Children’s gyms should be free from scales. Parents should have the right to observe. Parents should be allowed to watch their children’s behavior in the gym.
These may seem like safety precautions for children involved in sports but they are not universally available in Canada. Many former and current athletes feel Canada needs a cultural overhaul, despite what Pascale St-Onge, Sports Minister, has described as a “safe sports crisis.”
In recent weeks, more than 1000 athletes in gymnastics, boxing, and bobsled/skeleton requested independent investigations. Last week, Amelia Cline, a former gymnast, filed a class-action lawsuit against Gymnastics Canada, six provincial federations, and Gymnastics Canada.
Plaintiffs claim that abuse began in 1978. They claim the organizations created an environment and culture where abuse could occur and failed to protect athletes, many of whom were minors, who were under their care.
St-Onge claims she has received complaints of abuse, maltreatment, or misappropriation of funds against at least eight national teams, including rowing and rugby.
Stories have prompted discussions, shared experiences, and suggestions for fixing.
Ciara McCormack was the first soccer player to publicly accuse Bob Birarda, Canada’s under-20 women coach, of inappropriate behavior. He pleaded guilty to four sexual offenses in February involving four people.
She stated that parents should have access to their children’s training environments. However, few gymnastics facilities allow parents to observe.
McCormack believes that nondisclosure agreements in cases of misconduct should be ended and it should be mandatory for parents and athletes to learn about abuse and how to report it. McCormack also suggested that an athlete-led group be established with a hotline, disciplinary procedures and similar reporting procedures for teachers and medical professionals.
McCormack stated that “(National sports organizations) have taken advantage” of all the power and resources. The result was an enormous amount of harm. McCormack said that it was crucial that athletes be given power, resources, and a voice in the system, from rec athletes to national team athletes. It’s long past due.
Kim Shore, who is a former gymnast and mother of a former gymnast said that she would like to see the bathroom scales removed from gyms. Many gymnasts claim that public weigh-ins left them with deep emotional scars about their body image years later.
She also suggested a registry of offenders. Many national sports organizations, such as Skate Canada or Athletics Canada have removed athletes and coaches from their websites.
There are many holes in the system, including the inability of tracking coaches at the grassroots and provincial levels. If a coach is suspended or allowed to go quietly from a club or province, they can move on to another — or even another sport.
Cline claims that she was injured during training. She also alleges that her hand, wrist, fingers, toes, and back were all fractured. Cline claimed that Vladimir Lashin, her coach, stretched her hamstring so far that it was tearing her pelvis.
Cline stated to The Canadian Press that B.C. staff knew her by name. Children’s Hospital knew Cline by name.
Cline, who was 14 when he quit the sport, said, “It’s kinda telling when they say: “Oh, it’s YOU again, you’re returning,” Cline added. He is now 32.
Lashin didn’t respond to our request for comment. He was the coach of Canada’s national team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In 2009, Gymnastics Canada named him as the national coach and high-performance director of the women’s artistic program. In 2010, he resigned.
Sport Canada announced that the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), will be available as of June 20. This office will handle individual complaints regarding violations of the University Code of Conduct in Preventing and Addressing Maltreatment in Sport.