Canadian athletes face a variety of challenges in their pursuit of excellence in sports. From the mentality of winning at all costs to the lack of trust in sports organizations, athletes are often put in difficult positions. This study explored the experiences of mistreatment of Canadian National Team athletes, including Paralympic athletes and non-paraathletes, to gain insight into the challenges they face. The participants in this study reported numerous challenges in promoting safe sports, such as the mentality of winning at all costs, the normalization of harm, the lack of attention to equity, diversity and inclusion, the culture of fear and silence, and the lack of trust in sports organizations when it comes to addressing issues related to safe sports.
For example, one athlete commented on the importance of coaches understanding how to work with women athletes safely. Athletes also referred to the need for education to extend beyond the predominant focus on sexual harm to include other forms of harm. In addition, it is necessary to expand the focus beyond the athletes of the national team to include the full range of experiences of participants in sports, from grassroots and youth sports to the teacher level. The data obtained through responses to an open survey were then organized and interpreted into units of meaning and general topics related to challenges and recommendations for promoting safe sports.
Athletes referred to the emphasis on performance excellence throughout their sports participation; specifically, they said that their ability to win and perform consistently at a high level took precedence over their holistic development, limiting safe sports experiences. Through this training style, athletes and coaches collaborate, the needs of athletes (including physical and emotional ones) are prioritized, and athletes contribute to decisions that affect them. The lack of trust that athletes had in their sports organizations was a major issue for athletes, which they attributed to the promotion of negative experiences. Given the quarantine times needed to travel between countries, many of his athletes are currently in hunting races in the United States, especially in Florida, California, Arizona and Texas.
According to the athletes, one of the main challenges for a safe sport is to prioritize excellence in performance in Canadian sports. Sports administrators have also minimized and trivialized complaints of abuse by victims, blamed victims for the abuse they have suffered, and have questioned the credibility of an athlete in defending abuse. In order to promote safe sports for Canadian athletes, it is important for coaches and administrators to prioritize athlete needs over performance excellence. Education should be expanded beyond sexual harm to include other forms of harm.
It is also important for sports organizations to take complaints seriously and address them appropriately. We would like to thank the athletes who participated in this study, along with AthleteScan, who contributed to the design and hiring of this study.