Our Mission

Empowering people to recognize and prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD) through interactive, online training courses.Harassment Prevention Training

Our Vision

Eliminate bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD) by inspiring a global culture of respect.

Canadians Respect Certified

Respect Group is a Certified B Corporation. B Corps are companies that use business as a force for good, aspiring to solve social and environmental problems. Becoming a B Corp was important to us in order to share our business values with our clients and employees so that, together, we can all be proud.

Respect Group’s Net Promoter Score is +81. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a metric for measuring customer satisfaction. NPS of +50 is generally deemed excellent, anything over +70 is exceptional.

Respect Group is proud to give-back +10% of our annual revenue to not-for-profit organizations across Canada.

The Respect Experience


Frequently asked questions about accessing our programs, how to log in, obtaining your certificate, or what to do in the event you witness bullying, abuse, harassment or discrimination.

Why Respect Matters

People want to be involved with organizations that demonstrate Respect. Often, Vision or Mission Statements include the word “Respect” however, few organizations have empowered and equipped ALL members of their team with the necessary tools and training to ensure a positive and psychologically safe environment.

Contact Us

Respect Group takes your privacy seriously. By submitting a request for information by email to a general or specific Respect Group email address, you are consenting to have a representative of Respect Group contact you by email.                   

About Us

Respect Group was incorporated on April 5th, 2004 by co-founders, Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil, to pursue their common passion: the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD). Respect Group is made up of a team of 30 talented individuals whose passion is to create a global culture of Respect.

We have enlisted pre-eminent experts to develop a best in class curriculum and e-learning platform. Expert content and a professional online training and certification model round out Respect Group’s fully outsourced risk management behaviour-change solutions for sport, schools and the workplace.


Wayne McNeil

Wayne McNeil was Trustee and Vice-Chairman of the Rocky View School Division, volunteer President of the Sheldon Kennedy Foundation, which raised over $1.2 Million during the 1998 Cross-Canada Skate to raise awareness for the prevention of child abuse, served as Chairman of the Alberta Gymnastics Federation for six years andserved for 6 years as founding Board member of the Calgary and Area Child Advocacy Centre.

These volunteer roles and his commitment to child advocacy lead Wayne to co-found Respect Group Inc.; Canada’s first, on-line, abuse, discrimination, bullying and harassment prevention training program for community/sport organizations, schools and corporations.

Wayne has a seasoned, professional background in Information Technology and Project Management that he developed through key global positions with Bell Canada, 3Com Corporation and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). This strong IT expertise enabled Wayne to create a solid team and technology approach for Respect Group. Wayne was instrumental in forging an exclusive partnership with the Canadian Red Cross to combine Canada’s best abuse, bullying and harassment prevention curriculum (Respect Education) with Respect Group ‘s world-class, on-line training technology.

In 2007, Wayne was awarded the Canadian Red Cross Caring Award for his leadership in the promotion of violence and abuse prevention education.

Wayne McNeil   



Sheldon Kennedy


Sheldon Kennedy won a Memorial Cup, World Junior Gold Medal and skated for three teams in his eight-year NHL career. He is best known for his courageous decision to charge his Major Junior Hockey league coach with sexual assault for the abuse he suffered over a five year period while a teenager under his care. Through this disclosure, and the important work that Sheldon continues to do, he has become an inspiration to millions of abuse survivors around the world.


Sheldon has been instrumental in bringing governments, public and private sector partners together to work collaboratively to influence policy change and improve the way child abuse is handled. He has influenced changes in Canadian law and has taken his message to the International Olympic Committee and the US Senate.


Sheldon was Co-Founder of the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre, the first-of-its-kind in Canada, offering full wrap-around services for victims of child abuse. He is also the Co-Founder of Respect Group, which provides empowering online abuse, bullying and harassment prevention education to sport organizations, schools and the workplace.


