Canada Develops a Reporting Mechanism for Misconduct in Sports

Photo Credit: Athit Perawongmetha

Canada’s Minister of Sports recently announced the development of an independent mechanism for allowing athletes to report incidents of misconduct in sports.[1] The development of this important mechanism comes with the news of an open letter written on behalf of over 70 Canadian gymnasts to Sport Canada demanding an investigation into the treatment of these athletes and the toxic culture associated with the sport. The number of current and former Canadian gymnasts who have joined in on the letter has grown to 150.[2] The letter states “[t]he current Board and CEO of GymCan have failed to address these issues and have failed to earn the trust and confidence of athletes … [t]heir inability to adequately respond to ongoing systemic abuse, mistreatment, and discrimination is troubling.”[3]

The USA gymnastics world is still coming to grips with the exposé of the tragic instances of sexual abuse and mistreatment endured by dozens of young women at the hands of Larry Nassar. The strong women who came forward and exposed Nassar for his years of abuse helped bring to light the years of abuse and toxic culture of the gymnastics world in the United States. Nassar is now serving a life sentence for his actions.[4] A mechanism for reporting to a neutral body, such as the one currently being developed in Canada, will help to ensure that countless allegations and reports of inappropriate behavior do not go unnoticed or become covered up by organizations designed to develop and protect athletes.

The Canadian gymnasts cited fear of retribution as an obstacle to their reporting instances of mistreatment in their sport. Rosie Cossar, a retired gymnast, stated that she had reported certain issues of mistreatment to Gymnastics Canada. It is unclear whether these reports were ignored or not, but providing athletes with a safe and effective way to report maltreatment is crucial to protect them from abuse at the hands of adults involved in the sport. The fear of retaliation will hopefully lessen considering the neutral body will likely be made up of individuals who have no stake in the gymnastics world. The mechanism will be mandatory for all federally-funded national sports organizations.[5]

The Canadian gymnasts join fellow athletes from sports such as bobsled, skeleton, rowing, rugby, track and field, synchronized swimming, wrestling and women’s soccer in voicing complaints regarding mistreatment. Canadian Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge stated “[s]port organizations, coaches and athletes have highlighted the need for an independent mechanism where athletes can report instances of maltreatment … [the Canadian gymnasts’] open letter is a reminder that we must take action to create a cultural shift in sports at all levels.”[6]

The Canadians are setting an important precedent in ensuring that all reports of mistreatment in athletics receives appropriate investigation. Young athletes remain incredibly vulnerable to the pressure placed on them by coaches, trainers, and other individuals involved in the sport. Providing them with a safe, effective, and neutral way to speak out against abuse sets a strong example that all countries should follow in the future.


[1] Lori Ewing, “Mechanism for Canadian athletes to report harassment, abuse in place soon: sport minister,” CBC Sports, (Mar. 29, 2022), https://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/gymnastics/gymnastics-canada-reporting-mechanism-sport-minister-1.6401309

[2] Id.

[3] “Current and former Canadian gymnasts request independent investigation of alleged ‘systematic abuse’ within sport’s governing body,” ESPN, (Mar. 28, 2022), https://www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/33614879/current-former-canadian-gymnasts-request-independent-investigation-alleged-systematic-abuse-sport-governing-body

[4] Scott Cacciola & Victor Mather, “Larry Nassar Sentencing: ‘I Just Signed Your Death Warrant,” New York Times, (Jan.24, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-sentencing.html

[5] Lori Ewing, “Mechanism for Canadian athletes to report harassment, abuse in place soon: sport minister,” CBC Sports, (Mar. 29, 2022), https://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/gymnastics/gymnastics-canada-reporting-mechanism-sport-minister-1.6401309

[6] Id.

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