The Prevalence of Maltreatment in Canadian Sport
On May 7, 2019, AthletesCAN, in partnership with University of Toronto, released a detailed study called, The Prevalence of Maltreatment among Current and Former National Team Athletes.
Maltreatment is an umbrella term that refers to: all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power (World Health Organization (2010)). Maltreatment includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, various types of harassment, bullying and hazing. The current study sought to assess the prevalence of various forms of maltreatment experienced by current and retired National Team members.
The online, anonymous survey was developed by Gretchen Kerr, PhD, Erin Willson, B.KIN, and Ashley Stirling, PhD in collaboration with AthletesCAN, supported by the University of Toronto and the federal government, and distributed by AthletesCAN to current national team members as well as retired national team members who had left the sport within the past ten years.
The percentage of the top harmful behaviours reported to be most frequently experienced by current and retired athletes include psychological (17%, 23%); neglect (15%, 22%); sexual (4%, 7%); and physical (3%, 5%).
Of the current and retired athletes’ who reported experiences of at least one harmful behaviour in each category of harm, the percentage of the top harmful behaviours were neglect (67%, 76%); psychological (59%, 62%); sexual (20%, 21%); and physical (12%, 19%).
The most commonly experienced form of discrimination was gender discrimination with female athletes feeling they had fewer opportunities, supports and resources to advance their sport careers. Furthermore, 22% of self-identified racialized athletes experienced discrimination based on race.
Open-ended questions on the survey enabled athletes to contribute additional comments and recommendations to improve the current landscape. The recommendations for advancing safe sport included:
- establish a mechanism to receive, investigate and adjudicate complaints independent of sport governing bodies;
- address all forms of maltreatment;
- enhance the focus on athletes’ holistic well-being;
- implement mandatory education for all sport stakeholders;
- strengthen accountability measures;
- ensure supports and resources are available for victims of maltreatment;
- prohibit sexual relationships and forced intimacy between athletes and those in positions of authority; and
- conduct a climate survey of athletes’ experiences on a regular basis.