Sheldon’s awareness contributions are many:

  • He in-line skated across Canada in 1998 to highlight the issue of child abuse and donated 100% of the proceeds ($1.2M) towards abuse prevention programs. During this skate he was presented with the keys to the cities of Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg.
  • His life story was made into an Award Winning TV movie.
  • In 2006 he published “Why I Didn’t Say Anything”; a riveting account of the many psychological impacts of abuse.
  • He has shared his story through countless media appearances including Oprah, ABC’s Nightline, W-5, The Fifth Estate, and was named Canada’s newsmaker of the year in 1997.
  • In 2016, Swift Current the documentary featured Sheldon’s story, providing a startling and never before seen look at recovery from childhood sexual abuse trauma.


Sheldon has received several awards for his tireless work including:

  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Regina, 2018
  • Hockey Canada Order of Merit, 2018
  • Honourary Bachelor of Business Administration, SAIT, 2016
  • Honourary Bachelor of Child Studies and Child and Youth Care, Mount Royal University, 2016
  • Member of The Order of Canada, 2015
  • Member of The Order of Manitoba, 2015
  • Alberta Order of Excellence 2016
  • Honourary Doctorate of Laws, University of Calgary, 2015
  • Lincoln Alexander Outstanding Leader Award, University of Guelph, 2015
  • The David Foster Foundation Humanitarian Award, 2014
  • Calgary Citizen of the Year 2013
  • Honourary Doctorate of Laws, University of the Fraser Valley, 2012
  • Scotiabank Humanitarian Award, 2012
  • Canadian Red Cross Caring Award, 2007

Sheldon Kennedy   


What Our Clients Have To Say

University of Calgary is proud to be the first academic institution in Canada to launch the Respect in the Workplace Program.

We believe the benefits of a respectful workplace include improved team communication, enhanced organizational health, reduced absenteeism, and increased morale and productivity.

Respect in the Workplace is helping us build a stronger, more vibrant campus culture, where every member feels valued for their contributions

Dr. Elizabeth Cannon
President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary

Obviously, super impressed with the program. Great to have it in such short bursts, and the app made it so convenient (I did most of it on my skytrain commute!).

The messages are varied and made to be relevant to the parents, somehow in a way that empowers them to take action. I never felt like I was being talked down to. Even having done many similar trainings, I learned new things, and felt more confident to take action.

It exceeded all my expectations, and quite honestly, it’s in my top online education programs of all time.

Kate Kloos
Manager, Coach Development, Viasport

The Respect in School program has had a lasting impression here at Moncton High School by empowering the bystander in the prevention of bullying, abuse and maltreatment.

The Respect in School program provides the user the skills to recognize, identify and report suspected abuse, bullying and maltreatment. Countless students reported and disclosed past abuse and bullying during the implementation of the program and most sought counselling for the first time.

The implementation of the Respect in School Program and sharing Sheldon Kennedy’s journey of hope and healing has been one of the most powerful things I have done in my sixteen-year teaching career.

Craig Eagles
Teacher, Moncton High School

Respect Hub

Challenges to Canadian Safe Sport Policy

Challenges to Canadian Safe Sport Policy

Challenges to Canadian Safe Sport Policy: A Summary of One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Struggle for Child Protection in Canadian Sport




Canadian sport organizations have a responsibility to support their participants’ health and well-being and to keep them safe. The introduction of Safe Sport is a new overarching goal for Canadian sport organizations focusing on promoting the psychological and physical well-being of participants and preventing abuse, harassment, and other behaviours known as maltreatment (Kerr, Kidd & Donnelly, 2020). The renewed focus on Safe Sport appears to be a response to previous approaches to maintaining safety in sport, which followed a repetitive, reactive cycle of crisis, policy response, slow implementation of changes, resistance to change, and ultimately, little measurable or actionable outcomes (Kerr et al., 2020). One major challenge to moving forward in Safe Sport policy is the resistance from some leaders in sport towards independent oversight, maintaining that these challenges can be handled through self-regulation (Kerr et al., 2020). In light of the increasing awareness of the harms that can occur in sporting environments, it is truly shocking that sport is the only child-population institution in Canada that is entirely self-regulating and autonomous (Kerr et al., 2020). The article summarized below by Kerr, Kidd & Donnelly (2020) demonstrates the need for independent oversight, changes to funding structures/requirements, and prioritizing athletes’ voices in the fight against a climate of control in order to work towards a new, authentic culture of Safe Sport in Canada.


