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Canadian Athletes

Excerpt from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)


Canadian Athletes

Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, we have heard much about our Canadian athletes as of late. They lead by example day in and day out. What is less discussed are their stories off the field of play that demonstrate their resilience and are sometimes more profound than their athletic accomplishments. For my purposes today, it is not their exploits on the field I would like to highlight but instead their leadership outside of competition.

As you will recall, shortly before the Paralympics opened in Tokyo, Kabul had fallen to the Taliban. Many Afghans worried about what was to come. Would they face repercussions? Would their families? As you can imagine, for those who competed in athletic competition for the joy of it — particularly women — these fears were front, centre and immediate.

Since 2012, it has been my privilege to mentor women in Afghanistan. I have also participated in and supported the Secret Marathon, an incredible annual event connected with International Women’s Day and spearheaded by hopeful young Afghan women. It has been humbling to observe their growth, their desire to learn and their desire to lead.

I and others in the Canadian sports and education community were contacted by several athletes, coaches, sports leaders and leaders in the LGBTQ2+ community to help them get out of Afghanistan.

Their stories were all gut-wrenching. My heart broke, and I knew we had to do whatever was possible to help. I still cringe to think that some of these athletes who marched into the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in July were now running for their lives as their homes were invaded and personal property destroyed.

Over the hours, days and weeks, we collectively used every government, NGO and sport and education connection we could to leverage their escape from Afghanistan. I am proud to say that these connections, made through the love, humanity and unity of sport, led to the escape of dozens of Afghan athletes and coaches from the country.

By September, through this work and other work done by the Canadian and International Olympic Committee, specifically the Solidarity unit, every athlete who participated in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games was out of Afghanistan with humanitarian visa in hand. There is little that is more powerful than when I received a photograph of a family last week moments after they were able to leave Afghanistan.

As we know, there are still many seeking support and their escape from Taliban rule. We continue to push and work with other countries to assist, facilitate and leverage wherever possible. I know there are a number of domestic and international leaders working collectively on the ground to help facilitate a move to Canada or to another country or to support refugees when they arrive. The degree of community at the international level and in Canada never fails to give me hope. Our national sports community has stepped up, like others, to exemplify our Canadian values in their response to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Thank you, meegwetch.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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