Ontario commits to strengthening athlete safety at U of T event

Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division (on the left), Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions (in the middle), Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries (second from the right) and Professor Gretchen Kerr, dean of KPE (on the right) are flanked by Varsity Blues soccer players at a special event on Varsity Stadium. (photo by Fazlur-Rehman Malik)

The Ontario government will invest up to $125,000 in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division, to create a safer environment for athletes to play sports. The announcement, made at the University of Toronto Varsity Stadium on September 29, comes on the fourth anniversary of Rowan’s Law, a piece of concussion-safety legislation that Ontario passed unanimously in 2018 in honour of Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old rugby player from Ottawa, who died after suffering a fatal concussion.

The funding will help raise awareness of the impact of sports-related injuries on mental health and provide educational resources to coaches and parents to help them recognize the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression to ensure young athletes receive the essential supports they need to thrive.

“It is imperative that Ontario continues to raise awareness around concussions and its lingering impacts on athletes’ physical, emotional and mental health,” said Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. “Rowan’s Law remains the cornerstone of our commitment to building a safe sport culture for all athletes.”

Gretchen Kerr, professor and dean at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, was on hand to welcome MacLeod, who was joined by Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division, for the announcement.

“Here at the Faculty, we are very proud of our commitment to concussion research, education and management,” said Kerr. “We have world renowned scholars who have contributed to the body of knowledge on concussions and have used this research to inform policy around return-to-play protocols and concussion prevention. 

“We also have the renowned David L. MacIntosh sport medicine clinic, whose staff contribute in significant ways to concussion management and treatment. Together, our faculty researchers and practitioners ensure that we have evidence based education and practice with respect to concussions.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association will use the funding to expand its educational programs, including:

•    Interactive e-learning modules for coaches
•    Educational videos for young athletes tailored to specific age groups and
•    A Mental Health and Amateur Sport microsite to serve as entry point to modules, videos and downloadable resources and social media assets.

“Half of Ontario's population will have or have experienced a mental health challenge by the age of 40, with approximately 70 per cent of mental health challenges having their onset during childhood or adolescence," said Tibollo. "I am committed to working with Minister MacLeod to ensure our children, youth and their parents have access to the highest quality mental health supports, while also having the important conversations regarding concussion awareness and education."

Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario, said the Canadian Mental Health Association has a proud history of supporting the mental health of athletes through partnerships with junior hockey, post- secondary athletics and minor sports.

“We’re excited to work with the government to provide further mental health supports for the amateur sport community, providing athletes life skills they can use on or off the rink, court or field of play.”

The government also released the third Rowan’s Law progress report. To date, Ontario has completed 13 of the 21 recommendations put forward by the Rowan’s Law Advisory Committee, with an additional four recommendations set to be implemented by March 2022.