A new report exposes an abundance of “blurred lines” between coach and student-athlete relationships at Brandon University, and inadequate training on recognizing and reporting sexual violence within its sports programs.

An independent committee tasked with investigating the culture inside Bobcat Athletics has issued 36 recommendations to ensure teams are places where competitors and trainers are free from all forms of harassment and abuse.

“Many review participants expressed a lack of trust and confidence in the ability of both the athletics unit and the university as a whole to adequately receive and respond to complaints… due to their observation of how incidents in the recent past have been handled,” states an excerpt from the 52-page document, which was released in March — six months after it was submitted to BU.

Recommendation No. 20 outlines the importance of developing codes of conduct for both athletes and coaches, with rules about everything from curfews on road trips to bans on romantic relationships involving staff members and students.

This time last year, BU put its sports programs under the microscope in response to findings of an external investigation that concluded a former head coach inappropriately partied with student-athletes and demonstrated “a pattern of sexually harassing behaviour.”

In November 2020, the first of a handful of female students alleged then-soccer trainer Jesse Roziere was abusing his position of power.

A subsequent probe concluded Roziere had acted inappropriately with female students, but he remained on the job for months — until the Free Press inquired about the situation in September 2021. It was then BU suggested new information had come to light and shortly after, hired an independent investigator to revisit concerns.

Last spring, administrators tapped three previous varsity athletes — Steve Fitterer, former vice-president of student affairs at Mount Royal University, human rights lawyer Melissa Knox, and Sandy Slavin, past athletic director at the University of Lethbridge — to examine the athletics program at-large.

The department operates on its own island via informal meetings with poor record-keeping and little collaboration between other offices on campus, in turn sheltering staff and competitors from external policies and resources, per their overall findings.

The committee’s final report evaluates operations, policies and culture involving the Bobcats. The September 2022 document draws on interviews with athletes, coaches, student leaders, faculty members and senior administrators.

Several participants expressed concerns about a perceived lack of encouragement and support for athletes to speak up about issues involving coaches, according to the report.

The authors state there is a need for special conflict of interest rules for athletics and a “safe disclosure officer,” who all students can speak to about concerns that impact health, safety and inclusion.

“If anything, coaches need to have more oversight than faculty do because they’re in positions of power in spaces like hotels and buses, and after hours,” said sociology Prof. Christopher Schneider, co-author of Defining Sexual Misconduct: Power, Media, and #MeToo.

“The fact that this review indicates that there was basically zero oversight is alarming.”

The report calls for coaches of all levels to be subject to mandatory training on the rule of two, doping and discrimination, the introduction of regular athlete surveys and staff performance evaluations, and improved processes for responding to complaints.

Students should also receive so-called safe sport training so they can easily identify misconduct, per the report.

“Some coaches attend social gatherings/parties where drinking (alcohol) is involved, and coaches have advised their athletes not to take pictures or post on social media that the coach is in attendance at the social gathering,” it notes.

The recent incident involving members of the women’s soccer program was repeatedly cited as an example of “an overall lack of awareness or understanding of acceptable behaviour, particularly with respect to coach-athlete interactions,” and absence of uniform standards in the department.

BU president David Docherty said the institution is committed to “safe sport” — a term that recognizes it’s everyone’s responsibility to create competitive environments where everyone feels comfortable and is treated with respect and dignity — but improving school culture does not happen overnight.

So far, in response to the report, Bobcat Athletics has mandated sexual violence training for all coaches, formalized coach evaluations, improved communication around mental health supports, Docherty said.

Docherty indicated administrators are also finalizing a job posting for a full-time sexual violence prevention and education co-ordinator. The position’s hours were reduced to part-time amid COVID-19 budget constraints in early 2021.

“This has been a learning experience for all of us. Mistakes were made. We’re trying to improve upon what we do,” he said, in reference to the soccer scandal that unfolded in recent school years.

Schneider, a professor at the university, said he encourages his employer to publish progress on meeting recommendations laid out in the report.

“BU has a real chance here to be a leader in addressing systemic issues of sexualized violence at the university, by taking the recommendations of this report and implementing them all university-wide,” the academic added.

The university is anticipated to launch a safe sport committee before the 2023-24 academic year gets underway.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 22, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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