Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes object to non-disclosure clause in contract


Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes fear their national federation is trying to silence them, saying a clause in their athlete agreement contradicts safe sport principles.

The Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton Athletes’ Agreement for 2022-2023 includes a clause that athletes will not “disclose or transmit to others” any information that paints BCS in a bad light. And the non-disclosure clause remains in effect for six months after the termination or completion of an athlete’s contract.

“It basically draws attention to the very thing that we’re complaining about, that it’s all very one-sided, they hold the power and they keep digging in extending the force that their power can be wielded, to tell us as athletes that we cannot speak negatively against BCS,” said one athlete, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

The clause has been in the contract for at least four years, according to several athletes who spoke to The Canadian Press on Monday.

But their fear of retaliation has grown since more than 60 current and former athletes publicly called for the resignation of BCS President Sarah Storey and High Performance Director Chris LeBihan on March 7, amid what they called toxic environment in their sport.

Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, a global athlete rights organization, said the clause “is a great example of a federation putting athletes’ rights last”.

“The only way forward is to allow athletes freedom of expression when issues arise,” added Koehler, who is based in Montreal. “Everyone has a fundamental right to freedom of expression. They are humans first, athletes second.”

The more than 60 athletes who wrote the letter in March grew to more than 90 in the days that followed and were supported by Olympic champion Justin Kripps and bronze medalist Christine de Bruin. De Bruin told the Toronto Star that “all along the track [at the Beijing Olympics], I was like, ‘F-you, f-you, f-you.’ I really did it despite BCS,” she says of the medal.

WATCH | Athletes describe the toxic culture at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton:

Athletes describe a toxic culture at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes are calling for the resignation of two top Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton officials following issues with the organization’s handling of safety issues and complaints.

Several national sports organizations, including Athletics Canada, Canada Basketball and Water Polo Canada, told The Canadian Press that they had no such clause in their agreements with athletes.

“Woah. I would never sign that,” said a longtime national team athlete, who doesn’t do bobsleigh or skeleton.

Water Polo Canada adopted the model Athlete Agreement drafted by AthletesCAN, in partnership with many Canadian sport representatives, in 2019. NSOs were strongly encouraged to use this agreement.

Boxing Canada has a clause that states that an athlete: “Not publicly disparage (including through social media) or advance any grievance against Boxing Canada, Boxing Canada staff or coaches, members of the National Team or other HPP (High Performance Program) athletes except through Boxing Canada’s Complaints and Appeals Policies and Dispute Resolution Procedures provided therein.”

Canadian boxers wrote a similar open letter to Sport Canada on May 4 calling for a third-party investigation and the resignation of high performance director Daniel Trepanier, saying Boxing Canada was cultivating a toxic culture of fear and silence. Three-time world champion Mary Spencer told The Canadian Press that Trépanier “should have been fired years ago.” Trépanier resigned four days after the letter was sent.

WATCH | Mandy Bujold on the resignation of Boxing Canada’s High Performance Director:

Mandy Bujold speaks after Boxing Canada’s High Performance Director resigns

Canadian Olympic boxer Mandy Bujold joins CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey to discuss the fallout from Daniel Trepanier’s resignation following allegations of a toxic sports environment within the program.

Madison Charney, who recently retired as a skeleton athlete, said the BCS athletes’ deal leaves no room for negotiation.

“Athletes can’t come back and say, ‘We’re okay with these sections, [but] you have to change those sections before we sign them,” said Charney, who competed on the World Cup circuit for several years but was not named to Canada’s team for the Beijing Olympics.

“It’s different being an amateur athlete compared to a professional athlete, where they understand that you are the asset. Our federation doesn’t understand that we are the asset.”

In what Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has called a safe sport “crisis,” the past few months have seemed like the floodgates are opening. Hundreds of Canadian gymnasts have called for an independent investigation and retired gymnast Amelia Cline recently filed a class action lawsuit against Gymnastics Canada and six provincial gymnastics federations alleging years of physical and mental abuse by her coaches.

Rowing, rugby, synchronized swimming and women’s soccer also called for a cleanse of the toxic culture of their sport, while the Canadian men’s soccer team refused to play the Cup tune-up match. Sunday’s World Cup against Panama amid a contract dispute between the players and the national sports directorate. body.

St-Onge expressed his support for athletes speaking out, telling The Canadian Press in March that “it is because of their strength and courage that we are acting with an even greater sense of urgency.”

Several bobsleigh and skeleton athletes said little has changed in the three months since their public letter. They said they rejected a BCS proposal for third-party mediation, after Michelle Simpson was appointed mediator. Simpson was also the mediator in Kaillie Humphries v BCS. Humphries won two Olympic titles for Canada, but joined the USA team amid its uphill battle against the Canadian federation and raced to gold for the USA this year in Beijing.

“We never entered an arena [of mediation]“, said an athlete. “The way BCS went about it contravenes its own policies as to how a mediator is selected; it’s supposed to be a mutually agreed third party. We felt that [the mediator selected] was not an act of good faith and these would not be good faith discussions.”

The BCS Board of Directors said in a statement Monday that it is “working on a process proposed by National Team Athlete Representatives which, at the request of those representatives, requires Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton to maintain confidentiality.

“The Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton Board of Directors remains committed to identifying and resolving issues raised by athletes through this forum which encourages open dialogue and transparency.”

At the council’s request, the athletes last month submitted a 24-page document containing their complaints.

Charney said the nondisclosure “continues the gaslighting that we’ve had for the past 20 years. They’ve encouraged us to speak up and they’ve encouraged us to bring our ideas to the table. And as soon as we do, we are reprimanded.”

Bobsleigh and skeleton will host national team camps next month in Calgary, so athletes will need to sign agreements – also a requirement to receive government funding or carding – in the coming weeks.

Charney said that despite the frustration of the past few months, she is proud that bobsleigh and skeleton have been able to pave the way for athletes from other sports to express themselves.

“We are grateful to have given other people a platform to speak up because we know how difficult it was to come forward initially and to be able to allow other athletes to do so. , it was worth it.”

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