‘Safe Sport is here to stay’

Allison Forsyth, 2-time Olympian, 8-time alpine Canadian Champion summed up the national movement towards a safer sport environment simply as that – her to stay. What she then went on to explain was a reality check for many of the 200 delegates attending her keynote speech at the Ontario Soccer Summit hosted by the University of Ottawa.

The annual Ontario Soccer event brings soccer leaders from across the province together for a winter event that blends governance, technical and administration streams of the game together in one tight schedule of workshops and networking sessions. The opening keynote address heard from Matt Young of FSQ Sport about the need for clubs to refocus their attention on the business side of club operations. There was a sense that the technical side of the game was now in a positive position and the recent success on the world stage for both the male and female teams could quite possibly be connected to the introduction of the Long Term Athlete Development model in 2007.

In the meantime, the club operations had been somewhat neglected, particularly during the survival mode forced on clubs because of the pandemic. The call to action was for clubs to revisit their strategic plans, if they had one, and if not to make this a priority for the long-term club viability. On Saturday morning Matt and his team took club leaders through an interactive discussion around the strategic planning process and the relationship between good planning, stakeholder engagement and operationalising the plan with clear communication. Good club planning was an underlying theme of the conference that included four presentations later in the day focused on club innovation in the areas of; women and girls, match officials, DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion), and finally disability soccer programs.

Soccability Canada was privileged to speak about disability soccer and the current programs across the country and took the opportunity to turn the focus on clubs that do not currently provide this opportunity. Of the 650 grassroots clubs across Canada only 45 are known to offer a program, less than 10% and frankly not acceptable. The audience of approximately 80 club leaders were engaged and positive about the content they had heard with two expressions of interest right after the session. Progress.

Sunday morning hosted the final session and keynote of the day from Allison Forsyth. While her lived experience forced everyone to sit up and take note it was her insight into the future direction of sport and the critical need for better, safer environments for everyone that really drove a sense of urgency home. Soccer clubs, specifically in Ontario, are well versed in screening protocols including police checks, interviews, references and resumes, while the Rule of 2 is now a common mantra among National Youth Licensed Clubs, but as Allison pointed out, these are check box processes that need to be backed up with active observation of individuals, and clear discussions with youth players to make clear where boundaries should be drawn. The task ahead is immense and with recent cases involving Hockey Canada, Rowing Canada and Gymnastics Canada we are clearly only at the tip of the iceberg.

So where does this leave Soccability Canada?

Working in the area of sport for children and youth is a huge responsibility and to that end we comply with the requirements of Canada Soccer and their member associations. As these participants also fall within the vulnerable sector because of their unique needs (this also includes our adult participants) we are even more cognizant of the duty of care and will do everything in our power to be pro-active to keep participants safe.

The weekend made us aware of significant changes coming down the line, possibly as early as March 2023 and we will adhere to these new requirements as they are communicated to us. In the meantime if you have any questions about Safe Sport or the requirements of Canada Soccer please use the links embodied in this post.

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