Canada’s top bobsleigh and skeleton athletes call for resignation amid toxic culture allegations


Some of Canada’s top bobsleigh and skeleton athletes are calling for the resignation of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton President Sarah Storey and High Performance Director Chris Le Bihan.

A group of more than 60 athletes have written an open letter to the organization, alleging that Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) is still riddled with toxicity – despite the organization touting a culture change after Kaillie Humphries left in 2019 at the amid allegations of harassment.

The full list of signatories to the letter was not disclosed by its organizers. However, CBC News spoke to a dozen current and former athletes and verified the authenticity of the letter.

Athletes who spoke to CBC News say that while the culture change has generally been successful in restoring relationships between athletes and coaches, the administration of BCS has not waited until the end to make positive changes to the organization. .

Canada won a bronze medal in the men’s four-man event at the Beijing Winter Games last month, as well as a bronze medal in the first women’s monobob event.

WATCH | Justin Kripps leads Canada to Olympic bronze medal in 4-man bobsleigh:

Justin Kripps leads Canada to Olympic bronze medal in 4-man bobsleigh

2018 Olympic champion pilot in the two-man bobsleigh, Justin Kripps of Summerland, British Columbia, won the bronze medal in the two-man bobsleigh event at Beijing 2022. 4:36

A culture of fear

The athletes who spoke to CBC News all described a dark culture, a culture where they are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals from the organization, namely losing their place on the national team and therefore their Olympic dreams. These concerns are also reflected in the letter, signed by athletes who have competed for Canada since 2014.

“BCS’s leadership style appears authoritarian and fear of retaliation silences athletes and prevents them from asking questions or concerns,” the letter reads.

“Athletes feel they have no voice in matters that directly affect them and face an organization that is unwilling to meaningfully address concerns and make improvements.”

Athletes who spoke with CBC also allege that concerns raised were often met with a defensive attitude from the organization and their complaints were ignored. When BCS took steps to investigate the complaints, athletes say the process was inadequate, as the letter also mentions.

Through a spokesperson, Storey and Le Bihan declined CBC’s request for an interview about the letter.

WATCH | Kaillie Humphries wins monobob gold at first Olympics as an American:

Kaillie Humphries wins monobob gold at first Olympics as an American

Calgarian Kaillie Humphries, who won two Olympic gold medals for Canada in women’s bobsleigh, won her first Olympic gold as an American on her monobob debut at Beijing 2022. 3:41

“In general, investigations have been undertaken to resolve these complaints, but athletes are concerned about the speed, priority and process by which these issues have been resolved,” the letter states.

“Athletes right now don’t have confidence in the [BCS] to prioritize their safety, prevent new issues from arising, or ensure they are dealt with appropriately.”

These concerns about BCS’s complaints process are not new.

In a 2021 Sports Dispute Resolution Center ruling in the Humphries case, an arbitrator found that an investigator hired by BCS to review Humphries’ complaints “started from a position where his tendency was to only question no witnesses,” the referee said.

“Then he seems to have reluctantly agreed to hear five of the six witnesses, in addition to the main actors,” added the arbitrator, reversing the conclusions of the investigation and ordering a new investigation.

Athlete Safety Concerns

Athletes also say their safety is not a primary concern for BCS.

In the letter, they highlight how the skeleton athletes were sent to an Olympic test event in Beijing on October 21, without a coach, where the team was getting used to the new track.

Athletes who spoke to CBC News said that while they were still in Beijing for the test event, BCS informed them that the National Team Trials races would take place a week later. Several athletes reportedly crashed during the team selection race back in Canada, they claim, as they were forced to slip jet-lagged from the trip to Beijing.

Canada’s Blake Enzie competes in a test event for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Yanqing National Sliding Center in October 2021. Canadian skeleton athletes were sent to the event without a coach. Only three of the athletes who attended the event competed in the Olympics three months later. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Some of the jet-lagged athletes also underperformed in the team selection race, they allege, citing mental fatigue, and say the national skeleton team selection process was unfair given the tight deadline to get back to Canada and slide.

Only three of the six athletes who attended the event made it to the Olympics three months later.

Team chosen at BCS discretion, athletes say

But the results of the selection races didn’t seem to matter, as national team spots were chosen at the discretion of BCS. For example, on the women’s side, the two fastest sliders from the selection races were placed on the lower Intercontinental Cup circuit, while the third and fourth fastest sliders were named on the World Cup circuit. leading.

Such apparent discretion in team selection is another issue the athletes objected to in their letter.

Justin Kripps, Ryan Sommer, Cam Stones and Benjamin Coakwell of Canada slide during the third round of four at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 20, 2022 in Yanqing District in Beijing. In a letter, 60 current and former athletes say the national team spots were chosen at the discretion of BCS. (Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press)

“BCS uses one-sided decision-making, while ignoring best practices and athlete feedback. Policies and criteria are unnecessarily complicated, highly dependent on coach or administration discretion,” the letter reads.

“At first glance, these policies appear sound. In reality, they only serve to reinforce deep-seated BCS biases, which creates an anti-competitive environment, contrary to the fundamental essence of the sport, and ensures in many case that only athletes who fit into the “ideal BCS” will ever have the opportunity to compete.”

BCS plans meeting to address concerns

In a statement, the organization said it appreciated the athletes who raised their concerns.

“We take the concerns of our athletes seriously. As we do at the end of each Olympic quadrennial, we plan to meet directly with our athlete community as soon as possible to review and address their concerns,” the statement read.

“The meeting planning process has already begun with our National Skeleton Program.”

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