Athlete Input Critical to Safe Sport
When I commenced my role as Safe Sport Lead in January 2020, one of my first initiatives was to hold an Athlete Summit on safe sport. I quickly recognized that to advance safe sport at the provincial and community level, it was critical to ensure athletes’ voices were being heard. The phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us” resonated with me. In helping to shape safe sport policies, procedures, and education, I wanted to ensure that we engaged with our athletes to discuss their values and learn what issues were important to them. To that end, we held an Athlete Summit in the spring of 2021 to discuss safe sport in communities across Nova Scotia. Following the summit, a call was put out to those athlete participants to join an Athlete Advisory Committee (AAC) to start implementing the findings from the summit. The committee was modelled on work being done at the national level, most notably Athletes Can, and was one of the first of its kind at the provincial and community level. Over the first two years, the initial AAC was involved with various safe sport initiatives, including a campaign on Instagram highlighting various safe sport training opportunities and resources. Most recently, the committee was integral in helping to create, produce, and disseminate seven podcasts relating to safe sport (https:// sportnovascotia.ca/podcasts/). The podcast idea came about when the AAC members said they wanted to learn more about various topics relating to mental health and share the information with their peers. They acknowledged there was a dearth of resources, and discussions focused on non-national-level athletes. The initial AAC completed its term earlier this year and Sport Nova Scotia put out a call for applicants for a second committee. I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the number and quality of the responses, highlighting the importance of the athletes’ voices in safe sport discussions. The selection committee spent hours reviewing community, provincial, varsity, and national-level athletes from varied backgrounds, all expressing a desire to make sport safer in Nova Scotia. Eventually, nine athletes were chosen to be on the second AAC, with Jeremy Bartholomeusz as chair. “The AAC represents the collective athlete voice in spaces and conversations where athletes and their experiences are often overlooked or undervalued,” Bartholomeusz said. “Sport has the potential to have such a positive impact on someone’s life, and so having committees like these, which strive to ensure that the sport culture in Nova Scotia is safe, accepting, and supportive, is so important. The creation of this committee demonstrates that Nova Scotia is at the forefront of prioritizing athletes in the context of safe sport.” Bartholomeusz talked about his personal involvement with the AAC. “Sport has always been a big part of my life, and having recently retired from competitive sport, I’ve been looking for ways to give back to the sport community, but more specifically, to athletes,” he said. “I want to contribute to the necessary shift in sport culture where athletes and their experiences, opinions, and input are recognized and valued.” The new committee, with support from Nick Lenehan, Sport Nova Scotia’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead, has met several times, and the athletes’ passion and dedication to fostering safe sport in Nova Scotia is commendable. I am thrilled that they want to continue the initial podcast series. They have chosen to focus on what it means to transition out of competitive sport and how to redefine their identity beyond being “the athlete.” The AAC has also expressed an interest in supporting other campaigns and initiatives related to safe sport and inclusive environments, such as the 2023 Nova Scotia Sport & Recreation Anti-Racism Week. I am honoured and privileged to watch and learn from these athletes creating legacies for future generations. That was really the spark for the initial Athlete Summit in 2021, and I am excited to continue to collaborate with these inspiring athletes from across our communities with the goal of ensuring that sport in Nova Scotia remains welcoming and safe for all.