all stakeholder groups may impact – positively or negatively – different individuals and communities, through the direct and indirect roles they play.”Centre for Sport & Human Rights, n.d.a, p. 14)

Figure 5.2 Sport Ecosystem
Adapted from Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR). [Image description]

In the News:
CSHR Convergence 2025 Strategy

Convergence 2025 strategy launched by Centre for Sport and Human Rights,” by Mike Rowbottom, Inside the Games, October 1, 2021.


Mary Harvey, CEO, Centre for Sport and Human Rights. Photo by Play the Game on Flickr.

The Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) is a human rights organization that focuses upon sport around the globe. Its mission is to: “advance a world of sport that fully respects and promotes human rights by generating awareness, building capacity and delivering impact. We pursue our mission by upholding and promoting the Sporting Chance Principles, engaging those affected and strengthening accountability through collective action.”Centre for Sport & Human Rights, n.d.b

Sport’s Alignment with International Human Rights

The Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) lists ten “Sporting Chance Principles” which affirm a shared commitment to realizing human rights in and through sport. These principles include:

  1. Sport has inherent power to create positive change;
  2. Internationally recognized human rights apply;
  3. All actors involved in sport commit to internationally recognized human rights;
  4. Human rights are considered at all times;
  5. Affected groups have a voice in decision-making;
  6. Access to remedy is available;
  7. Lessons are captured and shared;
  8. Stakeholder human rights capacity is strengthened;
  9. Collective action is harnessed to realize human rights; and
  10. Bidding to host mega-sporting events is open to all.

Sport cannot exist separate from the world of politics as international human rights, standards, policies, and procedures transcend sport governance at every level. This has been demonstrated on many occasions including Olympic Games boycotts, Jesse Owens’ participation in the 1936 Berlin Games, and the definitions of “male” and “female” applied on the world stage.

We have recently seen how the activism of a lone athlete taking a stance can influence human rights issues on a global scale. National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the United States national anthem in protest of systemic racism within the United States in 2016. While Kaepernick’s activism made him a persona non grata for the NFL, his actions (along with the repercussions felt around the world from George Floyd’s murder in May 2020) have led to players taking knees, wearing armbands, and holding moments of silence that speak to the impact of racism at a global level in sport.

However, despite this acknowledgement and understanding of human rights, there are still cases that provoke controversy and outrage at the international level. In March 2019, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) was criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over concerns that their “discriminatory regulations […] to medically reduce blood testosterone levels contravene international human rights […] including the right to equality and non-discrimination…and full respect for the dignity, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of the person.”

With specific reference to the IAAF’s Differences of Sexual Development Regulations, the UNHRC called upon states to “ensure that sporting associations […] refrain from developing and enforcing policies […] that force, coerce or otherwise pressure […] athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures”. A 2020 Human Rights Watch report noted that testosterone regulations are humiliating for the athlete, medically unnecessary and lead to human rights violations. Some of the violations outlined in the report include: physical and psychological injury, career loss based on discrimination, coerced medical intervention, and a violation of fundamental rights to health, privacy and dignity. Testosterone regulation also reinforces racially biased and Western standards of femininity, leading to the disproportionate discrimination of women of colour from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and Latin America.Human Rights Watch, 2020.

Highly publicized cases of this rule restricting athletes from participation include South Africa’s Caster Semaya, as well as Namibian 2020 Olympic medal contenders Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi who were pulled from the 400m due to their high testosterone levels and forced to compete in the 200m event. As CBC Sports’ commentator Morgan Campbell wrote,

“Except there’s a qualitative difference between anabolic steroids and naturally produced testosterone. Mboma’s and Masilingi’s default hormonal settings are no more an unfair advantage than Kawhi Leonard’s giant hands, or keen eyes in Major League Baseball, where the average player sees with 20/13 vision. If you can picture MLB forcing left-handers with 100 mph heat and 20/10 vision to play first base, arguing their natural tools were unfair to regular players, then you can understand how arbitrary, targeted unfairness of World Athletics’ testosterone guidelines.”Campbell, 2021

The Swiss-based Court for the Arbitration of Sport ruled that forcing or coercing athletes to undergo unnecessary medical treatment is discriminatory. The panel found that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory, but the majority of the panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events.


In the News:
Human Rights on the Olympic Stage

Photo by Erik Zünder on Unsplash.

When Should Countries Boycott the Olympics,” by Sergei Guriev, New York Times Opinion Pages, February 6, 2014.

2-time Olympic snowboarder calls for Team Canada boycott of Beijing 2022,” by Karin Larsen, CBC News, December 19, 2021.

China warns nations will ‘pay price’ for Olympic boycott” BBC News, December 9, 2021.

There have been Olympic Games boycotts in 1936, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1980, and 1984. The geopolitics of the twenty-first century has brought about debate prior to almost all recent Olympic Games. Young, 2008

Jesse Owens Biography”

Jesse Owens travelled to Berlin to take part in the 1936 Olympics – an event overseen by Adolf Hitler, which the new German chancellor hoped would profile the supremacy of the Aryan “master race”. It wasn’t to be. The African-American Owens stole the show. He won the 100m in 10.30 seconds, the 200m in 20.70 seconds, and then the long jump, with an impressive leap of 8.06 metres – apparently after getting some advice about his run-up from a German competitor, Luz Long. His fourth gold came in the 4x100m relay, in which Owens formed a key part of the team that set a new world record of 39.80 seconds.

IOC transgender guidelines delayed again to 2022 due to ‘conflicting opinions‘” by Michael Houston, Inside the Games, September 21, 2021.

There has been much controversy from the International Olympic Committee on protecting and promoting the human rights of transgender and intersex athletes in competition. 