Background: The Role of Sport Canada


The role of Sport Canada is to support National Sport Organizations (NSOs) and Multi-Sport Organizations through financial support for elite athletes and to support sport organizations in hosting events where Canadian athletes can compete at national and international levels (Kerr et al., 2020). Sport Canada’s policies and programs operate under the Canadian Sport Policy Agreement between federal, provincial and territorial governments (Kerr et al., 2020). Similar levels and mechanisms of support for Provincial Sport Organizations (PSOs) are provided by provincial and territorial governments (Kerr et al., 2020). 


In addition to their financial and organizational support, Sport Canada has also created or supported in the development of new organizations, including the Coaching Association of Canada, Canadian Women and Sport, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, and the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, to protect and strengthen key ethical values in Canadian sport (Kerr et al., 2020). An additional independent organization, AthletesCAN, is composed of national team athletes who focus on the goals of athlete advocacy and the creation of athlete-centred sports systems (Kerr et al., 2020). As mentioned above, there is a notable gap of an independent regulatory body to oversee the well-being of children and youth athletes; instead, sport organizations are self-regulating in this area (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Threats to Safe Sport: The Climate of Control


Two important themes related to promoting safe sport include understanding the gaps in protection that leave children vulnerable to maltreatment and understanding the shared characteristics of sport and other institutions where child maltreatment occurs (Kerr et al., 2020). First, sport is mainly self-regulated, meaning that when issues of maltreatment do occur, they are primarily handled internally (Kerr et al., 2020). This is problematic for all athletes, but particularly for children and youth, who are protected by specific laws and regulations that should be upheld by all child and youth-serving institutions, including sport (Kerr et al., 2020). In turn, this contributes to the second theme of sport as a ‘total institution’, where both explicit and implicit cultures of control exist (Kerr et al., 2020). This is especially evident in sport at elite and high-performance levels, where outcomes (ex. medals, wins vs. losses, etc.) and control are emphasized by sport leaders, and the ability of athletes to advocate for their rights and needs for participation is diminished (Kerr et al., 2020). This is supported by research that has found that in elite organized youth sports, nearly half of the articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are sometimes or often violated (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Research has shown that control has become a core principle for elite and high-performance sport,  contributing to a cultural context where physical and psychological harms can become a normalized, accepted part of sport culture (Kerr et al., 2020). Importantly, this is not to say that the culture of control in sport causes violence, but rather that specific forms of harm and maltreatment are used to maintain a culture of control; in turn, the culture of control creates a climate within sport where maltreatment is expected and/or accepted (Kerr et al., 2020). Similar cultures of control can be found in other institutions that exert total control, such as the military or prisons, to establish a hierarchy of power and authority (Kerr et al., 2020). This climate of control has contributed to many sports becoming highly regimented, with clear authority figures and athletes being motivated by both increasing levels of success as well as fear of punishment (ex. losing funding, not making the team, being benched, etc.) (Kerr et al., 2020). This, along with the competitive aspect of sport and the pool of talented athletes who can take one’s place, puts athletes in positions where they are highly vulnerable to manipulation and harm (Kerr et al., 2020). This can lead athletes to tolerate situations and behaviours that they wouldn’t in other circumstances (Kerr et al., 2020). For example, in education, students may work towards achieving high grades, but if a teacher motivated students towards this achievement through harmful methods, they would be punished professionally and often under the law. Further, many children and youth are hesitant to report violations of their rights, particularly because their main option is to report their concerns directly to their sport organization to be handled internally (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Funding Structures Promote a ‘Win-At All-Costs’ Mentality


