Erin Willson wins award for study exploring Canadian youth athletes’ experiences of maltreatment

Erin Willson attends the Play the Game 2019 conference (image courtesy of Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game)

Erin Willson, a PhD student from the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE), is one of two recipients of the 2021 Lyle Makosky Values and Ethics in Sport Fund sport study scholarship. The award, in the amount of $2,000, was awarded to Wilson for her dissertation project on gender-based violence in youth athletes.

The project seeks to understand the prevalence of athlete’s experiences of all forms of harm in Canadian sport, including sexual, physical and emotional, and to explore how race, gender and sexual orientation may influence the athletes' experiences and their readiness to disclose and report any maltreatment. 

In 2019, Willson worked with Professor Gretchen Kerr and Associate Professor Ashley Stirling from KPE on a prevalence study of maltreatment among Canadian National Team athletes. This research has been an essential component of the recent safe sport movement that is occurring in Canada, which includes the creation of a Universal Code of Conduct for Safe Sport and a National Independent Mechanism for Safe Sport.

“While the data on National Team athletes is important, there are many other athletes in Canada who are experiencing maltreatment and potentially dropping out before they reach the highest level of sport because of negative experiences," says Willson, who is in her second year of PhD studies under Kerr’s supervision. "This dissertation will help provide a larger understanding of the current state of experiences by Canadian athletes.”

The Lyle Makosky Values and Ethics in Sport Fund is a national endowment fund established by Lyle Makosky, life-long leader in sport. The sport study scholarship program provides annual financial awards to support the study of values and ethics-based challenges, and related policies affecting non-professional Canadian sport. The True Sport Foundation manages and selects award winners.

“I am very honoured to receive this award,” says Willson. “The True Sport Foundation seeks to shape the Canadian sports environment into becoming values-based and principle-driven, which includes fair play, respect, inclusion and holistic development of athletes. 

“My passion for safe sport directly aligns with these values, and it is a privilege to be recognized by this foundation for the work that I am doing in this area. I intend to use this fund to provide compensation for the participants of this dissertation.”