June 20, 2024
Ontario Volleyball Affiliation pushing the envelope in battle to guard athletes
Ontario Volleyball Affiliation pushing the envelope in battle to guard athletes

Ontario Volleyball Affiliation (OVA) chief government Jo-Anne Ljubicic acquired an unsettling tip in the future final summer time a couple of native contractor with hyperlinks to her group.

The tipster instructed Ljubicic {that a} former highschool trainer named Zuby Shaikh had been leasing seaside volleyball courts from the OVA for a number of years in Pickering, London, and Barrie to make use of for his Scarborough-based membership Invado Volleyball and that he wasn’t somebody with whom the OVA ought to be doing enterprise.

Shaikh had been discovered responsible {of professional} misconduct by the Ontario Lecturers School in 2017 after a feminine highschool scholar alleged that he had instructed her she was stunning, that if he pointed her out to his pals, he would “price her a ten,” and that “he needed to strive exhausting not to take a look at her butt” whereas she was making a presentation, in keeping with a ruling by the school. 

Shaikh was suspended by the school for six months. Following his suspension, he didn’t renew his educating certification.

Invado’s summer time program was already in progress when Ljubicic realized of Shaikh’s historical past. She allowed the corporate to complete its contract, as long as Shaikh’s spouse took over on-the-ground administration of this system and Shaikh agreed to not attend occasions in individual. 

“I wished to guard the children in this system and likewise not take away their probability to play,” Ljubicic stated in a collection of interviews in current weeks with TSN. “When that summer time session was over, we ended our enterprise relationship with Invado.”

Underneath Ljubicic, a former accountant, the OVA has turn into an outlier. It has developed a screening course of for potential coaches and volunteers that goes properly past a typical felony background verify. It requires elite coaches to take part in in-person coaching about the right way to stop and cope with athlete maltreatment. And it is without doubt one of the few provincial or nationwide sports activities organizations within the nation that makes public the names of people that have been discovered responsible of misconduct and who’re both below momentary suspension or completely banned.

“The topic of athlete security shouldn’t be hidden within the shadows,” Ljubicic stated. “It must be out within the open… The work is hectic, and now we have exhausting selections to make. We’re listening to increasingly tales about abuse, and I believe there’s loads of skeletons which are going to return out as extra survivors come ahead. However once you do that work, you additionally find yourself with backlash as a result of the predator’s defence is to groom others to return again and assault the people who find themselves making an attempt to make a change.”

With 17 workers and an annual price range of $8 million, the OVA has oversight over 880 sanctioned volleyball groups at 75 golf equipment, modest in comparison with a few of Canada’s nationwide largest sports activities organizations. (Final yr, the OVA’s members included 14,275 leisure and aggressive gamers, coaches, referees and membership officers.) 

In her first days on the job in 2014, Ljubicic inherited a sophisticated case coping with athlete security.

On the time, Stewart Arevalo, the previous head coach of Niagara School’s ladies’s staff, was reapplying to teach in Ontario after working within the U.S., Ljubicic stated.

After an OVA screening committee refused his utility, citing a suspension from USA Volleyball and a 2009 sanction by the OVA, Arevalo appealed the choice.

(In line with a public record of suspended members maintained by USA Volleyball, Arevalo’s membership in that group lapsed in July 2008 and he isn’t allowed to attend its occasions.)

Ljubicic requested USA Volleyball for Arevalo’s personnel file to make use of in his OVA attraction.

“USA Volleyball stored saying for greater than a yr that they couldn’t present us together with his data,” Ljubicic stated. “We even despatched them letters saying, ‘Look, that is the place you’ve left us. You’ve left us with a coach that’s persevering with to doubtlessly hurt our members.’ And I obtained nothing.”

Lastly, after a distinguished American coach named Rick Butler was accused of abusing and raping teenage athletes within the Nineteen Eighties and USA Volleyball got here below growing public scrutiny, Ljubicic stated the group agreed to ahead her a duplicate of Arevalo’s file and a police report a couple of grievance towards him concerning an incident in Orlando in 2008.

“The complaints about Arevalo weren’t solely about screaming at athletes,” she stated. “He was not somebody we wished teaching in our group.”

Arevalo agreed to voluntarily resign his OVA membership after an arbitrator in 2014 issued a choice that allowed him to renew teaching as long as Arevalo met particular circumstances for one yr.