An emphasis on performance outcomes, contributing to a climate of control, has been built into the funding structure of Canadian sport organizations and represents a significant barrier to addressing athlete maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). Canadian sport organizations are primarily funded through their athletes achieving results, including international medals, records, top-10 performances, etc. (Kerr et al., 2020). As such, funding is higher for sport organizations with high-performing and achieving athletes, and lower or even cut for organizations producing less wins, medals, or other achievements (Kerr et al., 2020). Significant funding for elite athletes comes from a Sport Canada-funded organization, Own the Podium, who identifies in their mandate a goal to help more Canadian athletes and coaches win more medals at Olympic and Paralympic games (Kerr et al., 2020). This focus on winning and achievement may lead to organizational and coaching practices that constitute maltreatment and violate athletes’ rights (Kerr et al., 2020). Further, an overwhelming body of research identifies the potential individual and organizational harms of a win-at-all costs-mentality (Kerr et al., 2020).


Failure to Implement Policies from the 1990s


In response to the high-profile cases of abuse in Canadian sport in the 1990s, the Canadian government created new policies and compliance systems to address maltreatment in sport (Kerr et al., 2020). According to Kerr et al. (2020), starting in 1996, all NSOs (and later PSOs) who received public funding were required to fulfill the following obligations: 


  • Create and share a publicly-accessible harassment policy 
  • Identify two third-party trained Harassment Officers (one male and one female) to address complaints
  • And to report annually on their compliance with the above requirements to Sport Canada in order to maintain their funding 


Harassment policies at the time (and currently) were largely guided by a policy guide that assisted sport organizations in the development and implementation of harassment policies, created by Canadian Women and Sport (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Despite the progressive nature of the developments in 1996, a study conducted 20 years later to assess compliance of Canadian sport organizations showed cause for concern (Kerr et al., 2020). While 86% of NSOs and 71% of PSOs had harassment policies, less than half met the requirement for public accessibility (Kerr et al., 2020). In addition, these policies failed to adequately address psychological and physical maltreatment, focusing mainly on sexual maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). Only 27% of PSO and 39% of NSO policies identified a harassment officer, though many of these did not train both a male and a female officer (Kerr et al., 2020). Of particular concern, none of the PSOs or NSOs had a third party harassment officer; instead, the role was typically fulfilled by the CEO of another staff member within the sport organization (Kerr et al., 2020). Lastly, the researchers found that none of the NSOs and PSOs were denied funding, despite not meeting Sport Canada’s compliance requirements (Kerr et al., 2020). In response to this, sport organizations identified both a lack of capacity and will to fulfill their compliance requirements, leaving children, youth and adult athletes once again vulnerable to maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Recent High-Profile Cases Emphasize The Role of the Bystander


Recent high-profile cases of abuse in sport (from 2011-2020) in both the United States and Canada further emphasized a lack of organizational and bystander intervention when instances of child, youth, and athlete maltreatment have occurred (Kerr et al., 2020). In the cases of both Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky, multiple individuals with the sport organization knew that acts of sexual abuse had occurred, but did not report the abuse to the appropriate authorities, allowing the abuse to continue for years (Kerr et al., 2020). In the words of Mitch Garabedian, a lawyer representing some of the survivors of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in Boston, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one” (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Developments from 2018 and Beyond


Kirsty Duncan’s Mandates


In 2018, Kirsty Duncan, a former athlete, assumed the role of the federal Minister of Science and Sport (Kerr et al., 2018). In 2018, she took a firm stance against abuse in sport, mandating that all NSOs who did not disclose abuse or harassment occurring in their organizations would lose their federal funding (Kerr et al., 2020). Further, she required that in order to receive federal funding, all sporting organizations needed to establish an independent, third-party investigation process for all allegations of maltreatment and that mandatory prevention training was required to be in place by April 1, 2020 (Kerr et al., 2020). While on the surface this represented an important advancement in athlete protection, in actuality, this was a repetition of the compliance requirements from 1996 that had yet to be adequately met by Canadian sport organizations (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Policy Developments


