Community Clubs Junior Leagues

Ottawa Sport Council releases free Safe Sport Toolkit

By Mark Colley

More than two years after first applying for funding, and 18 months since beginning work, the Ottawa Sport Council has released a new free toolkit meant to foster safe, welcoming and inclusive sporting environments.

The Safe Sport Toolkit began taking shape before the pandemic and is a collaborative effort with the Sport Law & Strategy Group, and 12 community sport organizations.

The toolkit, which officially launched last month, provides resources to help mitigate risks to participants, coaches, officials, administrators and volunteers involved in sport.

“We are presently seeing in the news a number of stories regarding the harm that unsafe environments [have] caused athletes,” Ottawa Sport Council executive director Marci Morris said. “By embracing safe sport principles and practices, a community sport organization can only ensure it is proving a safe and welcoming environment for all of [its] participants.”

The prevalence of unsafe sport environments has increased since the pandemic began. Elite Canadian athletes have started to demand change and many communities are experiencing referee shortages partially as a result of abuse. Last month, federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge held a roundtable discussion over the crisis of safe sports. It followed accusations of sexual abuse and mistreatment from Canada’s top athletes.

The Safe Sport Toolkit is designed to combat these issues.

“The safe sport journey for a small local community sport organization can be complicated and time-consuming,” Morris said. “Our goal in taking the lead [on the toolkit] was to provide an easy-to-follow, easy-to-implement path to help all our members create their own safe and welcoming environments.”

The Ottawa Sport Council is also offering an instructional Ottawa Safe Sport Toolkit webinar on June 14 at 12 p.m. By attending, sport organizations can learn about the program and ways to increase safety and inclusiveness.

Ottawa Sport Council received a $72,000 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to produce the toolkit. The 12 community sport organizations who collaborated with the council — including groups from field hockey, women’s hockey, rugby and para sport — implemented it first before it was opened to the broader community.

“It’s been a massive project,” Morris said. “It was led by us but it was really the community coming together.”

The toolkit itself is broken into two parts: safe sport essentials and the complete toolkit. The essentials part of the program is effectively a Coles Notes version of the toolkit meant to help organizations that might be understaffed, Morris said.

“To put all the policies and everything into place, it is a pretty big undertaking,” he said. “For organizations that are more volunteer-run, they could get quite overwhelmed.”

Moving forward, Morris would like to see safe sport mandated by the province, like Rowan’s Law, which established the regular review and implementation of a concussion code of conduct.

“Unfortunately, the reality is, with so many things for a volunteer organization to do, stuff that can become quite complicated like this doesn’t necessarily get done as much,” Morris said. “But if it does get mandated, the resources will be there for people so that they don’t have to start from scratch.”

–with files from Dan Plouffe

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