Ottawa Should Prioritize The Health Of All Athletes, Especially Children

Author: Teresa Anne Fowler

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Ensuring children have access to safe ways to engage in physical activity is essential to a healthy and balanced life. Sports play a crucial role in children's physical and mental development, offering benefits such as improved health and social skills .

However, the current structure of sports in Canada, overseen by the Department of Canadian Heritage , has faced significant challenges in addressing issues of safety, inclusivity and abuse .

The fact that sports falls under the Department of Canadian Heritage underscores it as a vital part of our nation's cultural fabric . This arrangement promotes national identity, multiculturalism and community building, aiming to make sports accessible and reflective of Canada's diverse population.

However, this vision has not been fully realized. In 2022, Canadian hockey experienced a reckoning that resulted in House of Commons committee hearings from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and the Status of Women. These hearings revealed a long-standing“toxic culture” within Canadian sports , characterized by racism, homophobia, and gender-based and sexual violence.

There is an urgent need to shift sports administration to Health Canada, which should prioritize the health and well-being of all athletes, especially children. By understanding these proposed changes, parents can better advocate for a safer, healthier sports environment that supports their children's development, happiness and health.

What the safe sports reports say

The House of Commons hearings brought together various individuals, victims of abuse and legal experts like Judge Rosemarie Aquilina , who sentenced former U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar for sexually abusing young female athletes in his care.

Since then, a sports reform movement has emerged - which includes academics, athletes and sports leaders at national and international levels - due to increasing concerns about the toxic culture of abuse, misconduct and the failure to hold perpetrators accountable within the sports community. The intent is to create a safer and more accountable environment for athletes in Canada by focusing on prevention and systemic change.

In February, Minister of Sport Carla Qualtrough announced funding to“remove barriers” from participation. In May, she announced former Ontario Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve would lead the Future of Sport in Canada Commission .

Minister of Sport and Physical Activity Carla Qualtrough rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The commission's purpose is to“consult with sport bodies and survivors of abuse on how to improve the national sport system” and among the outcomes, provide a report to Canadians based on the results of the commission.

However, two reports on safe sports have already been presented as a result of the Canadian Heritage and Status of Women hearings. Both hearings made recommendations that called for sports to shift from the Department of Canadian Heritage into Health, along with calls for a national inquiry.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended:

Similarly, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women recommended:

The current approach to sports is failing and there must be a new approach to overseeing sports in Canada. Aligning sports with health goals rather than podium wins marks a paradigm shift and shifting sports to health can lead to substantial long-term benefits for Canadians and Canada.

It's about health, not heritage

A significant challenge in Canadian sport is ensuring athletes' safety and well-being . The focus on cultural promotion has resulted in less emphasis on health and safety protocols, injury prevention, sexual and gender-based violence prevention and mental health support at all levels of sports, not just competitive or podium bound .

Read more: Canadian sports groups have policed themselves for too long and it isn't making sports safer

A health-centric approach would prioritize sports as a preventive health measure, reducing chronic diseases, improving mental health and promoting long-term wellness. The World Health Organization and other health bodies emphasize the importance of physical activity within preventive health frameworks as this can yield significant public health benefits and support broader societal goals, including long-term wellness and mental health improvement.

As stated by the Canadian Public Health Association : “Health promotion supports a holistic approach that recognizes and includes the physical, mental, social, ecological, cultural and spiritual aspects of health.”

Programs in sports with a health-centric approach can then be developed with a stronger emphasis on health outcomes, ensuring sports participation aligns with public health goals and reflects the Canadian demographic.

Health departments typically rely on data and research to inform policy decisions. This data-driven approach could lead to more effective and targeted sports policies, focusing on impactful interventions for improving health outcomes.

For example, heart health has traditionally been considered a“man's disease ,” but a research-informed approach now recognizes that women exhibit different symptoms. Similarly, a health-focused approach in sports could ensure policies and programs are tailored to meet the diverse needs of all athletes.

A health-centric approach would ensure all children, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to participate in sports safely. (Chewy Lin/Marshall Islands Soccer Federation via AP) Why this matters for parents

The potential shift of sports from the Department of Canadian Heritage to Health Canada represents a significant paradigm change. While the current heritage-focused framework promotes cultural and community engagement, it struggles to address comprehensive health and safety needs.

Moving sports to the health portfolio could enhance Canadians' physical and mental well-being, providing integrated support systems, improving safety standards and developing evidence-based policies.

This change could foster a healthier, more active population with key benefits for individuals, communities and the nation. As Canada continues to evolve its approach to sports, prioritizing health and well-being, instead of medals and podium wins , will be crucial for the future of Canadian sports and the health of its citizens.

These changes are especially significant for parents. A health-centric approach would emphasize inclusivity and accessibility, ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to participate in sports safely. Parents can feel more confident that their children are engaging in activities promoting fitness and positively contributing to their overall development and well-being.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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