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Alberta cross-country skier Beckie Scott appointed Officer of the Order of Canada

By Kristy Koehler, January 22 2019—

Last December, Canmore resident and cross-country skier Beckie Scott was one of 15 Canadians appointed Officer of the Order of Canada. An anti-doping advocate and champion of athlete’s rights, Scott has had an incredible career — and she’s not even close to finished.

At the 2001 Salt Lake City Olympics, Scott became the first North American woman ever to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing when she captured bronze. Her involvement with the clean sport movement began shortly after, when her bronze medal was subsequently upgraded to gold because of positive drug tests for the two Russian skiers who finished ahead of her.

“I was pretty mobilized by that and inspired by the notion of the importance of fair play and a level playing field,” she said.

In 2005, Scott became chair of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA)’s Athlete Committee. Established to represent the views and rights of athletes, the committee was designed, according to WADA, to provide “insight and oversight into athletes’ roles and responsibilities as it relates to anti-doping.”

Scott was also a member of WADA’s Compliance Review Committee but resigned in 2018 after the decision was made to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). Their original suspension followed Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren’s 2015 report of Russian doping coverups. The report prompted Scott to take action. A vocal champion of the rights of clean athletes, she created the Anti-Doping Charter of Athlete Rights, a document that will be embedded into WADA’s Code in 2021. 

Scott said the Charter was created to let athletes know that they were being heard.

“It was really borne out of the Russian doping scandal because […] when the McLaren Report was published and the scope of the doping fraud and the corruption that had taken place was revealed and exposed there were a lot of athletes that reached out to us as an Athlete Committee to ask for our help and to speak on their behalf in terms of their rights,” she said.

“We as an athlete committee really take our responsibility to clean athletes seriously and we wanted to come up with a real solution to this problem, firstly to let athletes know that they had been heard because we also recognize the challenges that face athletes when it comes to speaking out — it’s really daunting,” Scott continued. “To say to these athletes, we hear you, we support you, but we also wanted to have a concrete solution.”

After her retirement from skiing, Scott worked for Right to Play, getting involved in sport for development, defined by the organization as the use of sport as a tool to improve people’s lives and enlarge people’s choices. In 2009, she became an ambassador for Spirit North, an organization that brings cross country skiing to Indigenous communities. Scott says she saw the potential for sport for development, especially in Indigenous communities. She acknowledged that, like many Canadians, she had never been to an Indigenous community before. When she did, she found the experience eye-opening, even shocking, in terms of the socio-economic disparity she witnessed.

Scott says she started to put the pieces together and see what sport for development could do for Indigenous children and youth in Canada. After being on board for a number of years as an ambassador, Scott decided to take over the program and restructure the organization. She saw the potential to expand and Spirit North officially became a charity in the summer of 2018. The organization now works in multiple areas of Western Canada and engages well over 6,000 children and youth annually.

“The program delivery model begins with outreach,” Scott said. “We have a dedicated team of coaches and volunteers who go and visit communities and bring the equipment and they spend the day with a skills-based, play-based program that essentially just gets kids outside and exercising.”

Spirit North works with communities and community partners to develop the program into regular sport programming so that the coaches are seeing the kids regularly. The next phase of the program involves what Scott calls “building community capacity” — identifying community members that want to lead and facilitate the program. Spirit North provides coaching certifications, mentorship and opportunities. The program eventually becomes community-owned and -led.

Scott says Indigenous athletes are underrepresented in the Canadian high-performance sport landscape, but Spirit North has potential to change this, simply by virtue of providing opportunities.

“Competition is not one of our aspirations but it’s certainly become one of our outcomes to the most positive and welcome effect,” Scott said.

Eventually, participants get to the level where they wonder what’s next. To answer that, Spirit North has begun to introduce them to competitions, even operating their own competitive circuit — two races each year in Alberta — for Indigenous athletes. 

Scott says that university campuses can do more to ensure Indigenous students receive opportunities to participate in sport.

“There’s a lot that can be done and it starts with awareness. It starts with recognizing our place of privilege as non-Indigenous Canadians and also our responsibility and accountability to every member of our society in terms of opportunity and creating welcoming environments,” she said.

“Sport is one of those great and amazingly easy tools that is so capable of breaking down barriers. Sport is a really natural way for reconciliation to start. Maybe it starts with an invitation or recruitment but it goes beyond that. It goes to cultural awareness and sensitivity and engaging in respectful dialogue and just opening those doors.”

For her achievements and outreach, Scott has been inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame. 

“I have one foot in the bright side of sport which is sport for development and seeing all the positive and powerful impact that sport for development has and the difference it can make,” Scott said. “And, I also have a foot in the dark side which is doping and corruption. I’m fighting for justice on both sides.”

No one would blame Scott if she were jaded by her first-hand experiences with doping in sport. But she is friendly, compassionate and has channelled her experiences into something positive that will benefit athletes in Canada and around the world for years to come.

“I feel really lucky actually because I’ve found a new passion outside of my own professional career — that’s not easy for athletes,” she said. “I think a lot of athletes, particularly Olympians, who have reached what we define as success in their careers, sometimes have trouble transitioning and finding that next path for their passion and their energy. But I feel really lucky because I have work that’s very challenging but also incredibly inspiring.”

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