Respect unveiled in 'Peg

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

When former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy was a junior hockey player, he was subjected to long-term abuse by his coach Graham James. It was his testimony against James that helped end the silence about the physical and sexual abuse of athletes.

If a program like the Respect in Sport had been around back then, his experience might have been quite different.

"I believe in my case there were a lot of bystanders," said Kennedy, the spokesperson for the Respect in Sport program which was unveiled yesterday at a press conference at Sport Manitoba. "A lot of people knew what was going on and didn't know what they could do or just put the blinders on.

"Our goal is not to focus on the 1% of trouble makers. Our goal is to empower the 99% of good people to be better and give them the tools to recognize these behaviours and do something about it."

Manitoba is the first province in Canada to implement the program to help ensure a safe and positive sport environment for all participants. Coaches across the province will be required to take the program.

"We know it's not going to change overnight but it's not a one-time program," said Kennedy. "It's going to be embedded into the sport culture at all levels and over time this is going to change."

Respect in Sport is an on-line training course to assist coaches in identifying and dealing with issues of abuse, neglect, harassment and bullying. It is designed to complement current coaching certification requirements.

The program was run as a pilot project in Manitoba with soccer and artistic gymnastics since being introduced two years ago. This season, Hockey Manitoba has made the program a requirement by replacing Hockey Canada's Speak Out program.

"I think you have to look in the mirror," said South End United Girls Division 7 team assistant coach Colin Hocking, who was involved in the pilot project. "It makes everybody think twice and say, 'Maybe I can do this better.' "

The three-hour course can be taken at the coach's leisure, all at once or in separate half-hour modules. Coaches will be required to complete the course by December 2007.

"We feel very proud that we are piloting it here in Manitoba and we're the first in the country," said Sport Manitoba President and CEO Jeff Hnatiuk. "We're dealing with a very important issue."

There is no cost to the coach and the program will provide for recertification after the third and fifth year. Sport Manitoba and the provincial sport organizations will monitor the participation of the coaches.

In his case, Hocking said the program helped him identify the signs of harassment and abuse.

Much of the content deals with the attitudes of coaches and how they can affect their athletes.

"Having looked at it personally and having been a coach, you look at those things and say, 'I may have come across that way as a coach,' " said Hnatiuk. "You don't realize that it may have had that kind of an impact on the kids. It made me change my thinking about some of the ways that I approached things."


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