Canada's new "abuse-free sport" mechanism: Will it meet athletes' needs?


Athlete maltreatment has garnered significant scholarly and public attention, globally and in Canada, with prevalence rates and media reports illuminating experiences of maltreatment, including sexual, physical, psychological abuse, neglect, and discrimination. Previous research has demonstrated reporting rates for maltreatment are low; for example, in a sample of Canadian National Team athletes who experienced maltreatment, only 16% of current athletes and 13% of retired athletes submitted a formal complaint (Kerr et al., 2019). Athletes have identified necessary conditions to report, including being protected from retribution and the need for an independent body that is arms-length to their sport organization (Willson et al., 2022). In response to the steady stream of highly-publicised accounts of maltreatment in sport, Sport Canada developed an independent body, entitled Abuse-Free Sport, which officially opened June 20, 2022. The purpose of this presentation is to compare the characteristics of this independent body to athletes' recommendations as provided in recent literature and through advocacy efforts. Findings indicate that, congruent with athletes' recommendations, the new entity addresses all forms of maltreatment and is arms-length from National Sport Organizations (NSOs). On the other hand, the new entity does not apply to all athletes, focuses on punishment of individual perpetrators rather than addressing the cultural roots of maltreatment, and its trauma-informed approach is yet to be seen. Recommendations are made to better align the development and implementation of the Abuse-Free Sport with athletes' needs.