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Canadian Minister of Sport Announces “Future of Sport in Canada Commission”

Global Athlete and Gymnasts for Change Canada acknowledges today’s announcement by the Minister of Sport to establish a ‘Future of Sport in Canada Commission’ to review the Canadian sport system.

We are disappointed the Minister did not support survivors’ and advocates' calls for a National Inquiry that meets judicial standards with the power to compel documents, and subpoena testimony from organizations. We are concerned that these are critical shortcomings in this review that may prevent robust and meaningful outcomes.

Today’s announcement however does send a clear message to all people in sport that the government has recognized that the Canadian sport system is broken and needs repair. This announcement is a direct result of the public pressure applied by courageous survivors, advocates, scholars, and media who are committed to exposing the truth. Their input now, and moving forward, is crucial for the support and success of this review mechanism. 

We intend to continue advocating to ensure this newly announced review is robust, completely independent from sport actors, who created the current failing system, and scrutinizes leading sport organizations and funding bodies.

For almost two years, we have called for a national inquiry into the Canadian sport system. While child abuse and violations of athletes’ human rights underpin our calls, we recognize that abuse and limited justice are symptoms of a larger systemic problem that must be addressed through this review.

Last week, we met with the Minister of Sport at the United Nations in Geneva for the Sporting Chance Forum. Both the Minister and our organizations agreed that any mechanism for reviewing the system must extend to every corner of the sporting landscape to create robust systemic and cultural change.

While it is unclear whether this review has the breadth and depth to address the entire system, engaging with athletes and advocates to further shape the terms of reference will be critical to getting it right. If there is a refusal to meaningfully engage with those most affected and those who have advocated to bring this review to fruition, there will be skepticism and a cloud of suspicion that it is constructed with pre-determined outcomes.

The power of engaging with those most affected and most silenced was demonstrated recently at the Canadian Safe Sport Think Tank. Global Athlete and Gymnastics for Change Canada brought together advocates, survivors, former Provincial, National and Olympic-level athletes, coaches, sports administrators, and scholars to engage in a comprehensive examination of the Canadian sport system. The results of this safe and confidential space allowed for open and honest dialogue in order to uncover the true breadth and depth of the problems.

If this ‘Future of Sport in Canada Commission’ review is to succeed with radical reform of the Canadian sport system and justify its ask for those most affected by violence in sport to participate, it must be trustworthy, athlete and survivor-centric, and include mechanisms for enforcing recommendations to all government-funded organizations.  This announcement is but a first step towards a safe, accessible, and equitable sport experience for participants, at every level and within every community. The work has only just begun.

Statement from United States of America Olympic Figure Skater Vincent Zhou

It has been 595 days since my teammates and I earned medals at the Olympics. We still have not received them.

You may remember what happened. Representing Team USA, we placed second in the Figure Skating Team Event at the 2022 Winter Olympics. We were bested only by the Russian team, with Japan finishing third and Canada fourth. On the day that we were scheduled to receive our medals, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cancelled the ceremony due to a “situation” that required a “legal consultation.” The IOC assured us that they would do their “utmost to make sure it [was] resolved as quickly as possible.”

The “situation’s” focal point was Russian skater Kamila Valieva’s positive drug test. Her urine sample, collected more than six weeks earlier but only just analyzed, contained the prohibited substance trimetazidine. The positive test would ordinarily have nullified Team Russia’s results immediately, and the awards ceremony could have proceeded as planned, with us, the Japanese team and the Canadian team receiving medals. However, the Russian Disciplinary Anti-Doping Commission (DADC), supported by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), decided that different anti-doping rules may apply to Valieva because she was only 15 years old at the time of the competition. So, for the first time in modern Olympic history, no medals were awarded.

While there are significant economic costs associated with not receiving an Olympic medal (sponsors love medals), the real harm has come from the way the “situation” has been handled by sport administrators.

