Sports Minister St-Onge Says NDAs in Athlete Agreements Contrary to Safe Sport

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Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has said athletes should have the freedom to express themselves and that non-disclosure agreements contradict the “very principle of sports security”.

Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has said athletes should have the freedom to express themselves and that non-disclosure agreements contradict the “very principle of sports security”.

St-Onge was responding to concerns from bobsleigh and skeleton athletes regarding a non-disparagement clause in their athlete agreement, which must be signed in order to compete and receive Sport Canada funding for the upcoming season.

“As minister responsible for sport, I will always be an ally of the athletes. My priority is to keep them safe,” St-Onge told The Canadian Press.

“If any of them feel uncomfortable in a situation or think they are being mistreated or abused, they should be given the freedom to speak up. The addition of a non-disclosure clause goes against the very principle of sports safety. We must break the culture of silence in sport and I expect all national sports organizations to actively participate in this.”

Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) and Boxing Canada are among the national sport organizations that have NDAs in their agreements. The BCS clause prohibits athletes from disclosing or transmitting anything that “would cause a conflict of interest with BCS and/or in any way harm, cause and/or cause damage to BCS in any way it would be”. It is in effect for six months after the termination or completion of an athlete’s contract.

BCS declined to comment on Wednesday. Boxing Canada did not respond to a request for comment.

“I don’t have anything good to say about some of these clauses,” said Alex Kopacz, who won Olympic gold in the two-man bobsleigh with Justin Kripps in 2018. are children… And how many people are equipped to say, “Oh, my lawyer read this again. And we’re not comfortable with the following statements.” And then (the sport) says, ‘That’s great. But I guess you’ll have to find another team, because you can’t be on this one. .'”

The clause has been in the BCS contract for at least four years, but fear of athlete retaliation has grown since more than 60 current and former athletes publicly called for the resignation of President Sarah Storey and High Performance Director Chris LeBihan. March 7. , amid what they said was a toxic environment in their sports.

AthletesCAN, the association representing Canadian athletes, drafted a Model Athlete Agreement in 2019 in partnership with Sport Canada and a working group comprised of athletes, lawyers and several national sport organizations. It did not contain a non-disparagement clause.

“Athlete agreements had become a catch-all of inconsistency, athletes from different sports had to do different things. Some were good, some were bad,” said retired walker Ann Peel, a founding member of AthletesCAN and a member of that working group. “Athletes never got to negotiate them or even have a say in them. So to call them a ‘deal’ was ridiculous, because they were never negotiated. Rather, ‘Here are the rules.’ Sign up or you won’t get your money. “”

The group’s goal was for 100% of National Sport Organizations (NSOs) to adopt the model by 2022. The model has been adopted by many federations, including Water Polo Canada, Athletics Canada, Gymnastics Canada and Canada Snowboard. Canada Basketball is also among the sports without NDAs.

In a statement, AthletesCAN said it strongly advises NSOs to implement their model.

“The general non-disclosure clauses used in the alternative agreements go beyond our recommended approach and run counter to the importance of giving athletes a voice in creating a safe sport experience for everyone across Canada,” they said.

Russell Reimer, whose agency Manifesto Sport Management represents several Olympians, was part of the task force.

“If you’re a sports administrator in this country and you don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘How can I make this organization more athlete-centric?’ why are you in the business?” said Remer. “Everything you do has to be seen through the lens of: is it athlete-centric? If you do that, you create an environment in which athletes can excel. It’s pretty simple. every other company knows that. Treat your employees right and the people do a great job.”

Peel, a lawyer and first executive director of the non-profit sports organization Right to Play, said Canadian law dictates there must be a compelling reason to have a confidentiality clause. They are generally used to protect intellectual property.

“But just to say that you can’t talk about anything, without giving a reason, and certainly without offering any sort of compelling reason, I think is completely unconscionable,” Peel said. “We know why (the NSOs have had it). They don’t want athletes to go to the press and complain.

“And so, rather than sorting things out and talking seriously with the athletes, they just gag the athlete, and that’s not cool. In fact, it’s not even allowed under Canadian law. You don’t can’t just gag people.”

In what St-Onge called a “crisis” of safe sport in Canada, the past few months have seen athletes in many sports speak out against mistreatment and toxic environments. Four days after Boxing Canada wrote a letter to Sport Canada, High Performance Director Daniel Trepanier resigned.

Sport Canada recently launched the first Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which will handle complaints of mistreatment in sport. St-Onge has made participation in OSIC mandatory for national sports federations. She has committed to reviewing the funding agreement with national sport organizations to improve governance and accountability, and plans to review the Canadian Sport Policy, which binds all sport organizations in Canada.

Reimer and Peel recommend that St-Onge make AthletesCAN’s Model Athlete Agreement mandatory for Canadian sport organizations.

“That job is basically sitting there,” Reimer said. “It would create consistency for every athlete in the country. Every athlete would know that Sport Canada has endorsed this model – ‘I can trust Sport Canada. “”

“I think that would be a great first step,” Peel said.

The Canadian Press was first published on June 8, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press


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