Concussion safety.  #metoo movement.   Sexual abuse.   Liability lawsuits.

Harassment.       Bullying.       Discrimination.

In today’s day and age, “Safe Sport” is becoming increasingly overwhelming. Sport club volunteers at all levels are being asked to implement sophisticated and rigorous standards as participants, parents, volunteers, and all levels of government are pushing for sport organizations to improve their practices for keeping participants and volunteers safe.

It’s tempting to rely on the belief that “this doesn’t happen in lawn bowls”.  But this is simply not the case.  In February of 2019, the CBC “Shattered Trust” investigation revealed that no sport is immune and the issues are pervasive from local to national levels.  A study commissioned by AthletesCAN, an independent athlete association, had similar findings: the AthletesCAN study included lawn bowls amongst the sport participants surveyed.

The Government of Canada has implemented massive reforms at the national level and the Provincial/Territorial governments are close behind.  Sport organizations, whether local clubs or national sport federations, are now held to higher standards of accountability.  As a local sport organization, your bowls club is NOT IMMUNE to these demands. Whether it is your local mayor or municipality, or your provincial government, it is likely that rules or guidelines are being developed that all sport organizations in your area will need to adhere to.

As a local club, there are THREE THINGS that you can put in place that will have an immediate impact to protect your participants, your volunteers and your club. 

  1. Take the Responsible Coaching Movement (RCM) Pledge

Bowls Canada took the RCM pledge last year and more recently have implemented a Responsible Coaching Movement Strategy.  The intent of the strategy is to empower the organization and their national coaches to facilitate safe sport environments at all times.  There are three main components to this strategy.

  1. The Rule of Two: This means that a coach is never alone or out of sight with a minor. At minimum, a screened volunteer, parent, or adult will be recruited to ensure the Rule of Two is fulfilled. Furthermore, one of the two adults must also be of the same gender as the athlete. BCB has enhanced this component to include coaches never being alone or out of sight with any athlete regardless of age.
  2. Background Screening: For Bowls Canada Boulingrin, this means that all national level coaches will complete a Criminal Record Check every three years and undergo a Vulnerable Sector Verification.
  3. Training: All national coaches undergo Respect in Sport’s Leader Training. Additionally, they undergo evaluation through the National Coaching Certification Program.  This training prepares them to identify and effectively handle situations that arise from unsafe and/or ethical dilemmas.

How does this impact you? It is easy to sign on to the Responsible Coaching Movement (RCM) pledge. Many parents and potential-future-bowlers will recognize what taking the RCM pledge stands for and will feel safer at your club.  This means your club is committed to providing the above three components.

The background screening and training requests are often perceived as barriers. It is just one more thing that we are asking of our already overburdened volunteers.  Yet, many don’t think about the fact that the screening and training are also providing layers of protection for themselves.  While some provinces offer background checks free for volunteers, many local police stations are finding that the demand for screening is swamping their systems and are moving to a payment system.  Bowls Canada aligned with the partnership between the Coaching Association of Canada and SterlingBackcheck (SBC), Canada’s leading background screening provider, to provide an online criminal record check process at a low price of $25 (+tax) per applicant. SBC’s Enhanced Police Information Check (E-PIC) provides a secure database to store and share results, manage renewals, and track the progress of individual checks.  Volunteers and coaches can initiate their E-PIC application from the comfort of their homes by clicking here.

Bowls Canada is also looking for solutions to help clubs find affordable solutions to the training barrier and expects to have more answers for clubs as early as October 2019.

  1. Educate your Members on Concussion Protocols

Not only does Safe Sport include RCM, but it also includes participants’ physical safety. In 2018 the Government of Ontario government passed “Rowan’s Law”.  Named after the Ottawa student who died after sustaining an unrecognized concussion playing high school sports, this legislation is aimed at improving concussion safety in amateur competitive sport.  I can hear readers now….“What does concussion have to do with lawn bowls?”.

It is nationally recognized that lawn bowls is a low risk sport for sustaining concussions.  But our participants are not immune from sustaining concussions outside of bowls.  If only one of the many individuals around Rowan Stringer had had more understanding of the signs and symptoms of concussion, there may have been a different outcome to her tragic story.  It is becoming increasingly clear that head injuries are much more common than we realize.  Often associated with a severe blow to the head, leading causes also include falls and the sudden jerking motion of the head and neck (whiplash).

Aside from the fact that concussion protocols are fast becoming a requirement across the country for sport organizations of all levels, it is important that our coaches and sport leaders understand the signs and symptoms of concussions that may have occurred beyond the boundaries of the lawn bowls green.


Bowls Canada Boulingrin, in collaboration with Parachute Canada (a nationally recognized safety organization), recently released a national concussion protocol that is specific to the sport of bowls.  It recognizes that while possible, the probability of someone sustaining a concussion in bowls remains low.  It also identifies that someone could receive a head injury elsewhere and show up to the greens with concussion-like signs and symptoms. Are you prepared to handle a situation like that? By having a concussion protocol in place, your club will have the proper process to turn to should a situation like that arise.

To read Bowls Canada’s Concussion Protocol, click here.

  1. Implement a Code of Conduct

We have all heard those stories.  You know, the ones about how Person A doesn’t really mean their offensive behaviour, it’s “just them” or “they don’t know any better”.  Unfortunately, while Person A may be oblivious, the individuals around them are suffering.  Best case scenario — people are uncomfortable; worse case scenario – participants and volunteers quit; worst case scenario – someone is harmed.

Establishing a Code of Conduct that clearly outlines expected standards empowers all club members to identify and name unwanted behaviours.  A Code of Conduct helps members and participants make good decisions regarding actions and deeds.   More importantly, it provides the club with an objective standard against which unwanted behaviours can be held accountable.  It is one step closer to eliminating the conflict and bullying that often leads participants to leave sport.

While a Code of Conduct is just one of many important policies that help establish safe and welcoming sport environments, it’s a move in the right direction.  You can read Bowls Canada’s Code of Conduct here.

In conclusion, the landscape of Safe Sport can seem overwhelming at first glance.  Taking action on these three initiatives is a constructive way to get started.  Safe Sport ultimately will ensure that bowls clubs across Canada are safe and welcoming for everyone.

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