Opinion: Learning from Canada's sporting past can improve its future

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Ensuring Canada’s sporting future is as prolific as its past requires ensuring the faces of those in the rinks, pools and on the fields reflect the faces of this country. With that comes a responsibility to ensure that unique perspectives are considered.

Three years ago, I joined Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame working alongside its president and CEO Cheryl Bernard — who is also an Olympic curler and will co-chair the upcoming Special Olympics Winter Games in Calgary. We have engaged in countless discussions around Canadian sport; its history, legacy, faults, impact and its future.

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While pouring our hearts, souls and waking hours into re-envisioning our role as a national heritage institution that has been curating the stories of Canada’s sporting icons since 1955, it’s been daunting to understand that probably more than ever before, sport in Canada needs a reminder of the excellence it brings to community and country.

From the Hockey Canada proceedings, recurring news of the lack of safety (and access to safe spaces) across multiple sports, ongoing barriers to continued participation in the sport ecosystem (MLSE Foundation’s most recent Change the Game report indicated more than 30 per cent of Ontario youth didn’t participate in any sport in 2023 and, of the 69.5 per cent who did, 66.15 per cent participated less than once per week) to the elation of a long overdue women’s empowerment movement across the multi-sport landscape, it is a transformational time for sport in this country.

In many ways, the transformation of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame was serendipitous. We are the connection to the heroes of Canadian sport who inspire a better Canada, and we want to change the role our sporting history plays in shaping Canada’s future.

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Part of this goal means not only continuing to provide free access to these sporting icons’ stories, values and lessons across communities and classrooms throughout this country, but also championing the usage of these stories to inform a game plan that considers the diverse experiences, perspectives, relationships and circumstances of the youth we are trying to empower.

Last fall, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon extended her patronage to this mandate, believing extensively in the value of bringing awareness to the truths and lived experiences of Indigenous Hall of Famers and the role that sport played in their journeys — some of whom credit sport for helping them survive residential schools. That support is echoed by passionate sport advocate Lois Mitchell, the 18th lieutenant-governor of Alberta, who assumed the role of honorary chair for an education endowment campaign helping to ensure all of our national education programs remain barrier-free, relevant, and engaging for schools and youth for years to come. These endorsements underscore the significance that the stories of those who helped shape this country through sport play in supporting our future.

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Nelson Mandela said sport has the power to change the world. I truly believe this. Personally, sport has had a profound effect on me and my loved ones. But if we continue to take a fragmented approach to solving the challenges facing sport, millions of dollars more will be spent and marginal change will be seen.

A systems-based approach that involves accountability, collaboration, equity and a holistic view is integral to the success of this country’s sporting future.

Anyone who has ever wanted to improve a skill or craft knows that reflection is a powerful practice to learn, grow and improve, in any landscape.

Perhaps learning from Canada’s sporting past — and the stories, perspectives and causes of sport’s more iconic role models — is a good place to start.

Misty Kolozetti is vice-president of marketing, fund development and communication at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

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