FORGING UNITY THROUGH DIVERSITY – a work in progress for Canada Artistic Swimming

Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) recognizes the power of sport in modeling change and uniting all people who live in Canada.

People have asked CAS what we are doing to achieve diversity and inclusivity in our sport. Artistic Swimming as a sport has always aimed for perfection, and while we do not think this should change, we need to redefine what perfection means. We believe that Artistic Swimming should not be about what we look like, but instead be only about how we perform. It should be about the Olympic ideals of faster, stronger, higher – and nothing else.

Just like much of our sport depends on what happens under the water, most of the work being done to redefine artistic swimming and its culture is being done behind the scenes.

CAS is working hard to make our vision a reality. We know we are not perfect. As we continue to push forward, we wanted to share what we have been doing.

First, we listened.

When we changed the name of the organization, we asked a wide range of people what our sport needed to represent and where we needed it to go. That consultation helped to create the brand essence of Canada Artistic Swimming: Forging Unity Through Diversity. This powerful statement became the base of our new brand campaign when it launched in September 2018.

Empowered by this new vision as Canada Artistic Swimming, we see a different future for our sport, one that is not only more inclusive and welcoming, but actively reaches out to draw more diverse people in, a future that celebrates what makes each person different, unique and special.

We identified that we need to move from what was traditionally and proudly a female-only sport to one that encourages and engages all genders and people of all cultural backgrounds. That is not an easy task, as habits and stereotypes are difficult to change. But it is what we have committed to do.

We want artistic swimming to be a supportive environment for all. One that allows all athletes to have a positive sport experience, where their health and well-being are the top priority. Changing our organizational culture had to start at the top, with our National and Provincial governing policies. We have made sure that through our Discipline and Complaint Policy we address any issues of discrimination or harassment, on any basis, including race, religion, or gender.  We have introduced a Coaching Registration and Certification Policy that requires coaches and other participants to acknowledge and commit to support the CAS Conduct Policy as a condition of registering. Since 2016, all coaches and now officials are required to complete mandatory Respect in Sport Certification every three years and follow our new Screening Policy.  And we encourage athletes to report directly to our external, third-party Safe Sport Officer if they feel they have been subjected to discrimination or bullying of any sort.

Although our national office staff team is small, we recently created a new position to specifically address issues related to inclusion. They are responsible for supporting any athlete, coach, or other participant who has diversity-related questions or feedback about CAS programs. We encourage anyone to reach out to our Safety in Sport Coordinator at any time.

In 2018, CAS launched AquaGO!, a brand new entry level program to introduce Canadian 5-9 year old girls and boys to the sport. This aquatic literacy skill-based program welcomes all participants to become comfortable and have fun in the water. Our goal is to draw children from all communities into the program, learning fundamental aquatic skills in a safe and welcoming environment. Should these athletes want to pursue the sport through competitive and high performance opportunities, CAS will provide those opportunities.

At the same time, CAS is promoting rule changes at the international level. CAS has strongly advocated for moving the sport’s judging system to focus on objectively measured, physical accomplishments, reflecting the principles of stronger, higher and faster, and with little or no subjective emphasis on physical appearance.   We have every confidence that this change will happen soon.

Moving forward, CAS is working to create a new reality in our sport – one that celebrates excellence purely through athletic achievement and includes participants of all diversities. We will educate people to understand that the measurement of our athletes is how they are built on the inside, not how they look on the outside. While we know our organization and our sport is not there yet, we are proud that we have an identified path forward, that our diversity goals are in progress, and that we are heading in the right direction. We have listened and we will continue to listen. We have learned and we will continue to learn.