“Mr. Arevalo shall have one other grownup current when interacting with any minor athletes,” the arbitrator’s choice says. “Mr. Arevalo shall not have interaction in any social media, electronic mail or textual content message change with any minor athlete with out the written consent of that athlete’s mother or father or guardian.”

The choice additionally stated that if Arevalo travelled to tournaments with athletes who had been minors, he can be required to “hold his lodging preparations at an affordable distance from the lodging preparations of the minor athletes…”

Whereas he’s now not sanctioned by the OVA, Arevalo continues to teach and practice gamers privately in Ontario.

Arevalo declined to debate the precise complaints towards him and stated he was happy with the arbitrator’s choice.

“I’m okay discussing this with people who find themselves near me, who usually are not seeking to minimize my legs off as a result of there are loads of Stew haters on the market,” Arevalo stated. “The folks I let in who deliver their youngsters to me, who turn into like a part of my household, and people folks I belief, these folks I speak to.

“When the one-year [sanctions] got here again I used to be over the moon. I’m very, very a lot okay with [the arbitrator’s decision.]”

Ljubicic stated the OVA has launched schooling for its elite-level coaches that goes past on-line video modules. Provincial coaches are required to attend in-person workshops about secure sport run by Brian O’Reilly, who owns Human Potential Plus, a Bayfield, Ont.-based firm that gives team-building workouts and communication coaching to organizations.

O’Reilly, a social employee whose son, Ryan, is the captain of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, stated he coaches role-play workouts, ideally in teams of 16.

“Studying in individual there’s a better degree of accountability, a greater reference to the fabric and better self-evaluation of how you’re absorbing the fabric,” O’Reilly stated in an interview. “The information you may study on-line isn’t as necessary as what you do with that information.”

In 2018, the OVA commissioned a video that includes former hockey participant Greg Gilhooly and former aggressive skier Allison Forsyth, each abuse survivors, to clarify how abusers groom their victims. The video explains that fewer than 25 per cent of youngsters who’re abused will ever disclose it to somebody and that 2 to eight per cent of athletes who’re minors will expertise abuse.

“The hope is the alarm bells have gone off and also you hope all organizations will do that,” Gilhooly stated in an interview. “The volleyball individuals are undoubtedly forward of the curve. Too typically individuals are afraid to step on the toes of volunteers… Typically we make a mistake in making an attempt to guard the predator.”

The OVA’s authorized bills have eclipsed $100,000 in some current years, Ljubicic stated, including that regardless that it’s a provincial group, the OVA has joined the brand new Workplace of the Sports activities Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), a federal company which accepts and investigates abuse complaints associated to Canadian beginner sports activities.

OSIC’s signatories principally embody nationwide sports activities organizations. (Ljubicic stated she’s conscious of 1 case of an Ontario volleyball coach who has been suspended by the OSIC pending a misconduct investigation. OSIC has stored the coach’s identification secret. The OSIC has additionally stated that it’s conducting an environmental evaluation of the OVA following a grievance associated to “types of discrimination.” Ljubicic stated she and her colleagues haven’t been given any particulars in regards to the grievance and sit up for answering any of OSIC’s questions.)

Even after the institution of OSIC, nonetheless, there’s nonetheless no system in place for sharing details about dangerous behaviour that happens in sports activities between groups and leagues, faculties and universities, and the regulatory our bodies in Canada that oversee professionals who usually come into contact with athletes.

The OSIC has but to commit to creating a registry of individuals banned from collaborating in Canadian beginner sports activities public, and whereas different organizations such because the Ontario School of Lecturers (OCT) publish some self-discipline selections, they don’t make an effort to share them with related sports activities organizations. When Arevalo was suspended, as an example, nobody from the OCT contacted Volleyball Canada or the OVA.

One of many causes that data isn’t shared is as a result of organizations are fearful about authorized legal responsibility, amid arguments from those that are sanctioned for dangerous behaviour that their proper to privateness ought to trump the general public’s proper to know in regards to the allegations towards them.

“There’s nonetheless loads of secrecy in sports activities across the situation of athlete security,” Ljubicic stated.

The OVA is one among few provincial sport organizations that lists the names of people that have been completely banned or who’re at present suspended for dangerous behaviour.

The OVA’s web site lists three coaches – Christian Tanguay, Thomas Grieve, and Arthur Yanamoto – who’ve been suspended for all times. 