The Red Deer Declaration for the Prevention of Harassment, Abuse, and Discrimination in Sport was endorsed in 2019 by the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Ministers of Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation (Kerr et al., 2020). Within the Declaration, a specific commitment was made to prevent and respond to abuse, harassment, bullying, and discrimination in sport (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Minister Duncan also directed the development of a Universal Code of Conduct in sport, created to identify unacceptable behaviours for all members of the National Sport community (Kerr et al., 2020). The Code was created in part through a series of Safe Sport Summits held across Canada in 2019, led by the Coaching Association of Canada, where stakeholders contributed to defining prohibited behaviours and identifying sanctions for athlete maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). Unfortunately, the majority of these summits focused solely on sexual abuse in sport, neglecting to focus on the wider range of physical and psychological harms experienced by athletes on a broader scale (Kerr et al., 2020). However, the voices of athletes at the National Safe Sport Summit pushed for a broader focus of maltreatment, focusing on sexual, psychological, and physical forms (Kerr et al., 2020). In addition, the role of the bystander was further emphasized through clearly identifying adults in positions of authority over young people as ethically and legally accountable for reporting maltreatment, both witnessed and suspected, even if the level of maltreatment did not constitute a criminal offence (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Prioritizing the Voices and Experiences of Athletes


Research from a study assessing the prevalence of maltreatment amongst Canadian national team athletes identified the breadth of maltreatment and the need for third-party intervention (Kerr et al., 2020). 17% and 23% of current and retired athletes, respectively, reported experiencing psychological abuse; further, 15% of current athletes and 22% of retired athletes had experienced neglect (Kerr et al., 2020). Fewer than 15% of athletes formally reported their experiences, while less than half of current and retired athletes never disclosed what they had experienced (Kerr et al., 2020). Among their reasons for not reporting the maltreatment they experienced, athletes identified that they didn’t know who to report to; that they did not have a safe or confidential space to report their concerns without fear of negative consequences for their athletic careers; and that they did not trust their sport organization to address their concerns adequately or fairly (Kerr et al., 2020). In general, athletes view the self-regulation of sport organizations as inadequate to address maltreatment fairly and effectively (Kerr et al., 2020). 


At the National Safe Sport Summit in 2019, athletes clearly and strongly voiced the need for healthier sport environments and a stronger advocacy role in the decisions affecting them (Kerr et al., 2020). They called to address all forms of maltreatment; require mandatory education for all sport stakeholders; strengthen accountability measures for sport organizations; and for the implementation of an independent body to receive, investigate, and resolve allegations of maltreatment, and to apply sanctions in individual cases (Kerr et al., 2020). 


The Canadian Sport Helpline & The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada


The Canadian Sport Helpline was established in 2019 as a resource to help guide the next steps of any individual who is concerned about maltreatment in sport (Kerr et al., 2020). Operating as a triage service, individuals are either directed to the police, child protection services or back to their sport organization (Kerr et al., 2020). However, as most complaints do not meet a criminal threshold, the majority of instances of maltreatment are instead directed back to sport organizations to handle internally, which, as described in depth above, often results in complaints being handled unfairly and/or inadequately (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Also in 2019, the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada was contracted to provide independent investigations to support sport organizations in addressing instances of maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). However, some of the larger NSOs appointed their own ‘independent’ investigators, who were often existing employees of the organization in positions of power (Kerr et al., 2020). Even when complaints are handled externally, the responsibility for handing down and implementing sanctions still remains with the sport organization, creating a clear conflict of interest (Kerr et al., 2020). 


