Not just in hockey Canada: violence and performance coexist everywhere in sport

The Canadian hockey world does not have a monopoly on a culture of silence when it comes to aggression and misbehavior: these problems are also frequent in other sports organizations in the country. Experts and activists point to a system based on performance and short-term financial gain.

“Many people from different sports have approached me. Soccer, cross-country skiing, boxing, wrestling…I think it’s everywhere. »

At the end of the line, former Canadian gymnast Kim Shore is clear: a common problem exists within Canada’s sports federation, whose toxic mode of operation has claimed, according to her, “thousands” of victims over the years. Hockey Canada’s recent scandals may be one sad example among many, most of which have never been documented.

“I don’t know how aggressive it is in every sport, but I can say that in gymnastics, it affects young kids,” said the man, who sat on the board of directors of Gymnastics Canada before becoming an activist. “Systematic abuse in sport”, as he presents himself on his Twitter page.

Emotion in his voice, he says that as he watched his own daughter develop in the sport he realized that the practices had hardly changed from when he himself was an athlete. The problem will still be present at the highest levels of the sports world, according to him.

“I think we’ve built a system that’s driven by results,” she says. We are now, fast, and very young people… very focused on how to get good performances with kids. »

Other disciplines are affected

Several scholars and researchers have come to the exact same conclusion. A team of 28 experts from English Canada also released a letter to federal sports minister Pascal Saint-Onge, confirming that Hockey Canada’s shocking revelations are far from isolated incidents.

“The problems [sont] Systematic, and a symptom of a deeply entrenched culture in hockey and other sports in Canada,” they wrote, with plenty of evidence to back it up.

Hockey Canada’s recent headlines came as “no surprise” to Gretchen Kerr, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto and signatory to the letter.

“I think it’s a common problem,” he confirmed there is. The situation in hockey may be different though, since in this case, we see the athletes who are the aggressors, not the victims. Something though [joueurs de hockey] Perhaps the victim was. »

A statement shared by his colleague Peter Donnelly, emeritus professor of sports policy who has studied the question for nearly 40 years. “We see situations where older players bully younger athletes: bullying, physical violence, acts of initiation… But the worst, by far, is the abuse of coaches towards young athletes. Coaches who have an authoritarian style, which is probably the most common style of coaching. »

The University of Toronto professor predicts that the new sports integrity commissioner, in office in June, will be “inundated” with evidence of all manner of abuse.

Joel Carpentier, an expert in sport and performance psychology, also attributes this to a culture in sport that is “very results-oriented”: a short-term philosophy concerned with winning medals and funding.

“There is a misconception that for good results you have to have coaches who are physically, mentally tough. […] Although the science is very clear: what allows for excellence, in the long term, athletes who are doing well, “explains the professor at UQAM’s School of Management Sciences.

Culture change

How can this performance goal lead to serious crimes like sexual assault?

The job of coach, national team official, administrator depends on the performance of children [les athlètes mineurs]. Whenever you have such a situation, you will see exploitation. There is a deviation in the well-being of athletes,” said Professor Gretchen Kerr.

“Sports is the only institution where children are not a protected category,” laments Peter Donnelly. He believes, however, that the general public was made aware of the problem during the tragic doping case involving 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valiva at the 2022 Winter Olympics. »

Male hockey players, for their part, are glorified in Canadian society, notes Joel Carpentier. “It puts them in the mind that they have some right over other people,” she analyzed. These players therefore benefit from the same privileges resulting from a culture of silence as coaches in other disciplines.

“When [les signalements] When managers notice, we tell ourselves that we must not harm the careers of athletes or coaches, because we need them for results. Because results are more important than people. »

Several observers were contacted despite the scandals that had accumulated in recent years duty Be rather optimistic about the promised culture change in hockey and the world of sports in general.

A first-ever code of conduct for sport in Canada was introduced in 2019, and in June the federal government appointed former national artistic swimming team athlete Sarah-Yves Pelletier as its first commissioner of integrity in sport.

The sports minister, Pascale St-Onge, announced her intention to make all federal funding to sports federations conditional on the recognition of the authority of this commissioner, who would then be able to collect complaints independently and anonymously from athletes and spectators.

Only four organizations are currently signatories, but negotiations are underway with dozens more commissioners’ offices to add to the list.

Five others were victims of sports scandals

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