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News about safety in amateur sport in Canada is often about the gaps – whether it be policy, resources or oversight — in the sport environment that provides the opportunity for misconduct and results in bullying, harassment, abuse and harm to individuals. We hear about the gaps only after the harm has occurred. And we often hear that the individuals who are victimized did not know where to go to seek advice and support about what to do or they attempted to report and were not heard.
Sport Manitoba, through its Sport Support Line, was the first provincial sport leader in Canada to launch a toll-free support line for abuse, bullying and harassment in sport. It has received recognition provincially and nationally through AthletesCAN, the athlete-focused advocacy organization, and the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. The Sport Support Line highlights an approach that offers education about safe sport and real advice for individuals with concerns about safety in sport that could help them to address issues before they become the problems we read about in the news.
Sport Manitoba Sport Support Line
Sport Manitoba is an agency funded by the Government of Manitoba and supported by numerous private-sector sponsors. Its primary purpose is to plan, program and fund the development of amateur sport in the province. It runs numerous programs, including Sport Manitoba Coaching and the Manitoba Hall of Fame, supports high performance athlete development, and provides direct funding to approximately seventy provincial sport organizations.
The Sport Support Line is a service accessed through a toll-free telephone line or email that is available 365 days of the year to respond to anyone in the sport community who has a question, concern or report about safe sport.
The Sport Support Line is available on an anonymous and confidential basis, although if an enquiry results in a reportable complaint, it would not remain anonymous. The Sport Manitoba website also reminds individuals of their legal obligation that, if their information relates to a child being in potential danger, they must report the incident to authorities. The resources available through the Sport Support Line can also assist someone in making this type of report.
While the Sport Support Line reports its usage statistics to Manitoba Coaching, Sport Manitoba does not provide a public report on statistics on calls or emails received by the Sport Support Line.
Benefits of the Proactive Approach – Answering Two Key Questions
1. Should I say something?
In the work I have done as an investigator with amateur sport associations, I have often heard from individuals that they struggled with when to raise a concern or report a complaint. The tendency of individuals I have interviewed is that they assumed an incident was a “one-off,” they question their own judgement about how serious an incident actually was or they assumed that someone else would say something. They didn’t want to be labelled as difficult and create potential issues for their success as athletes or, for parents, their child’s opportunities to succeed in sport.
One result is that significant time may pass between an incident that raises a concern and the report of that incident, which can, if a decision is made to conduct an investigation, impact an investigator’s ability to carry out a thorough investigation. Challenges to an investigation in this situation can arise because witnesses or the respondent may no longer be available or their recollection of the event(s) in question may have faded and documentary evidence, such as texts or emails, may have been erased or lost.
The Sport Support Line is more than a reporting mechanism. It’s promoted as a resource for coaches, parents, athletes, and sport organizations who might be seeking “advice and guidance when dealing with difficult, delicate, ethical, or legal situations.”
There is a person, Bruce Wood with Change of Seasons Consulting, on the other end of the telephone line or typing the response by email. A resource such as the Sport Support Line can answer questions and support individuals as they make decisions about their next steps to address their concern and/or seek resources for further support.
2. What can I do?
Safety in sport encompasses a broad range of behaviours that can create harm for individuals. As defined, hazing and bullying are behaviours that occur at the peer level, often between athletes. These types of conduct are particularly difficult to address because they can exist “below the radar” of coaches, managers and other adults. The St. Michael’s College School bullying and hazing incidents, which received national attention in 2019, and the resulting investigation report highlight that this type of conduct can continue in plain sight and, over time, become systemic within the environment.
In addition to the Sport Support Line, Sport Manitoba has partnered with Change of Seasons to deliver education programs to Manitoba provincial sport organizations (PSOs) since 2007. Recent programs have included in-person workshops on hazing and bullying.
Tailored education that identifies bullying and hazing as unacceptable practices within sport and that also highlights what an individual can do is an essential tool to address this form of misconduct. It is well-recognized that training, delivered in person and with content that is directly related to the current learning needs of the audience, is the most effective approach to achieving the desired behavioural and attitudinal changes.
As Sport Canada and the amateur sport community across the country continue work to develop a policy and procedural infrastructure for safety in sport, including a Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport, Sport Manitoba’s Sport Support Line provides a working model for what direct action looks like.
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