ARCHIVED - 4.5 National sport centres

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  • There are six national sport centres (now called Canadian sport centres) in Atlantic Canada, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
  • They provide centralized professional and personal support services to high performance athletes and coaches.
  • Their objective is to produce athletes capable of winning Olympic medals, while ensuring that the athletes develop skills and experience to adapt to life after their sport careers.
  • The medical services and orientation services provided for athletes were lacking in French.

Recommendation 16
Sport Canada ensure that all national sport centres provide essential medical services in both official languages by April 1, 2001, and organize appropriate orientation services for French-speaking athletes who are moving to a predominately English-speaking environment for the first time.


As indicated earlier, Sport Canada published in June 2002 Official Languages Standards Regarding High Performance Training Centres (HPTC). Several are operated by NSOs, either independently or in collaboration with NSCs. These training centres provide a more intense and focussed training environment for top athletes and coaches.

Sport Canada believes that the standards go beyond the recommendation for NSCs in that they also apply to all HPTCs who must ensure bilingual services for coaching, technical materials and administrative services. HPTCs work in conjunction with NSCs to provide services in both official languages. NSOs responsible for both new and existing centres must ensure that at least one member of the HPTC coaching staff is fluent in both official languages and that athletes can receive services in their preferred official language. These include services of a confidential nature (physicians, sport psychologists, for example), administration services and information regarding local support groups. National sport centres must maintain the same criteria although the timetable for implementation of these standards varies: April 2005 for existing centres and immediately upon finalization of standards for new centres.

We examined the same three NSCs as during our study: Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal.

4.5.1 National Sport Centre in Calgary Sport Centre

The National Sport Centre in Calgary receives $600,000 (about 1/3 of its total budget) from Sport Canada to run its programs. The provision of medical and professional services to athletes in both official languages is still a problem: from medical doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists to sport psychologists, very few are bilingual. However, the physiotherapist for the women’s national hockey team is bilingual and when the alpine ski team competes in Europe, there are usually one or two bilingual physiotherapists travelling with the team.

We were told that part of the reason for the slow or lack of progress in professional medical services in French is that almost all resources are contracted by the NSC in Calgary. Services from sport psychologists (or other medical and professional service providers contracted by the NSC) are paid for by the centre. If an athlete needs to go outside the centre for bilingual services, there are additional fees. And if the service provider did speak French, he would not necessarily be competent to deal with the specific issue concerning the athlete. Comments were also made regarding the need to have sport psychologists who not only speak the language but understand the athlete’s culture, an element of great importance when trying to make athletes overcome mental blocks and problems that can hinder their top performance.

Transition into an anglophone milieu for Francophone athletes, especially young athletes from small communities, remains an important issue. When asked what improvements could be made, athletes spoke about everything from orientation at the intake stage, living arrangements with Francophone families, schooling, to the way messages are translated on the CSC’s Internet site (doping regulations, for example).

Although sessions are held in English, documentation for three compulsory workshops on harassment, drugs and supplements, and career transition, is available in both languages. We were told that athletes may ask questions in French. Since these sessions are compulsory and the information given is considered high priority, they should be made available in French as well as in English. The athlete registration form and some brochures in the information package to athletes are available in both languages, although the athlete services handbook isn’t. As was the case during our study, there is a bilingual employee resource centre which is able to provide services in French.

Although there is some progress in the provision of bilingual services, it is slow. The sport centre in Calgary should be more proactive in promoting and communicating its services in both official languages. Perhaps the most telling statement came from an athlete: “the Centre is not an Alberta Sport Centre, but a Canadian sport centre and as such, should be able to provide bilingual services to athletes and coaches.” The centre needs to have mechanisms in place for delivery of services in French by alternate means if need be.

During our debriefing session at the Centre, the following suggestions were made:

  • involve athletes more in the development of an administrative structure to improve services in French.
  • ensure the availability of front line people who are fluently bilingual at ‘intake’ and orientation so that athletes are able to communicate in their preferred language.
  • adopt a mind set of helping Francophone athletes deal with the language barrier.
4.5.2 National Sport Centre in Winnipeg

At the time of our initial study, neither Volleyball Canada nor the Winnipeg sport centre (where both men’s and women’s national teams are based) had taken steps to make medical services and psychological counselling available in French. Our follow-up revealed that physiotherapy, medical services, massage therapy and sport psychology, notably for the men’s team, are still provided in English. However, the physiotherapist and athletic therapist for the women’s national team are bilingual. The physiotherapist assigned to the beach volleyball team is also bilingual.

From the intake stage, the performance service manager is involved in the coordination of medical and sport science services such as athletic therapy, physical therapy, biomechanics. At that stage, the manager should be more conscious of the necessity to provide Francophone athletes with services in their language. Service providers are first and foremost identified by qualifications and geographic location, language being a secondary criterion. Interviews revealed that orientation services and sport psychology were two of the areas that needed improvement. Some athletes stated that the only time they received medical services in French was at International or World Cup events. Staff in Winnipeg indicated that requests for medical services in French would be referred to the St-Boniface General Hospital.

Some administrative services in both languages are still lacking. No individual intakes are done in French with new athletes, but for team intakes, it can be done in both languages. if need be. The three compulsory workshops offered by the centre, “Drugs and Supplements”, “Transition” and “Out of Bounds” (on harassment) are available only in English, because there are few Francophone athletes. Given the importance of the subject matter in some workshops, it would be appropriate to have them available in both languages. A part of the “static” information on the website is available in English and French, but the “interactive” side is essentially in English. The cost of translating the material is an issue and the Centre most often relies on volunteers. The athlete intake form is posted in both languages on the site.

Athletes sit on the Board of Directors and usually meet with staff to determine what their needs may be, and the Centre does try to incorporate their input within the services it provides. These meetings could be the right forum to discuss athletes’ needs and concerns on official languages matters.

The General Manager of the Winnipeg sport centre, who has occupied the position for a short period of time, recognizes that the Centre could be more proactive to ensure provision of services in French to Francophone athletes.

In our debriefing we made the following suggestions:

  • take a proactive approach to the provision of services and look at viable alternatives.
  • explore options that would help in the transition of Francophone athletes and,
  • re-examine what areas of orientation and professional services need to be improved upon.

Having examined the situation at the time of our study and during the follow-up, we conclude that Sport Canada and national sport centres must make more concerted efforts to ensure adequate provision of bilingual services. Leadership and commitment are key in this respect.

Status of recommendation 16: partly implemented.

Progress report: April 1, 2004

4.5.3 National Multi-Sport Centre - Montreal

The National Multi-Sport Centre - Montreal was unaffected by Recommendation 16, since the centre’s service providers offer professional and medical services in both official languages. The centre continues to provide such services, which include medicine, sports psychology, physiotherapy and massage therapy. About twenty percent of carded athletes training in Montreal are Anglophones.

Administrative and orientation services, materials for athletes and most information posted on its Web site are available in both languages. The language used in mandatory workshops on harassment, the use of drugs and supplements and on athlete careers and transition depends on the audience. During meetings held twice a year, coordinators from the national sports centres that are responsible for athlete services can pool the information they have on hand (policies and documents) in both official languages, although this is not done on a systematic basis.

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