The challenges of 2020 have been extraordinary but along with those challenges has been the odd moment contributing to positive change in the world. Sports figures have been at the leading edge of a movement meant to acknowledge that it's time for change: Black Lives Matter.
At other times, protests would have faded away and people would be going back to the way they were. For some reason it feels different this time. As the Provincial Sports Organization, we see this as the perfect opportunity for self-reflection and to express and renew our commitment to ensuring an environment which supports inclusion for all individuals and groups interested in participating and pursuing excellence in sailing within Ontario.
Our current strategic plan includes making under-represented groups a priority for Ontario Sailing. "You never know where the next amazing coach, athlete or leader is unless you open your minds, hearts, and clubs and schools to everyone," commented Ontario Sailing's Executive Director Glenn Lethbridge. "Ontario Sailing sees sailing as an activity for everyone; any walk of life, able bodied, disabled, it does not matter. Once on the water, we sail as equals just like it should be in life."
If problems do occur, as they do in life, how are they handled? It starts from the ground up. Kids will be kids, but they will also be adults one day and learning about conflict resolution is a valuable skill not to mention the empathy that goes along with understanding the ramifications of inappropriate behaviour. Reflecting on a couple of isolated incidents in the past involving camp participants who were engaged in name calling and inappropriate behaviour, the staff at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, who publicize a 'zero tolerance' policy, were quick to respond. "When assessing a situation, the environment check comes first. Is anyone hurt physically and do they need medical attention? As we start running down the list of safety concerns, the situation begins to take form," said Joel Gunn, RHYC President. "There is usually more to the situation than what we see. We observe, ask questions, and listen. The seriousness of the dispute will guide us to the next steps. Our intent, in all matters, is to remain fair, respectful and do no harm."
As the National organization responsible for the sport in Canada, Sail Canada takes their role seriously and values the importance of offering a respectful and safe environment that is welcoming to all. Don Adams, CEO of Sail Canada, weighs in: "At Sail Canada we believe sailing is a sport for everyone; whatever your race, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. We will continue to work towards ensuring that everyone feels welcome and safe as they participate in sailing. We welcome any and all of your suggestions to ensure we have an all-encompassing sport."
Part of the infrastructure that is in place to support a safe and inclusive environment for participants is a solid coaching base. Good coaches are a result of passion for the sport plus coaching education. "The development of sailing instructors and coaches is a comprehensive process that includes acquiring teaching methodologies and understanding the developmental stages of young people. The goal is to ensure that all youth stay safe and have a positive experience while learning sailing," commented Cam Lymburner, Ontario Sailing Manager, Programs & Services "Strong coaching is fundamental to our mission of developing lifelong sailors. Instructor courses help develop core life skills beyond sailing, such as communication and people and time management."
"We need to grow our sport and we want to open it up to any and all who want to try their hand at the helm," offered Lethbridge who maintains his commitment to review and evolve through the following actionable steps and tools available to member organizations:
- Provide tools and resources for feedback processes for organizations' members and staff,
- Work towards finding appropriate tools for organizations to educate their staff in Diversity/Inclusion/Empathy training and institute training and discussions with Ontario Sailing staff and volunteers on these topics,
- Promote the use of Codes of Conduct and support members in their implementation,
- Continue to review and evolve policies and provide support for clubs to do the same.
One of Canada's bright lights in the sailing world is Olympic hopeful and 2019 Pan American Games Lima champion Sarah Douglas, who offers her view from a lifetime in sailing: "Sailing has allowed me to be 'unapologetically myself' and push the envelope and speak up for women, diversity and inclusion in sport. I am grateful to the sport and credit my involvement with gaining valuable life skills like leadership, confidence, organization and being a team player. Sailing has given me everything!"