Toronto, ON- Lee Anna Osei asked herself a question in June 2020 when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak. “I was asking myself why there wasn’t a community or an organization in our sport community that was standing up for people of colour.”
So the Head Coach of the St.FX women’s basketball team decided to do something. She took charge, forming the Black Canadian Coaches Association (BCCA), “seeking to connect, empower and advance racialized minorities in the Canadian sport sector.”
It was a welcome move for Osei and BIPOC athletes and coaches across the country.
For many athletes, coaches and others around university athletics, the sports they love have not always been welcoming.
For years, Canadian sports communities have turned a blind eye to racialized athletes and coaches. From a lack of diversity in coaching to endless stories of mistreatment, university sport has its chapter in the story.
When Minneapolis Police murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the veil of innocence that had seemingly been pulled over many eyes was torn back, and issues of race and human rights came into the spotlight. Changes had to be made.
Recognizing the need for action, the OUA launched the Black, Biracial and Indigenous (BBI) Task Force. U SPORTS presented a month of conversations surrounding Black athletes, while other independent groups have begun working to change the picture of Canadian university sport.
In the summer of 2020, CBC Sports audited Canadian universities. They found that only about 10% of the 400 top positions, including athletic director, and head coach of football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, soccer and track are held by someone from a Black, Indigenous, or visible minority. While the CBC brought light to the issue, other actions sprouted in the summer to help make a difference.
In 1988, The Black Coaches and Administrators was founded in the United States, and it was something that Osei wanted to bring to Canada. “It’s not only something that we want for the coaches to be represented in, but it’s for the athletes.”
Since incorporating as a not-for-profit organization in June 2020, the BCCA has partnered with the Canadian Centre for Mental Health in Sport, where they have established a Black student-athlete fund. They’ve also partnered with the Canadian Coaching Association and have worked with schools across U SPORTS.
“It’s been an incredible response honestly from our sports community; from a celebration standpoint, we’ve been able to promote our brand and our platform to acknowledge contributors in the space,” said Osei. “Being able to consistently promote these ideas of a more harmonious sporting environment has been amazing.”
While the BCCA is an independent organization working with partners to create change across Canadian sport, university sport’s governing bodies have also promoted Black excellence in athletics. They are working to change the situation for Black coaches and athletes in Canada.
Like the BCCA, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) is also taking steps to reform representation in university sport. In the summer, the OUA announced the construction of the Black, Biracial, and Indigenous Task Force to drive change in the conference and beyond. The task force includes current-athletes such as Laurentian University basketball star Kadre Gray and graduates and executives, including Sportnet’s Donnovan Bennett and T1 Agency’s Mark Harrison.
“We recognize more than ever the scope of what university athletics in Ontario can achieve, which is why we are so pleased to take this very important next step and have the Black, Biracial, and Indigenous Task Force in place.” – Gord Grace, OUA CEO
Since its inception in August 2020, the BBI task force has included as many people as possible, taking into account stories and experiences to develop a strategy to change university sport’s outlook.
In February, six months after launch, the OUA, in conjunction with the University of Toronto, began the “Anti-Racism Project,” collecting athletes’ and team personnel’s experiences of racism at their schools.
The survey aims to be instrumental for change moving forward. “The information collected will support the identification and refinement of strategies to advance efforts to help make the OUA an inclusive and safe community where all people, regardless of race or other socially-determined circumstances, have equal opportunities to achieve their full potential for health, well-being, and academic and athletic success,” the OUA said in a statement.
Over 3,600 people have submitted their experiences since the beginning of the month. Meanwhile, the conference has promoted a social campaign highlighting BIPOC athletes and coaches.
Although the survey gathers valuable information, the OUA is not sitting back. Instead, they are providing stakeholders with anti-racism training sessions in a joint conference project with “ULU” “The WOKE Age: Anti-Racism with ULU.”
ULU stands for the principles Uluntu (Humanity), Lungisa (Justice), and Usawa (Equity). It was founded by Kadre Gray along with Voyageurs Men’s Basketball Forward Litha Ncanisa, and Masters of Social Word student at Laurentian, Hediyeh Karimian.
As Gray told the OUA, “These conversations encourage our bravery by sharing personal experiences that have the opportunity to teach, empower, educate others,” and “we look forward to hosting a brave space with you”.
With the OUA gathering information on how to change the future while also being proactive, university sport has begun trying to take steps towards progress. For Osei and the BCCA, the goals are very similar.
While the Canadian university sport communities’ history has been checkered; governing bodies, independent groups and individual actions are all trying to push for change, because the power of sport can change lives for the better, but only if everyone supports an equal playing field.
Extra: There are several other initiatives going on across Canadian university sports. Make sure to check out your school and its athletics program to find out how you can help in your community