More than 90 Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes, current and retired, are reiterating their calls for federal sports minister Pascale St-Onge to help them clean up what they say is a toxic climate in their sport.
The BCS Athlete for Change group originally wrote a public letter in March calling for the resignation of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) President Sarah Storey and High Performance Director Chris Le Bihan.
The athletes say in their letter sent to St-Onge on Friday that systemic issues have plagued BCS for eight years, since Storey’s election.
“These issues continue to be ignored and unaddressed by the organization,” they wrote. At this time, we have seen a growing deterioration in both sports in day-to-day operations, in athlete participation at the national and local level, in overall performance and competitiveness on the international stage, and in the culture within the organization. »
BCS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This letter includes a 24-page summary of athlete issues and experiences experienced or observed, which was presented to the BCS Board of Directors. It chronicles allegations such as fear of reprisal that silences athletes under an “authoritarian” style of leadership and the disparagement of athletes in front of other staff and athletes.
According to the document, a “leading skeleton athlete was ridiculed in front of other bobsleigh and skeleton athletes”, and a skeleton staff member allegedly made unprofessional and inappropriate comments to coaches and athletes, including sending text messages to athletes with sexual overtones.
“To date, nothing recounted in this document has been addressed or corrected,” the letter states.
The letter also includes the findings of a review and assessment of BCS by external consultant Nick Bass, Senior Advisor to Own the Podium (ANP). The evaluation included anonymous surveys as well as discussions with BCS staff, coaches and athletes to understand issues and identify gaps.
“The findings align with the issues raised in our March 2022 letter and (the 24-page issues summary),” they wrote.
A letter of attestation from the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) report was also included. In response to a July 24 request from Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton Athletes for Change, OSIC revealed that it had no jurisdiction to act on information submitted in the report, since BCS is not a signatory to the program.
St-Onge said National Sport Organizations (NSOs) will need to be OSIC signatories to be eligible for federal funding, but so far Volleyball Canada and Weightlifting Canada are the only two NSOs that have done so.
“OSIC’s jurisdiction to administer complaints is limited to matters raised with respect to individuals who … are under the authority of a program signatory organization,” OSIC wrote in its decision. The organization mentioned in your report, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, is not a signatory to the program and therefore OSIC does not have the authority to further investigate issues regarding its individual participants. »
The athletes say the current national and local participation in bobsleigh and skeleton is “concerning”, and noted that in 2019 bobsleigh saw the departure of three-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries to the United States. There is an exodus of current athletes, they say, who choose to compete for other countries.
“The continued lack of recognition and action to address any of these concerns continues to create long term and detrimental damage to the sports of bobsleigh and skeleton in Canada,” the letter states.
This letter comes on the heels of what St-Onge called the “crisis” of safe sport in Canada.
Hockey Canada is mired in sexual assault allegations that have prompted many sponsors to withdraw their support and St-Onge to freeze federal funding.
Hundreds of former and current Canadian gymnasts have implored St-Onge to help clean up their sport amid allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse of athletes, many of them minors.
“We have witnessed the public and political outcry over the current Hockey Canada scandals and heard our political leaders say that the way sport and NSOs (National Sport Organizations) have operated in Canada with a lack of respect, security, governance and accountability will no longer be acceptable.
“Current BCS management and administrative staff have shown an unwillingness to acknowledge and address their issues and cannot be entrusted with the task of making fixes in the future,” the letter said.
The letter from bobsleigh and skeleton athletes asks St-Onge to look beyond funding freezes to influence change, as this would only exacerbate the negative effects on athletes.
The letter was also sent to Anne Merklinger, President and CEO of ANP, David Shoemaker, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Vicki Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Sport Canada, and Brian Rahill, Bobsleigh/Skeleton Representative of ANP .