Mushtaq: The nightmare of abuse can no longer be dismissed in the hockey world

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Earlier this year, news broke that a young woman sued Hockey Canada alleging a horrific sexual assault in 2018 between her and eight unnamed former junior hockey players.

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Some were members of Canada’s junior gold medal team that year. Some may be professional hockey players today.

Some time later, the $3.55 million lawsuit was settled by Hockey Canada.

But the settlement raises many other questions related to his handling of his culture, assault allegations and finances.

Hockey Canada receives funding from a variety of sources: the federal government, private corporations and player registration fees. What was the source of the money was used to settle these claims?

Following the lawsuit announcement, a Globe and Mail investigation found that money from player registration fees had been paid into a reserve fund. Intended to settle “unforeseen liabilities” outside of insurance policies, money from this fund has been used to settle sexual assault lawsuits.

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It is perhaps unsurprising that there are new allegations of sexual assault in the hockey world. What further bothers many players, the public and parents is that players’ money is potentially used to settle such claims.

After the #MeToo era, Hockey Canada could face its first real judgment.

But as sports journalist Shireen Ahmed noted: So far, Hockey Canada hasn’t done the job because it believes it’s the right thing to do.

The needle has now stopped because money talks: Massive sponsors have begun to withdraw funding and the federal government has suspended funding pending further investigations. Things got serious very quickly.

Frustratingly, this shows how hollow statements about inclusivity remain for some organizations. An organization can claim to be for everyone and claim to take allegations of sexual assault, racism, homophobia and any form of discrimination seriously.

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But if he can’t seem to escape such allegations, it means that the fundamental culture to prevent such incidents has not fundamentally changed. And so the same story seems to be repeating itself.

Meaningfully reflecting on the connections to violent masculinity in hockey culture, misogyny, bullying, homophobia and racism is not easy. It’s also not comfortable.

Try to critique hockey culture in public discourse.

Jessica Allen, correspondent for The Social, learned this the hard way in 2019 when she faced intense criticism for her condemnation of hockey culture. She made the comments following the firing of Hockey Night in Canada host Don Cherry, who was fired over racist statements about immigrants.

If a female media commentator so recently faced a harsh public backlash for her comments which were at the time supported by sports writers, researchers and activists, it is no wonder that those who experience abuse or sexual assaults choose to keep their horrific experiences to themselves – or just decide to go public many years down the road.

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It may be hard for some people to see the reality when so much of hockey culture is so deeply tied to Canadian identity.

Reevaluating what hockey means to this country — the good, the bad and the ugly — means honestly considering all of its imperfections.

You or your family may have escaped the world of hockey relatively unscathed, but perhaps the recent spotlight on Hockey Canada means you’re acknowledging for the first time that you didn’t.

It seems Hockey Canada was never ready for this recognition because there was too much at stake — gold medals, sponsorships and future NHL players.

But what happens when more and more former athletes like Theo Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy, Kyle Beach and everyone in between continue to bring allegations of abuse? When are other lawsuits revealed?

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What will it take for the organizations in charge to make the meaningful changes and sacrifices necessary for a better hockey culture for everyone the sport touches?

The current situation also means recognizing that hockey is not the only sport to face allegations of abuse. More than 500 gymnasts are asking Sport Canada to investigate allegations of sexual, emotional and physical abuse of athletes – some of whom were minors at the time – as well as a toxic culture.

As Shireen Ahmed noted in the same TV interview, “You don’t get away with having conversations. You have to do the work.

It is high time that sports organizations and communities in this country do this work.

Sarah Mushtaq is a millennial who writes about race, gender, and life in today’s changing world.

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