Monday Dec 04, 2023

Episode 122: Why Canada Needs a Judicial Inquiry into Sport

It's September 24th, 1988 -- a warm, sunny and dry day in the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. It also happened to be the final of the men’s 100 metre sprint to decide the Olympic champion and world’s fastest man. The top contenders, Carl Lewis from the United States, and a Canadian sprinter named Ben Johnson, lined up in lanes 3 and 6 respectively in one of the most highly anticipated races of the year. The gun goes off -- and almost immediately Johnson had a step on every other runner, including the defending Olympic gold medalist from the US. By 50 meters it was clear that nobody could keep up with the Canadian runner. As Johnson approached the finish line, he iconically raised his hands in victory, pointing his right index finger to the sky and then to stands toward thousands of screaming fans. With a time of 9.79 seconds, Ben Johnson had completely smashed his own World Record and was now an Olympic champion.

Three days later, Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and world record by the International Olympic Committee after he tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing substance stan-o-zolol.


Why am I telling you about an Olympic final that happened over 35 years ago? Well, the events that would transpire after the IOC announced that it would strip Johnson of his gold medal and world record, would send shockwaves through the Canadian sport system – the reverberations of which would be felt in our cultural, political, and social systems as well as our collective memories. Johnson’s disqualification spurred something of what sociologists might call a moral panic regarding the unethical grip that had apparently taken hold of Canadian sport – a deviation from the stereotypical perception of Canada as a wholesome, equitable, and polite geopolitical nation. And perhaps most relevant for this talk today, I argue that this was a fundamental precursor to the current moment that we find ourselves in Canadian sport – a moment, as I hope to convince you, that is riddled with harm and abuse.

In this episode, Derek walks us through why Canada needs a judicial inquiry into harm and abuse in sport and, more importantly, why that's nowhere near enough to give justice to survivors.

If we want to do justice for survivors of harm and abuse in Canadian sport, we need a judicial inquiry. But that’s nowhere near enough. We also need to act, and we must act now, to ensure there are effective mechanisms for oversight, accountability, and, perhaps most importantly, reparation for the harms already done and the harms being done literally right now across the country. Anything less is a metaphor for action – it’s an obfuscation of the long-history of harm and abuse that we know about in this space, and that we know is only a small snapshot of the true reality of abuse in Canadian sport – and it’s a surface level attempt reinforce and replicate a system of sport that inevitably produces and endorses abusive spaces within a project of winning-at-any-cost. For if we continue to allow and obfuscate violent abuse in sport, and sport is supposedly integral to our national identity, one concludes that violent abuse is indeed part of Canada. I don’t want sport to be about violent abuse, and surely you don’t want Canada to be about violent abuse. So let’s do something about it, and let’s do something now.

Video of a version of this talk at McGill University can be found here. 

Please read Kim Shore's brilliant piece on the crisis of abuse in Canadian sport here. Our podcast episode with Kim can be found here

Ciara McCormack's piece "A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story" can be found here. The End of Sport episode with Ciara can be found here.

Mac Ross' piece on the importance of external investigations into Canadian sport can be found here. Our interview with Mac and Jennifer Fraser can be found here. 

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