Tanguay, as an example, was suspended by the OVA for texting teenage women shirtless photos of himself, Ljubicic stated. After his suspension ended and Tanguay was reinstated, Ljubicic stated he texted with athletes once more and instructed one teenager that he liked it when she wore a specific purple hooded sweatshirt. Tanguay was then banned for all times.

Two different coaches have been suspended via December 2023 and February 2025, respectively.

Most different provincial and nationwide sport organizations nonetheless hold details about banned people a secret.

Volleyball Canada, as an example, stated in an announcement to TSN that it doesn’t make the names of banned coaches public as a result of its attorneys warn the group might be sued by these whose names are disclosed.

“If we hold this secret, we permit these folks a possibility to maintain doing what they do,” Ljubicic stated. “In case you take a look at the U.S. Middle for SafeSport and USA Volleyball, they now have all of this data posted.”

The OVA has additionally turn into a forerunner with its screening kind for potential coaches, referees, and volunteers. 

Whereas many sports activities leagues solely require a felony document verify, that doesn’t do sufficient to catch individuals who shouldn’t be working with kids and youngsters, Ljubicic stated. 

The OVA’s screening kind additionally calls for candidates disclose whether or not they’ve ever been charged with a criminal offense, have ever been sanctioned by a sports activities league or skilled group, or have ever been the topic of misconduct complaints.

“Are there another issues in your previous or current circumstances that will place your character or suitability for OVA/Volleyball Canada positions at situation?” reads the final of a dozen such questions on the screening kind.

Volleyball Canada has adopted the OVA’s screening kind for its personal use.

Doing what you consider is true can come at a value. In a single case, Ljubicic has been named as a defendant in a $750,000 lawsuit filed by a former coach. After the coach left a membership in London following a misconduct grievance, the coach utilized to work for a membership in California. When Ljubicic realized of his utility, she contacted the membership and knowledgeable them that he was not an appropriate candidate.

Ljubicic stated she doesn’t remorse her actions. 

“If a complainant isn’t able to go ahead with a proper grievance, that doesn’t imply we are able to or ought to flip a blind eye,” she stated.

In early 2020, one other major problem about athlete security surfaced after an nameless letter author despatched Jennifer Harkness, OVA’s director of finance and administration, a message through LinkedIn. The author accused former York College head coach Michael Wahbi of sexually assaulting her sister.

After Wahbi was confronted with the correspondence, he recognized a former scholar at Bishop Allen Academy, a Catholic highschool in Toronto, who he stated had made a grievance about him. Harkness then searched LinkedIn and despatched a message to the lady she believed had contacted her.

“Jennifer reached out and stated, ‘If this was you who was in contact with me, we want to communicate with you some extra,’” the lady stated. “I despatched out plenty of these nameless letters to high school boards and sports activities organizations. The OVA was the one one which responded.”

TSN has interviewed each Wahbi’s alleged sufferer and her sister. Each agreed to talk on the situation of anonymity. The allegations towards Wahbi, who can be the referee in chief for the USA Ball Hockey Federation, haven’t been confirmed and he has not been charged with a criminal offense, though the Ontario School of Lecturers is investigating him.

Whereas the alleged sufferer declined on the time to proceed with a proper grievance, the OVA wound up reprimanding Wahbi as a result of he had instructed the group for greater than a decade in his annual screening kind that he had by no means been the topic of a misconduct investigation involving a minor. (The Toronto Catholic District Faculty Board and Toronto police investigated the alleged sexual assault in 2009 however didn’t proceed as a result of the alleged sufferer, then a minor, was not ready to comply with via with a felony grievance.)

In a July 2, 2020, choice, the OVA’s unbiased self-discipline panel fined Wahbi $500 and required him throughout the subsequent season wherein he coached to have one other grownup current when interacting with any minor athlete. He was additionally required to finish the Teaching Affiliation of Canada’s secure sport course.

Particulars of Wahbi’s reprimand and sanction had been faraway from the OVA’s web site.

Ljubicic stated she has misplaced a dispute together with her authorized staff over conserving the names of suspended coaches posted after their sanctions are full.

“I hate that now we have to take that data down,” Ljubicic stated. “It ought to nonetheless be up there. However that was one battle with our authorized staff that I misplaced. However it’s important to reside to struggle one other day.”