Social Marketing and True Sport

- Creating the Conditions for Change


The Sport We Want

Every child deserves the opportunity to feel the purity and innocence of sport that has meaning. Every adult wants to see their child take part in sport that brings out the best in people, helps them discover their own potential and compels them to be the very best they can be, both physically and ethically. Ask anyone—they will often look back on a particular sporting event as one of those ‘perfect moments’ in their lives. Whether you’re participating in it or bearing witness to it, good sport can be truly life-changing.

But when sport becomes unethical, it becomes ugly. It becomes winning at all costs. It becomes the premeditated check into the boards that leaves a hockey player with a serious injury. It becomes the calculated decision to use banned steroids to gain half a second on the track. It’s the violent coach, the abusive parent and the negligent trainer.

When good sport is sacrificed for the lure of fame or fortune that comes with winning, we all lose a thing of beauty. In fact, we all just lose…period. True Sport, like most Canadians, wants to see more high performance athletes winning medals and hoisting cups above their heads; but not at the expense of everything else.

Canadians believe in the power of sport to produce positive benefits for individuals and their communities. Canadians also believe that it is not just any kind of sport that produces these benefits. It is good sport – sport that is values-based and principle-driven; sport that celebrates the thrill of winning; sport that is also focused, however, on winning hearts and minds.

The Purpose of True Sport

True Sport Patch Logo

True Sport is a series of programs and initiatives designed to give people, communities and organizations the means by which to leverage the many benefits of sport from a platform of shared values and principles. Through public consultation the values Canadians have told us that they want their sport experience based on are: Fairness, Excellence, Inclusion and Fun.

True Sport is dedicated to the notion that good sport can make a great difference. It is our mission to deliver programs and initiatives that…

  • Enable participants, parents, coaches and officials to articulate and act upon their deeply held belief in the virtues of good sport
  • Enable participants, parents, coaches and officials to identify with others holding similar values
  • Create a fair, safe and open atmosphere where good sport can grow stronger through inclusive competition at all levels.


To achieve these goals, we promote the following seven principles.


Always rise to the challenge, but not at the expense of others.
Discover how good you can be.



Play honestly and obey the rules, in letter and spirit.
Winning is only meaningful when competition is fair.



Show respect for everyone involved in creating a sporting experience, both on the field and off.
Win with dignity and lose with grace.



Cherish the joy of competition and the fun of sport.
Keep a positive attitude and look to make a positive difference, on the field and in your community.



Place physical and mental health above all other considerations and avoid unsafe activities.
Respect your body and keep in shape.



Share sport with others, regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or ability.
Invite everyone into sport to make it more meaningful for the whole community.



Always remember the community that supports your sport and helps make it possible.
Find ways to show your appreciation and help others get the most out of sport.



For sport to be truly good and have the opportunity to make the greatest difference, all seven of these principles need to be evident in the sport experience at all times, in perfect balance with one another.

The Lasting Impact of Good Sport

People know what a good sport community feels like. They can feel the buzz of anticipation at the rink, court or field. They can see the camaraderie amongst children of all shapes and sizes. Facilities are cared for and treated with respect. Events are well supported, with volunteers stepping forward at every level.

People also know what a bad sport community feels like. There are fewer adults around. There’s no welcoming smile. The atmosphere is intimidating. All the focus is on a few athletes. Organizations are controlled by cliques. Funding is low and public facilities mistreated.

We also know that the way we play together shapes how we live together.

Sport’s group dynamics, fuelled by an innate desire to compete, brings ethics, behaviour and conduct naturally to every face-off, starting block and penalty kick. These life lessons extend far beyond the court, the rink and the pool. Eventually, these ethical behaviours will be found in offices, industries and boardrooms when sport participants go to work.

We need to constantly remind ourselves, it’s the small actions and inactions that count. As parents, we need to control our emotions. As coaches, we must balance the needs of the individuals on a team against that team’s results. As an official we must admit and explain mistakes. As leaders of sport organizations, we must recognize the impact sport has on our spirit as well as our bodies. These small wins add up to a big win: the great benefits of sport in society as a whole.

This is the purpose of True Sport: to create an atmosphere where participants can remain true to the principles of true sport throughout their sporting life. True Sport is for every school gymnasium, every municipal rink and turf field in the country. If these communities are so full of good sport that bad sport can find no takers, we can worry less about our elite athletes losing their way. It is our belief that the combination of the purely physical and the profoundly ethical are necessary for the full development of a citizen, from child to adult.

The Impact and Role of True Sport

True Sport is no longer in the business of getting individuals to believe in the power and value of good sport – Canadians have already told us they believe. To date, over 2700 member groups (communities, schools, teams, leagues, facilities, clubs, individuals) representing millions of Canadians have joined the True Sport Movement. What these committed people need, and what they have been asking for is a way to influence their sport community to safeguard and promote good sport.

No one initiative alone can be expected to change the well entrenched negative behaviours that make the headlines. The combination of many programs and initiatives, undertaken over a sustained period of time and carried out in a connected and consistent fashion, will create the change we seek. True Sport wants to give those who believe in values-based and principle-driven sport the equipment they need to positively influence social norms. By anchoring our sport system on shared values, and by ensuring the intentional use of the True Sport principles to drive sport policy, programs and practices at every level of sport, we will eventually normalize these values and principles in Canadian sport.

Engagement in True Sport is never a mandate. Individuals and organizations choose —and commit— to live by the same set of principles whether they are a peewee coach, a soccer Mom or an Olympic athlete. They are the fundamental beliefs of any community that practices good sport. True Sport simply articulates those beliefs in a way that can be shared, promoted and defended.

In this regard, True Sport fulfils a role that no other organization in Canada does: we focus on how competitive sport can positively influence the behaviour of participants beyond the field of play. It is a role that the Canadians believe is necessary, as evidenced by our own research and by ongoing public debates over issues such as concussions in hockey.

True Sport is designed to help young athletes, parents, coaches, community leaders, etc. exercise their commitment to good sport and act upon their belief that it can make a great difference. It is the quiet, everyday actions of millions of parents and thousands of coaches that make the difference. At the grassroots level, athletes, coaches and parents don’t see themselves as forming a pressure group with a defined agenda. Instead, they are looking to those with authority over the running of sport to provide them with the guidance and tools they need to secure the kind of sport they want for themselves and the children in their care.

Since the turn of the century, there has been a relentless commercialization of sport by brands that still dominate the landscape. In today’s competitive sport industry, it is vital that good sport has its own brand, its own marketing campaign and its own sponsorship initiatives. True Sport’s red circle is that brand. It suggests a team that everyone can join in order to foster a national movement toward good sport.

True Sport is a branded initiative because without a brand we will not be able to compete with the other forces seeking to control the debate over what constitutes ‘good sport’.

It is only when winning excludes all other values that good sport goes bad. We believe that as we connect networks of True Sport members, there will be no hiding place for bad sport.

Children and coaches whose ethical framework is strong will win the argument against those who try to get around the rules or who attempt to use physical or emotional intimidation. In other words, True Sport communities will emerge where fair, safe and open competition is trusted as the only way to participate in sport – enabling good sport to make a great difference.

Photograph of Karri Dawson

Executive Perspective

Karri Dawson is the Director of True Sport Operations at the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and is one of the driving forces behind the True Sport Movement, animating champions and organizations that share common values and beliefs about what sport can do for individuals and the communities where they live.