Athletes paint a tough portrait of Canadian elite sports

Hundreds of active and retired Canadian athletes quickly explain how high-performance sports have disappointed them.

In Gymnastics Canada, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, Rugby Canada, Rowing Canada and even Artistic Swimming Canada, athletes have demanded many changes from coaches to senior managers over the past few months, better managing harassment and intimidation complaints. I have asked for. Elimination of opaque selection steps.

Due to the increase in cases filed by athletes, Federal Sports Minister Pascal St. Onji recently urgently prepared a consultation table and invested $ 16 million from the federal budget for a safe sports environment.

Since M.myself She says St-Onge was appointed to that position in October and has heard of cases of abuse, sexual abuse and abuse of funds in at least eight national sporting organizations. Mmyself St-Onge, who called this situation a crisis, expects more incidents to occur.

Suspicious organization

Canada has won numerous medals at last year’s Summer and Winter Olympics. After hearing recent complaints from athletes, what are the prices? What is the cause of this decline in athletes’ confidence in the leaders of the federation?

“Athletes always tell us that we don’t play sports just for ourselves and our coaches. They also do it to fund their sports and for their future, the University of Toronto. Explaining Bruce Kidd’s Professor Emeritus of Sports and Public Policy. It’s a heavy burden. »»

Founded in 2005 after Vancouver and Whistler won the 2010 Winter Olympics, Own the Podium (ANP) has a clear goal of putting Canadian athletes on the podium.

In addition to providing technical expertise to the National Sports Federation, ANP makes funding recommendations based on the potential of medals.

The organization currently has around $ 70 million in Canada’s high-performance envelopes of over $ 200 million, along with a sports federation with athletes who can reach the podium at the Olympics, Paralympics, and various world championships. These totals will be used to pay for training and competition.

ANP recommendations need to be approved by the federal government, but athletes are aware that ANP has some power over federal decisions.

“ANP’s mission is to help athletes and coaches who want to excel on the world stage,” defended Anne Merklinger, ANP’s president and CEO. The federation is leading a high performance program. These programs do not belong to ANP. »»

“Every athlete in this country should have the opportunity to train and perform at the level they desire in a healthy and safe environment,” she added.

However, these athletes find that the method the coach advocates is not immediately questioned after winning.

“We’ve seen everything from psychological abuse, humiliation, and harsh criticism to destroying the self-confidence of these athletes,” said Carla Edwards, a sports psychiatrist who works as a mental health counselor for top athletes. Says.

“They were literally told,’You don’t know anything, you don’t have anything.’ I think Canadian athletes are good enough. »»

Unhealthy culture

The fear of losing money can foster an organizational culture in which problems are not reported or blind. Others provide quick fixes that don’t touch the heart of the problem, he adds.myself Edwards.

“The Olympic coach told me that mental health was shit. There was nothing I could tell them that they could change their minds,” she added. These actions are allowed and allowed. […] That’s the old way. »»

Funding for the country’s high performance has long been tied to results. In this full-winning spirit, Ben Johnson was stripped of the 100-meter gold medal from the 1988 doping game, which led to the Dubin Commission on Doping.

“When these hearings took place, the athletes all testified the same. The enormous pressure from Sports Canada-whether to get money or not-was encouraged to dope, or the person in charge saw it. Made this culture closed. ”Remembers Kid.

They were literally told, “You don’t know anything, you don’t have anything.” I think Canadian athletes are enough.

Alpine skier Allison Forsythe recalls a sleep-deprived anxiety attack in the 2002 Salt Lake City game after it became clear that the federation would be underfunded if it didn’t win a medal.

“The fact that someone like me, ranked third in the world, didn’t mind winning the Olympics for her is ridiculous because of the funding associated with this victory,” she said. Says. Owning a podium only made things worse. »»

Forsyth realized that he was at the center of Canada’s biggest abuse case in sports when he agreed to be identified as one of the victims of director Bertland Charest. Charest was acquitted of sexual crimes against her because it happened outside Canada, but was convicted of numerous sexual crimes against some of his teammates who were teenagers at the time of the event in the 1990s.

She is currently working on implementing a safe sports environment, but is desperate for the lack of commitment from the sports federation to take responsibility for the mental health of athletes.

Forsyth has set up an independent committee to help the federation adopt compulsory harassment training for athletes, coaches, parents, officials and managers, adhere to the universal code of conduct and study complaints. It points out that it was established. Transferred by former Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan in 2019.

Adopting these measures does not guarantee that unhealthy culture within some federations will be curtailed, she warns. “Policies do not prevent abuse, and compliance with those policies does not mean that changes have been made,” Forsyth said. We cannot live in a black or white world when safe sports are in the gray area. »»

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