Canada _ (Commonwealth Union) _ Canada’s sports system is still in turmoil on the verge of collapse as parents, sporting groups, and officials at all levels strive to keep athletes safe from abuse. It’s been four years since a News and Sports investigation found that over 200 coaches, largely at the local level, had been charged with sexual assault against athletes in their care since 1998. Many additional coaches have been prosecuted or convicted since then in a variety of sports, provinces, and jurisdictions. According to experts, those charged including a tennis coach in Toronto, a figure skating coach in St. John’s, a pair of basketball coaches in Montreal, and a football coach in Winnipeg are likely only a subset of what is going on.
On July 12, 2022, police accused 33-year-old Jamie Ellacott with sexually abusing a seven-year-old child at the Lethbridge Gymnastics Academy, which he co-owned and ran with his wife. Ellacott has spent over a decade working at gyms across Alberta. “From the parent’s perspective, I know a lot of parents were startled and appalled,” said Lindsay Vandergouwe, who had just recently enrolled her four-year-old daughter in sessions at the club.
“Our first thought was, ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next?’ Because there will be more. Our immediate thinking was that if this is the first child to come forward, it is not the only child who has been mistreated; there will be others.” A few weeks later, Ellacott was charged with sexual assault. “There’s a lot of discussion about how this keeps happening,” Vandergouwe explained. “How can we effect meaningful change so that this does not happen to other children?”
The majority of abuse occurs at the local level, yet the majority of resources to prevent it are directed toward national organizations and, contrary to common assumption, do not reach smaller teams and their younger players. “It remains an incredible blind hole in the system; 99.9% of instances occur at the community level, but 90% of the focus and effort goes at the elite level of sport,” said Marco Di Buono, president of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, one of Canada’s largest junior sports charities.