In the 19 months since we took the ice in Beijing, my teammates and I have heard almost nothing from the officials handling the case, and we have no reason to believe that our interests are being adequately represented. This week, a hearing is scheduled at CAS that will pit the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) against Valieva and the Russian DADC. The idea that such a hearing will serve the interests of clean athletes is absurd - the Russian “Anti-Doping” Agency has been facilitating Russian doping for over a decade. The IOC, for its part, has repeatedly refused to hold Russia accountable for a state-sponsored doping program involving more than 1,000 athletes. WADA, which is controlled by the IOC through a governing agreement with public authorities, reinstated the Russian Anti-Doping Agency in 2018 despite the agency’s refusal to turn over data detailing the extent of Russian doping. And the “court” in next week’s hearing, CAS, which is an arm of the IOC (its president is the IOC vice-president), has repeatedly sided with Russia – first in overturning sanctions of Russian athletes and then in watering down subsequent sanctions on Russia and RUSADA. Who in this panoply of actors represents the interests of me and my teammates, and furthermore, the interests of the broader sporting community?

We asked to be allowed to observe the upcoming hearing. In response, we were told that CAS hearings are confidential – closed even to those of us directly affected by the proceedings. We were told that either of the involved parties could request a public hearing, but that neither did. For that reason, the proceedings will happen behind closed doors.

An open and transparent hearing would go a long way towards helping athletes understand any decision that is rendered. Transparency would build confidence in a global anti-doping system that has lost the trust of its most important stakeholders: athletes. In contrast, asking the parties themselves to decide whether the hearing will be public is akin to asking them whether their actions should be scrutinized by outsiders. Unsurprisingly, they chose to act with impunity and to avoid public accountability.

The situation we found ourselves in at the Beijing Games and the painful process that we have endured since are a direct result of decisions made by the IOC, WADA, and CAS. The global sport administrators allowed Russian athletes to compete in the past four Olympics, including Beijing, despite the country’s state-sponsored doping program. The program is widely known to have corrupted multiple Olympic Games and defrauded thousands of athletes. Also, the Russian government has obstructed the pursuit of justice by manipulating data, destroying laboratories, and going so far as to murder whistleblowers in order to undermine investigations. And yet, the Russian team has not been excluded from a single Olympic Games.

Valieva’s positive drug test is not an isolated incident. My teammates and I are aware of widespread doping by other Russian skaters – and this, unfortunately, should surprise no one, given that a non-compliant anti-doping organization is still tasked with ensuring the integrity of sport inside Russia. Valieva and her teammates would never have been placed in this position if the IOC, WADA, and CAS had done their jobs and banned Russia from global sport. But, because of the inaction of sport administrators, Russia has never been incentivized to reform. Athletes both inside and outside of Russia have borne the cost.

As my team’s empty medal boxes show, the global anti-doping system is failing athletes. The revered elitism of the Olympics is dependent upon the principles of clean sport and fair competition. Yet, the governing bodies that are tasked to observe and enforce these principles continuously act against their supposed missions and fail to act on behalf of the people for whom they exist to serve: the athletes. Whenever finally held, the awards ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Figure Skating Team Event will be a symbol of the gross failures of the IOC, CAS, RUSADA, and other global sporting administrators. Justice delayed is justice denied, and my teammates and I will never get back the chance to stand before the world to celebrate a lifetime's worth of hard work culminating in a career-defining achievement. We have been forever prevented from experiencing the moment that every athlete dreams of – and ultimately, the organizations assumed to protect and create such moments are instead responsible for the emptiness of our success.

Joint Statement: A National Inquiry into Abuse in Sport must be Top Priority for the Government of Canada to Protect Canadian Children and Athletes

For over 18 months, Canadian athletes, advocates, scholars, and allies have been calling for the Government of Canada to initiate a national inquiry into the toxic culture of abuse that, as we have sadly come to learn, exists across all levels of Canadian sport.

It was the thousands of athlete voices that began this call but as evidence has mounted during the months of hearings before the Canadian Heritage Committee and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the call for an inquiry has been joined by the Canadian Olympic Committee, Own the Podium, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Canadian Women and Sport, the Coaching Association of Canada, Scholars Against Abuse in Canadian Sport, and high profile USA advocates Judge Rosemarie Aquilina and Rachael Denhollander.

With Parliament resuming this month and the appointment of a new Sports Minister in the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, we reinforce that a national inquiry must be a priority to protect Canadian children and athletes. The calls for this inquiry will not diminish. The need will only continue to grow and without a robust solution, the problems will continue to fester.

