Sport-Commission to investigate abuses in Canada sport system

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By Steve Keating

(Reuters) -The Canadian federal government announced on Monday the formation of an independent commission that will look into abuses within the national sport system but stopped short of the public inquiry many groups have demanded.

The three member Future of Sport in Canada commission will produce two reports during its 18-month mandate and cost 10-15 million Canadian dollars (US$7.37-11.05 million).

Its goal will be looking at how to improve the Canadian sport system, said Sports Minister Carla Qualtrough.

The commission will make its findings public and following a preliminary report it will hold a national summit where participants can deliberate on the initial findings.

Qualtrough also said the government will enact immediate reforms, moving the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) and its abuse-free program out of the Sports Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), elevating Sport Canada's athlete advisory committee to a ministerial committee and modernising Sport Canada's funding framework.

"We are here today to announce a path forward for the Canadian sports system at a time when the sport system in Canada is in turmoil," said Qualtrough.

"Trust in our sport leaders and our organisations has eroded and for the last 18 months two parliamentary committees have examined the maltreatment and abuse in the Canadian sport system.

"The first (report) reported that this is a long-standing problem and that broad changes to the sport system and culture are needed to address it."

Athletes from a number of sports have testified at parliamentary committees over the past year and shared stories about the physical and mental abuse they endured at the hands of coaches and other officials.

The federal government has come under intense pressure from athletes, safe sport advocate groups and academics to hold a national public inquiry.

"We are disappointed the minister did not support survivors’ and advocates' calls for a national inquiry that meets judicial standards with the power to compel documents, and subpoena testimony from organisations," Global Athlete, an international athlete-led movement seeking positive change in world sport, and Gymnasts for Change Canada said in a statement.

"For almost two years, we have called for a national inquiry into the Canadian sport system.

"While child abuse and violations of athletes’ human rights underpin our calls, we recognise that abuse and limited justice are symptoms of a larger systemic problem that must be addressed through this review."

Qualtrough said an inquiry would have required negotiations with provinces and territories over jurisdiction, delaying the start of any investigations by months, if not years, and could inflict even more trauma on victims and survivors.

"The starting point for the commission will be a recognition that bad things have happened and continue to happen in Canadian sport," said Qualtrough. "Survivors will not have to prove they have experienced harm, we know you have.

"We believe and we support you."

($1 = 1.3574 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)