This week an open letter endorsed by 121 current and former athletes, coaches and officials of Boxing Canada called out the National Sport Organization and monopoly of amateur boxing in the country for various practices. The letter was republished with permission by Global Athlete and is the latest of a series of complaints critical of amateur sport organizations in Canada.
Among the serious complaints levelled were allegations that the organization forced athletes to put up or shut up when it came to poor practices regarding brain health. The letter notes as follows:
the High-Performance Director has forced athletes to train or compete in unsafe environments. Athletes have been forced to spar with clear signs of concussions or against teammates with significant weight class disparities, both of which were extremely unsafe. Athletes were forced to put up with the status quo if they wished to remain in the sport.
As a lawyer with nearly 20 years litigation experience in Canada let me give sports organizers, boxing or otherwise, food for thought – Sports organizers need to take these complaints seriously.
Taking athlete brain health (and health generally) is imperative. Coaches exist to get results but results can’t be prioritized ahead of athlete well being.
Concussion protocols exist for a reason. Ignoring these can expose a coach to civil litigation. Negligence law in Canada is robust and flexible offering an avenue for compensation to athletes that suffer as a result of harmful coaching practices.. A coach ignoring a concussion and exposing an athlete to more brain damage contrary to established concussion protocols can be labile for any new injury. In fact the coach may even become liable for the entire injury (the initial concussion and its aggravation) under the principles of ‘indivisible injury’. You need not take my word on it, there are many examples of these legal principles alive and well in our courts.
If you are relying on waivers in many parts of Canada youth cannot waive the right to sue. Often waivers are not worth the paper they are written on.
If Sports Organizations (PSO’s and NSO’s) are turning a blind eye to systemic wrongdoing the accountability may go right up the food chain under the principles of vicarious liability.
Athlete health matters. Seeking the glory of results should never come at the price of athlete health and safety. If practices like those alleged in the open letter to Boxing Canada don’t change for the sake of doing the right thing then they should change out of a sense of self preservation.