Why IDEA Isn’t Enough – Ways Forward


In the world of Olympic sport, women of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds are still finding it difficult to make headway in positions of leadership. The latest Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) Review of International Federation Governance discovered that only one international sports federation had a board that was more than 40% female, while 18 IFs had a proportion of less than 25%. Indeed, when analyzing ten indicators related to international federation integrity, “appropriate gender balance in executive board or equivalent” achieved the lowest mean score, meaning international sport governing boards remain disproportionately male.

Employment practices associated with the sports industry, such as internal hiring practices, are one of the top barriers preventing diversity in the workplace.Bradbury & Conricode, 2020 To change this, people working in sport must “interrogate” how they got there and either change the norm or forcefully create networks that are more inclusive. Changing the internship system, in which eager students work for a big league or franchise for no salary (usually in a city that is expensive to reside in) would be a good start to create opportunities for marginalized students.

Figure 5.3 IDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and AccessibilitySafe Sport definition from Gurgis & Kerr, 2021.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

[Image description]

In the News:
Racial Abuse from Fans

German Professional Football Match Abandoned due to Racist Abuse,” Deutsche Welle (DW), December 19, 2021.
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash.

For the first time, a football match in Germany’s third division was abandoned after forward Aaron Opoku said he was a racially abused by a fan.

The offender was identified and escorted from the stadium by police, while other fans chanted “Nazis out!” and the stadium PA system played a well-known anti-Nazi punk song.

This is not the first time players have faced racial abuse from fans, said Osnabrück CEO Michael Welling. Following racial abuse targeted at Duisburg player Leroy Kwadwo, racism expert Gerd Wagner called for matches to be abandoned in response.

What role do fans have in creating safe, inclusive sport? Consider your sport and ways that fans, sponsors, and community members can support IDEA.

Cultural Shift

Sports organizations at every level must take seriously the policies that have been put in place to progress IDEA within the domain. Some of these shifts will be difficult, requiring changes in languages, attitudes, and character. There must be a full understanding of why everyone will benefit when the most marginalized in society are fully included.

Listening to Athlete Voices

A pivotal shift sport organizers, managers, coaches, and athletes can also apply to their sporting practice is listening attentively to the voices and opinions of athletes. Integrating the voices of those who are experiencing maltreatment is critical to ending its presence. Furthermore, allowing athletes to have a voice promotes a safe space and encourages athletes to remain involved in sport. We recommend taking an intersectional, trauma and violence informed care (TVIC) approach to integrating Safe Sport practices into sport programs. TVIC considers the multiple identities and oppressions that affect athlete participation, along with potential trauma or violence that athletes have experienced as a result of that oppression.

This could be as simple as listening to athlete voices when creating codes of conduct, policies, educational materials, practice schedules, building layouts and facilities, and marketing materials. Additionally, intersectional and TVIC approaches align with Gurgis and Kerr’s (2021) recommendation that Safe Sport practices promote human rights and advance both athlete and sport development without leaving those who are marginalized behind. These strategies are also meant to promote inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in sporting spaces, while keeping the rights of the athlete as its centre focus.



Photo by UN Women on Flickr.
Figure 5.4 Chapter Five Review

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:


Key Terms 


An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:


Suggested Assignments

  1. There has been both qualitative and quantitative reporting showing that many women’s teams are coached by men. With a greater spotlight on equity in sports, why is this happening? Choose a sport in which your country competes internationally and examine the coaching staff for the women’s team? What percentage of coaches are female? Are women in head coaching roles?
  2. Examine your university’s athletics funding by sex and sport. Is there equality? Is there equity? Which sports are best funded? Who plays those sports? Is there more information about equity that can be extrapolated from the data you have found?

 Image Descriptions

Figure 5.2 This figure shows the sport ecosystem, with contents adapted from the Centre for Sport and Human Rights. In the centre of the ecosystem are athletes. In the field surrounding athletes are coaches & administrators, fans & patrons, volunteers, the general public & community, family & entourage, journalists, technical officials, and workers. The third level includes children, migrants, refugees, Indigenous people, human rights defenders, LGBTQ+, women & girls, minorities, people with disabilities, and historically and/or structurally disadvantaged groups. The final level of the ecosystem includes supply chain providers, education & research bodies, civil society & human rights bodies, governments, services & standards bodies, sports bodies, integrity & dispute bodies, professional sport, commercial partners, event organizers & hosts. [return to text]

Figure 5.3 This interactive feature demonstrates the concept of IDEA, or inclusivity, diversity, equity, and accessibility. Inclusion is ensuring all individuals are equally supported, valued, and respected. This is best achieved by creating a research environment in which all individuals (students, faculty, staff, and visitors) feel welcomed, safe, respected, valued, and are supported to enable full participation and contribution. An inclusive and welcoming research culture embraces differences of opinions and perspectives while fostering a learning ecosystem underpinned by respect by all and for all. Diversity is the wide range of attributes within an individual, group, or community that makes them distinctive. Dimensions of diversity consider that each person is unique and recognizes individual differences including ethnic or national origin, gender, gender identity, and gender expression, sexual orientation, background (socio-economic status, immigration status or class), religion or belief (including absence of), civil or marital status, family and caretaker obligations (i.e., pregnancy, elderly), age, and disability. Equity is the fair treatment and access to equal opportunity (justice) that allows the unlocking of one’s potential, leading to the further advancement of all peoples. The pursuit of equity is about the identification and removal of barriers to ensure the full participation of all people and groups. Accessibility is the provision of flexibility to accommodate needs and preferences, and refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities. “We can look at this as a set of solutions that empower the greatest number of people to participate in the activities in question in the most effective ways possible.” [return to text]


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