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‘We All Play a Role’ in Combatting Racism in Sport

Just over a year ago, Mark Connors was a victim of racism while playing hockey at a tournament in Prince Edward Island.

Now the 17-year-old goalie from Halifax is trying to help prevent similar incidents from happening to others.

In November, Connors participated in the first-ever Nova Scotia Sport & Recreation Anti-Racism Week by sharing his experience and perspective through a video vignette. The week, which ran Nov. 14-18, marked almost exactly a year since Connors was subjected to repeated racial slurs by spectators and opposing players.

He was called the N-word and told “hockey is a white man’s sport.”

Connors said he was left “emotionally broken” and his frustration only grew as months went by without action.

Support from family, friends, teammates, the Halifax Hawks organization, and others in the community lifted his spirits and motivated him to contribute to a conversation aimed at change.

“I believe organizations are talking with one another, especially about racism and diversity, on situations like mine that can help solve these incidents,” says Connors, who identifies as African-Canadian.

It’s important to teach that words do hurt, he says.

“I would say the big thing is education. Before my incident happened, we never really received education on these incidents, let alone anything saying not to do this.”

The inaugural anti-racism week is a response to experiences like the one Connors endured in Charlottetown. He was brave enough to go public and the story went national. But he’s far from alone.

“There are many experiences like Mark’s that did not go public but are shared within their own communities or perhaps witnessed by fellow athletes or friends at recreation places, and this happens,” says Sheila Srinivasan-Thomas, a sport consultant with the provincial Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism & Heritage.

“There’s a moment here where we can all learn to be anti-racist.”

The Canadian Sport Institute

Atlantic, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, the Province of Nova Scotia, the Recreation Facility Association of Nova Scotia, Recreation Nova Scotia and Sport Nova Scotia all partnered for anti-racism week.

The week included a panel discussion about how to be actively anti-racist as well as the launch of anti-racism e-learning modules, RNS’s anti-racism charter and RFANS’s anti-racism declaration. The wide-ranging content engaged everyone involved in sport and recreation, from rink managers to officials to parents of athletes. The resources have a home online at

Sport Nova Scotia also organized a closed conversation space specifically for BIPOC communities to discuss what a racially inclusive sport and recreation system would look like.

A common theme for the week was that, ultimately, everyone has a role to play in creating an anti-racist culture.

“No matter if we’re Black, we’re Indigenous, we’re white, no matter what profile you think you fall into, no matter if you’re an athlete, a volunteer or an official, we all play a role in combatting that racism,” says Andrew Paris, a Black Nova

Scotian who works with CSI Atlantic as coaching lead – equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI) and mentorship. “A lot of times we believe that because we’re not racist or because we’re a good person, we can’t fix this. We don’t play a role in that. But my hope is to really hammer home the idea that (a) racism in sport does happen here locally and (b) we all play a role.”

CSI Atlantic took the lead role weekwasin the e-module project, designing as a role to ist culture. ack, we’re no matter u fall into, athlete, a e all play t racism,” ack Nova one for athletes from age 11 to 15 and another for the parents and guardians. The approach is different, but the modules cover the same topics, including how to be an active ally for communities that have historically been marginalized.

Paris can see a day when the e-modules become part of more formal learning.

“Right now, we just want to be able to provide the resources,” he says. “It’s one thing for us to tell parents and athletes not to be racist, it’s a whole other thing to provide the resources in order for them to understand the role that they play in that anti-racism in sport.”

It was active allyship that helped Connors go from feeling alone to feeling supported.

His team stood with him at the time, making referees and tournament officials aware of the racist behaviour, and, after a lack of action, the Hawks organization boycotted tournaments in P.E.I. Players were educated on the importance of standing in solidarity in not tolerating racism.

“I felt like my organization definitely had my back, along with my teammates, they supported me through the incident and coping with it,” says Connors, who is playing this season with Halifax West High School.

Tasia McKenna, a program manager with Canadian Women & Sport, was part of a five-person panel for antiracism week that further explored active allyship and how it can make sport a safer place for everyone.

As a Black athlete and sport leader, McKenna, 34, has lived experience with racism.

“It’s for all of us to really stand in and speak up when we do see something, or feel something is not quite right,” says McKenna, who is from Timberlea and grew up playing basketball with the Community Y. “In the context of race, I can appreciate that sometimes it is a little bit more challenging but there’s been a lot of active allyship and active accomplices in my life that I love and appreciate so dearly.

“I know that many other folks have that as well, so I’m always encouraging all of us, myself included, to be an accomplice or to be an active ally when we need to be and not to shy away from that.”





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