A New Way Forward


The information above clearly identifies the need for a new way forward to achieve Safe Sport in Canada. In order to truly make change, we need to imagine a new way forward that centres around the voices and lived experiences of athletes and the protection of children and youth. Approaches should be proactive versus reactive and focus on the creation of a culture of sport that prioritizes child, youth, and athlete well-being and enjoyment of sport over winning at all costs (Kerr et al., 2020). 


The calls of athletes for a fully independent organization to handle child, youth, and athlete protection must be heard, and athletes are critical voices in the development of this system (Kerr et al., 2020). Further, an independent investigative process must be employed whenever a complaint is identified as a violation of the Universal Code of Conduct (Kerr et al., 2020). Sanctions should also be handed down entirely independently, free of conflicts of interest (Kerr et al., 2020). These processes should be fair, transparent, and accessible to all stakeholders in sport to follow and understand (Kerr et al., 2020). In addition, anyone who has experienced maltreatment in sport should have timely access to appropriate supports and resources to support their short-term well-being and to prevent long-term negative impacts (Kerr et al., 2020). Lastly, funding structures should be reframed beyond athlete performance to include athlete well-being, development, and the promotion of the rights of children, youth, and athletes (Kerr et al., 2020). The leaders of today are in an important position to learn from the mistakes of the past and to create a new way forward where all children, youth, and athletes can participate in sport safely. 




Kerr, G., Kidd, B., & Donnelly, P. (2020). One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Struggle for Child Protection in Canadian Sport. Social Sciences, 9(5), 68.

Keeping Youth Engaged in Sport Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic

Keeping Youth Engaged in Sport Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic

Across Canada, young athletes, parents and coaches have had to adjust to the new normal of sport. While some sports have continued with new safety requirements, others have been postponed until next season or beyond. In spite of these changes, youth can continue to be involved in sport in new, creative ways. Below are some tips to support the young athletes in your life to continue to stay engaged in sport throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.


Staying Connected to the Team


Regular video calls with coaches and teammates to train together or just chat can help young athletes feel connected to their team (Graham, 2020). Staying connected with their teammates can help youth to maintain the sense of community gained from participating in sport. Coaches can continue to support their athletes from afar by helping to provide training tips, encouraging athletes to stay active and practice, and to provide social support and ongoing connection to sport. 


Continue to Practice


Youth should continue to practice from home regularly. Coaches can connect with young athletes to help them create regular practice routines that include a mix of technical drills and physical training (Graham, 2020). Some sport-specific examples of this can include:


  • Soccer: Foot speed and dribbling drills such as toe taps, side touches, rollovers and inside-out dribbling
  • Basketball: Dribbling and ball-handling skills such as straight-arm finger taps, wraps around head/ankles/waist/legs, crossover dribble and double ball dribbling
  • Dance: Stretching and maintaining skills such as pre-practice stretches, floor barre exercises, or watching online dance classes (Myrvik, 2020)
  • For more ideas, check out the Play From Home Resource Hub from Jumpstart Canada and ParticipACTION


As we move into the winter months, practice space may be limited to the indoors. If you have space in your home, get creative with your kids and create an indoor practice area (Pearlstein, 2020). If your indoor space is limited, try turning household chores into practice opportunities; for example, “How many lunges can you do while putting your toys away? How high can you jump when you’re dusting?” (Pearlstein, 2020). 


Find Creative Ideas Online


From skill-based challenges to virtual ‘passing’ of the ball, puck, etc. to team members, many creative ways to keep young athletes engaged in sport can be found online (Graham, 2020). Some ideas we found include:


  • Creating a family ‘grab jar’: write down exercises, such as 20 jumping jacks, 10 burpees, etc. (Pearlstein, 2020). Have each family member pick one exercise from the jar and complete the moves together. Consider creating jars tailored to different sport-specific exercises to mix up your family workouts!
  • Find kid-friendly workouts on YouTube, like this Parent and Kid Workout 


Encourage Your Kids to Take the Lead


Have your kids take the lead on connecting with teammates, planning practice or training routines, and creating practice spaces. Kids have had to cope with much less freedom and decision-making since the beginning of the pandemic (Graham, 2020). Not only will this help young athletes feel like their voices are being heard, but it may increase the likelihood that they will continue to practice and be active, making their routines into habits (Graham, 2020). 


