What is it?
The Flag System for Sport is a framework to help figure out if a behaviour is ok or not, and suggestions for possible ways to respond. It was developed in Belgium as the Sensoa Flag System©, and is licensed from the International Centre for Ethics in Sport.
How can you use it?
You can use our Flag Tool for Sport to assess any behaviour that you have experienced or witnessed; Or, you can read sample Flag System scenarios in our Resource Centre to learn how it works and to understand appropriate behaviours.
All behaviours lie somewhere on the spectrum between “totally OK” and “seriously not OK”, and this tool can help you figure out where on that spectrum a behaviour might be. It’s possible that two people could get different results when assessing the same behaviour – that’s alright, it’s an opportunity to have a discussion and figure things out together using the Flag Tool as a framework.
No information is collected, nothing other than the number of users is tracked, and no complaint is filed – so it’s a safe way to work through any situation and get suggestions for possible ways to respond.
The guidance below is intended as a quick reference and is not meant to be exhaustive. IT DOES NOT, AND IS NOT INTENDED TO, CONSTITUTE OR PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. Users are strongly encouraged to consult with any or all of child welfare, law enforcement and legal counsel as appropriate to a given situation. You should seek legal advice before acting in a way that may create or result in liability. We cannot guarantee that all information is always accurate or complete.
How does it work?
The Flag System uses six criteria to assess a behaviour, and four flag colours to describe whether the behaviour is ok or not, and how serious it may be. It then provides guidance on how to respond to everyone involved, to the bystanders, and to any applicable policies.
Flag System Criteria
The Flag System is based on a set of six criteria, originally developed by Dr. Erika Frans.
(Frans, E. (2018). Sensoa Flag System: Reacting to sexually (un)acceptable) behaviour of children and young people. Antwerp, Belgium – Apeldoorn -The Netherlands; Garant.)
- Was there consent?
Is there individual consent or societal agreement for the behaviour? A behaviour is only okay if all clearly agree and are comfortable with it.
- Was it voluntary:
Did everyone choose to be in the situation of their own free will?Did everyone feel that they could say “stop” at any time and get out of the situation?
- Was there equality:
Inequality between those involved can be due to a difference in age, number of people, knowledge, intelligence, power, function of position, life experience, and maturity. In bullying situations, there is always inequality to the disadvantage of the victim.
- Was it appropriate for age or stage of development?
The behaviour is appropriate for the age and level of development of the people involved.
- Was it appropriate for the sport context?
The behaviour fits within the roles and responsibilities of each person and are appropriate for the sport environment.
- Was there an impact?
The people involved are not harmed, either by others or by themselves.
These six criteria are used to decide on the “flag colour”, along with four other factors:
- Degree of intimacy
(light, intrusive, or invasive)
- Degree of impact
(annoying, fearful, or prolonged anxiety)
(no awareness of consequences for the other, and knowledge that the other person is being harmed)
Flag colour meanings
Based on the criteria above, a “flag colour” can be chosen. You can use our Flag Tool for Sport to figure out which colour a behaviour may be.
Green flag behaviours are ok!
Yellow flag behaviours are moderately unacceptable and may be a “boundary transgression” in the language of the BC Universal Code of Conduct (BC UCC) and the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS)
Red flag behaviours are seriously unacceptable, are likely to be considered maltreatment, and may be prohibited by the BC UCC and the UCCMS.
Black flag behaviours are very seriously unacceptable, are likely to be considered maltreatment, are prohibited by the BC UCC and the UCCMS, and may breach the criminal code as well.
How to Report
If you need to report a complaint about maltreatment in sport, you’ll need to determine which organization to file your complaint with.
These are general guidelines, as the options are changing rapidly in Canada.
How to report the incident:
To a sports organization:
- Send your documentation to the organization where the incident occurred
- Check the policies of the organization to see who to contact.
- Keep a copy of your report, and record of when you submitted it.
- If there’s a conflict of interest, you can report to the next level up (club complaints can be taken to the provincial organization, for example)
To Abuse-Free Sport, Canada’s central third party complaints organization for sports:
- Some sports are eligible to use the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) for complaints. See the resource below for a list of sports and what levels (national, provincial/territorial, and/or local).
- For guidance and advice on how to report a breach of the code of conduct, and if your complaint might be eligible for OSIC, you can contact the Canadian Sport Helpline.
To the police and/or child protection in British Columbia, if applicable:
- If it’s an emergency, call 9-1-1. If it’s not an emergency, call the non-emergency line for the police detachment where the incident (allegedly) occurred.
- If a child is in immediate danger, call the police to intervene and a child protection social worker should be contacted to determine whether the child is in need of protection.
- If you think a child or youth under 19 years of age is being abused or neglected, you have the legal duty to report your concern to a child welfare worker. Phone 1-800-663-9122 at any time of the day or night.
Need guidance with making a report?
Canadian Sport Help Line
- Experiencing Harassment?
- Experiencing Abuse?
- Experiencing Discrimination?
If you or someone you know is experiencing maltreatment in sport, reaching out for support can be an important part of healing. The resources below may be helpful in finding mental health support.
Please note that these are not organizations that can handle complaints about maltreatment in sport – they are there to support people who may be affected by it or other issues in their lives.
If it’s an emergency
Call the Crisis Services Canada 24-hour hotline: 1-833-456-4566 / Text 45645
(In Quebec: 1-866-277-3553)
OR call 9-1-1
For a comprehensive database of mental health and other services in Canada, searchable by postal code:
OR call 2-1-1