We cannot waste any more time. We must act to end child abuse and human rights violations occurring in Canadian sport. A national inquiry must happen without further delay. 

Click here or see below to watch the video for those advocating for an inquiry.

Canadian Safe Sport Think Tank Report

Recently, a cross-section of Canadian sports people gathered for the Canadian Safe Sport Think Tank hosted by Global Athlete and Gymnasts for Change Canada to collectively address the country’s sporting crisis. Olympic and National Team athletes, advocates, survivors, sports administrators, coaches, and scholars engaged in a comprehensive examination of the Canadian sport system and collaborated to identify a pathway for its recovery and reconstruction.

For the last two years, the culture and operations of sport in Canada have been under the spotlight for its failures to adequately serve and protect all Canadians who participate in sport. Despite the heightened scrutiny from the parliamentary hearings conducted by Canadian Heritage and the Standing Committee on Status of Women, there has been limited action from both the Government of Canada and national sport leaders to acknowledge and act upon the national crisis to ensure sport in Canada becomes a safe, healthy, and equitable environment for all.

Recognising the lack of inaction, the Think Tank welcomed participants over two days and provided a safe space to offer open and honest feedback and perspectives on the Canadian sport system. Through multiple comprehensive roundtables, four pivotal themes emerged as playing a role in the shortcomings of Canada’s sport system:

Collusion and Conflicts of Interest:  The Canadian sport system was discerned to be duplicitous by design, with a high level of collusion, where conflicts of interest and hidden affiliations protect the status quo and serve nationalist goals driven by the capitalization of sport and commercial exploitation of athletes.  Power is limited to a few organizations such as Own the Podium (OTP) and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), leaving National Sport Organizations (NSOs) in a vulnerable position, where fear of losing funding dictates the operation of their sports.

Nationalist Goals of Sport within the Global System: With sport placed under Heritage Canada, the Canadian sport system has been set up to utilize 1% of sport population, the elite athletes, to promote Canada’s identity, culture, values, and legacy on global scale. This approach does not serve 99% of the sporting population who play sport for fun, health and socialization.

The Exploitation of Athletes: There is little to no protection of athletes in Canada. Established safe sport systems are failing the 1% population of elite athletes and neglecting the 99% of the sporting population. This is leaving athletes powerless, with almost no representation and little bargaining power. Sport has purposely self-regulated, with minimal oversight, to deny access to justice and remedy to athletes who are maltreated – facilitating and exacerbating the denial of their basic human rights.

National Inquiry: The Canadian sport system is failing the masses while simultaneously eroding high-performance sport. A national inquiry is necessary to understand what all Canadians need and want from sport and how sport can best become a tool for health, community, and development, instead of a propaganda tool for nationalist goals.

If the Canadian sport system continues to operate in this manner, the ability to create, serve, and maintain a healthy population and a healthy and successful sporting culture will be eroded.

These findings are further detailed in the report - click here to read. 

The Olympic Council of Asia Openly Threatens and Silences Athletes

With less than a week before the start of the Asian Games in China, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has publicly threatened athletes with the removal of accreditation should they decide to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

The OCA’s archaic approach to limiting athletes’ rights to freedom of expression is a clear demonstration that sport systems continue to believe they can operate in silo without adherence to globally accepted human rights. This decision from the OCA appears to favour China’s authoritarian rule of law that rejects freedom of expression over every athlete’s civil liberties.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The Asian Games is a media of communication to the world, and the organisation’s leadership cannot be a barrier to human rights.

Global Athlete hopes every athlete attending the Asian Games uses the United Nations Human Rights Declaration to guide their decision on when and where to exercise their right to stand up for social and racial injustices that they wish to support. Outdated “sport rules” should never supersede basic human rights.

If athletes want to speak up – in a way that respects the rights and freedoms of others as detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the sport community should embrace their diverse opinions. Silencing athletes should never be tolerated, and to threaten them with removal from the Asian Games highlights the imbalance of power between sport leaders and athletes.

Silencing the athlete voice within sporting organisations has led to oppression, discrimination, and abuse of athletes – restricting their basic human rights has, and will, do the same.

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