Parents: Cut Yourselves Some Slack


Lastly and most importantly, parents should remember that everyone is doing the best they can given the circumstances. Cut yourselves and your kids some slack if they forget to practice or have a less active day. Focusing on doing what they can and having fun along the way is the best way to find balance and sustainability as we move into the winter months.




Graham, N. (2020, May 14). Three ways to keep kids connected to sports when they can’t play during COVID-19. Folio. Retrieved from


Myrvik, M. (2020, April 20). Keeping young athletes active and engaged during COVID-19. Children’s Wisconson. Retrieved from


Pearlstein, J. (2020, Oct 20). How to keep kids active as the weather cools and the pandemic rolls on. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Prevalence of Maltreatment Among Current and Former National Team Athletes

Prevalence of Maltreatment Among Current and Former National Team Athletes

While recognizing the numerous potential benefits that sport participation has to offer, it is also important to acknowledge that for some athletes, sport is a harmful experience, characterized by various forms of maltreatment. 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 last prevalence study of Canadian athletes’ experiences was conducted over 20 years ago and since that time, the culture with respect to reporting sexual violence as well as child and youth protection has changed dramatically. Not only does this prevalence study provide a snapshot of athletes’ experiences but it serves as baseline data against which to assess the impact of future preventative and intervention initiatives. It also signals the importance of addressing the human rights and welfare of athletes in Canada.

In total, 1001 athletes participated in the study by completing an online survey; of this total, 764 were current athletes and 237 were retired athletes who had left their sport within the past ten years. The most frequently experienced form of maltreatment was psychological harm followed by neglect. Sexual and physical harm were reportedly experienced to a far lesser degree. Across all categories of harm and both current and retired athletes, females reported far more harmful behaviours. Similarly, retired athletes reported higher percentages than did current athletes across all categories. In the case of psychological harm, most behaviours were enacted by coaches, followed by peers and high-performance directors. Neglectful behaviours were experienced from coaches, high performance directors and sport administrators while physically harmful behaviours were enacted primarily by coaches. Finally, most sexually harmful behaviours are reportedly executed by coaches and peers.

The findings revealed significant and positive relationships between all forms of harm (psychological, physical, sexual and neglect) and the negative health outcomes of engaging in self-harming behaviours, disordered eating behaviours/eating disorders, and having suicidal thoughts. The findings also highlight the notion that negative health outcomes are experienced by athletes long after the National Team athletic career has ended. Of those current and retired athletes who experienced abuse, bullying or discrimination, only 15% reported their experiences. The open-ended questions on the survey enabled athletes to contribute additional comments and recommendations to advance Safe Sport. The themes that emerged from PAGE 5 these comments included athletes’ perspectives that numerous harmful behaviours are normalized in sport and as a result, other adults in positions of trust and authority who witnessed harmful behaviours have been complicit in failing to intervene.

Athletes also commented on the ways in which they are silenced through threats of negative repercussions in response to raising concerns, and not having a safe and confidential place to disclose or to report concerns. Recommendations for advancing Safe Sport included: (i) establish a mechanism to receive, investigate and adjudicate complaints independent of the National Sport Organizations; (ii) attend to all forms of maltreatment; (ii) enhance the focus on athletes’ holistic well-being; (iii) implement mandatory education for all sport stakeholders; (iv) strengthen accountability measures; (v) ensure supports and resources are available for victims of maltreatment; (vi) prohibit sexual relationships and forced intimacy between athletes and those in positions of power; and (vii) conduct a climate survey of athletes’ experiences on a regular basis.

Click here to read the research.


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