Nearly one in five sports participants experience or witness unfair treatment or discrimination, according to new Stats Canada survey

While conversations continue to arise about discrimination in sports, new data from Stats Canada suggests that discrimination in sports, particularly along the lines of race and sexuality, is still a substantial issue. These discriminatory behaviours can take many forms and act as a barrier to participation in sports for racialized people, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups.

The data, released on March 4, comes from the most recent wave of the Stats Canada Survey Series on People and their Communities, which examined participation and experiences in community sports, among other topics.

Some of the recently shared results examine unfair treatment, racism and discrimination in sports in Canada. A key stat that highlights the breadth of this issue is as follows: 18 per cent of surveyed Canadians who participated in a sport in the five years preceding the new report said they experienced or witnessed unfair treatment, racism or discrimination in sport.

Who is most affected

The results show that certain population groups were more likely than others to experience or witness unfair treatment, racism or discrimination. Lesbian and gay Canadians (42 per cent) were more than twice as likely as heterosexuals (17 per cent) to report having experienced or witnessed such behaviour.

Racialized people (26 per cent) were also more likely than their non-racialized counterparts (15 per cent) to have experienced or witnessed unfair treatment, racism or discrimination while playing a sport. Black (34 per cent), Filipino (32 per cent) and Korean (32 per cent) people were among the most likely racialized groups to experience or witness these behaviours.

The most common motivation cited by victims and witnesses was race or skin colour (64 per cent), followed by physical appearance (42 per cent) and ethnicity or culture (38 per cent). But a significant portion also reported sex (23 per cent), language (22 per cent), religion (21 per cent) and sexual orientation (20 per cent) as reasons for the discrimination committed against them or other participants.

Those in higher positions of authority in sport were not exempt from from discrimination, but they were considerably less likely than participants themselves. While coaches, officials and others occupying non-athletic roles experienced or witnessed discrimination (five to 15 per cent), athletes and participants (80 per cent) were generally most likely to report experiencing or witnessing unfair treatment, racism or discrimination in a sport.

What discrimination looks like, and when it’s reported

The most common types of discrimination reported by victims and witnesses involved being made to feel uncomfortable, such as through insensitive jokes or remarks (60 per cent), or being called names, insulted or mocked (48 per cent). This was followed by being ignored by others or excluded from conversations or group activities (44 per cent) and people talking behind the person’s back (42 per cent).

However, many victims and witnesses also reported having experienced or witnessed threats or harassment (20 per cent) and even physical attacks or assaults (8 per cent).

Many of these incidents were also never reported by the victim or the witnesses (32 per cent). However, almost one-quarter of victims and witnesses said they reported at least one incident officially by filing, for example, an official complaint or report. More victims and witnesses (35 per cent) said they informally reported the incident, such as by telling a teammate, friend or family member, or sharing it on social media.

In 2023, one-quarter (25 per cent) of Canadians felt that racism and discrimination were problems in community sports in Canada.

For more information about the study, as well as the Survey Series on People and their Communities, visit:

Source: Stats Canada—The Daily