The Absence of harm is not enough.

By Elana Liberman, Safe Sport Lead – Sport Nova Scotia

Hearing that comment on a recent Zoom call was an “aha” moment. When I began my role as Safe Sport Lead with Sport Nova Scotia in January, most discussions regarding “safe sport” focused on defining “safe” as the absence of harm—especially around abuse, harassment and discrimination (AHD).

I look at my early notes and see AHD acronyms scattered throughout, and rightfully so. In recent years, issues of serious harm within the sporting world have come to light and have brought much-needed attention to an egregious problem. “Safe sport” has become a priority for our country and our province. My role as the new Safe Sport Lead originated out of a recognition of and commitment to this problem.

The more I delved into my new job, the more I realized that “safe” has different meanings for different people. Certainly, “safe” means the absence of harm, including AHD. Recognizing the harmful and potentially long-lasting impacts of AHD in sports, it is my sincere mission to work toward eradicating maltreatment in sport and recreation environments at all levels.

But it also became apparent that for some, “safe” means participating in a sport or rec activity that is diverse and inclusive. Safe can mean feeling welcomed, experiencing a sense of belonging, and having fun. Based on my evolving understanding, one of my first tasks was to ensure the Sport Nova Scotia website addressed these myriad definitions:

Sport Nova Scotia believes that everyone in Nova Scotia deserves a sport environment that is free from harassment, abuse and discrimination. Sport Nova Scotia places the highest value on the safety and well-being of all participants in sport and recreation. We are continuously working with our members, partners and communities to keep sport safe, fun, welcoming and inclusive.

We have also undertaken other meaningful steps toward ensuring sport is safe in Nova Scotia. We asked provincial sport organizations to complete a Safe Sport survey, including questions about their current practices with respect to safe sport policies and education as well as what barriers they might face in implementing those policies. We used survey feedback to create recommendations on priorities for safe sport standards within the province, including policy development and education.

I am proud to announce that we are working toward a provincial safe sport policy suite that will ensure consistency across Nova Scotia. We have begun exploring safe sport education standards and have started to create an education matrix for participants in sport and recreation environments, including coaches, administrators, and officials.

We have been exploring athlete and family awareness campaigns and platforms about safe sport issues. We are seeking expert advice on the best way to create a truly independent complaints process for those who may experience maltreatment in sport in Nova Scotia.
Recognizing that we must adopt a holistic understanding of safe sport, several safe sport committee members took a True Sport workshop focused on values-based sport and rec. We came away with a deeper understanding and commitment to ensuring that on the sport experience continuum, the absence of harm is not good enough.

While the absence of harm might ensure “safe sport” in its truest sense, that doesn’t necessarily translate into “great” sport. My goal is to try to ensure safe sport equals great sport. This means not only helping create policies and education geared toward eliminating harm, but to have sometimes difficult conversations on how we, as a province, can ensure sport celebrates diversity and is welcoming, inclusive and fun for all participants.

For the first time ever, October will be recognized as Safe Sport Month in Nova Scotia. During the month, we will host webinars to explore topics such as diversity and inclusion, sexual exploitation and harm, and Rule of Two in a sporting environment. We will try to frame our discussions using a values-based lens (i.e., sport is fun, fair play is important, and respect must be shared). I hope that by the end of October, we will all take lessons learned and feel a sense of communal responsibility to not only ensure that we make sport safe, but that we will keep striving to make sport great.