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1 in 5 Canadians report threats or harassment in sports, StatCan says 

While Hockey Canada is embroiled in a major sexual assault case, community sports in the country are also not immune to foul play.

One in five (20 per cent) Canadians report having experienced or witnessed threats or harassment in community sports in the last five years, according to data released by Statistics Canada on Monday.

Physical attacks or assaults were reported by eight per cent of people, who either witnessed or experienced them between 2019 and 2023 while playing a sport.

The data was collected last year through a series of short surveys, which examined participation and experiences in community sports.

A quarter (25 per cent) of Canadians believe that racism and discrimination were problems in community sports and 18 per cent reported they had experienced or witnessed unfair treatment, racism or discrimination in sports, according to StatCan.

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a retired professor from the University of Toronto specializing in gender and safety issues in sports, said the findings are “definitely concerning” but not surprising.

“It seemed like coaches were quite often turning a blind eye to some of this, all in the name of sport,” she said in an interview with Global News Tuesday.

“’You have to suck it up’ kind of thing. No, you don’t have to, it’s not good.”

Young people aged 15 to 24 (30 per cent) were more likely to report facing or witnessing such behaviour as were lesbian and gay Canadians (42 per cent), StatCan reported.

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“On the issue of LGBTQ people, certainly, there’s been more visibility and that opens the possibilities of more harassment and abuse,” Lenskyj said.

Reported incidents of discrimination ranged from insensitive jokes or remarks, name calling to insults, mockery and being excluded from conversations or group activities.

Race or skin colour (64 per cent) was the most commonly reported reason for discrimination. Physical appearance and ethnicity or culture, gender, language, religion and sexual orientation were other reasons reported.

Lenskyj said if this is happening at the community and recreational level, then that does not bode well for athletes going up through the ranks.

“There will be more at stake as they become more competitive and compete at the elite level and quite possibly because they have invested so much, they will not want to complain and rock the boat.”

Many incidents in community sport go unreported, with one-third (32 per cent) of victims or witnesses not coming forward. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they did flag at least one incident of discrimination, racism and unfair treatment by filing an official complaint or report.

The majority of people (80 per cent) in the StatCan survey who reported unfair treatment, racism and discrimination in sport over the last five years were either athletes or participants.

More a quarter (26 per cent) were spectators at the time of incident, while five to 15 per cent were coaches, referees or those in other non-athletic roles.

Lensky said she hopes this data helps to bring change in policies and practices in Canadian sport.

“I hope that the top level, Sport Canada in particular, will pay attention to these findings and will realize that what we have currently in place by way of safeguarding for athletes and policies against sexual harassment … and racist harassment, that they are not effective, they’re not doing their job.”

Global News reached out to Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office for comment, but did not get a response by the time of publication.

The StatCan report comes as a high-profile sexual assault case involving allegations against five former members of Canada’s World Junior team has reignited scrutiny over hockey culture. Meanwhile there have been growing calls in Canada to address abusive practices in gymnastics as well.

In its first year in operation, the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) received 193 complaints of maltreatment between June 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. Of those, 66 were deemed admissible as they fall under the office’s jurisdiction.

Last summer, the federal government unveiled a slate of measures to improve the accountability of national sports organizations and bring about a “culture change” for athletes.

Among the steps Ottawa is taking is the setting up of a public registry of people who have been sanctioned or suspended within the sport system, as well as new funding to screen national coaches.

— with files from Global News’ David Baxter and The Canadian Press

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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