Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes reiterate calls for sport minister to improve what they call toxic culture

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More than 90 Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes, current and retired, are renewing their call to action from federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to help clean up what they say is a toxic climate within their national sports organization.

The BCS Athlete for Change group originally wrote a public letter in March calling for the resignation of Sarah Storey, president of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS), and high performance director Chris Le Bihan.

The athletes said in a letter sent Friday to St-Onge that systemic issues have plagued BCS for the 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 the growing deterioration in both sports of day-to-day operations, athlete participation at national and local level, overall performance and competitiveness on the international stage, and culture within organization.”

BCS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friday’s letter included a 24-page collection of athlete issues and experiences they had or observed, which was presented to the BCS Board of Directors. It included allegations such as fear of retaliation that silences athletes under a leadership style that “feels bossy” and the belittling 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 texting athletes with a sexual connotation.

“To date, nothing in this document has been addressed or corrected,” the letter states.

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The letter also included the findings of a recent review and assessment of BCS conducted by external consultant Nick Bass, the senior adviser for Own the Podium. The evaluation involved anonymous surveys as well as lively discussions with BCS staff, coaches and athletes to understand issues and identify gaps.

“The findings are consistent with the issues raised in our March 2022 letter, and [the 24-page summary of issues],” they wrote.

A letter of determination from the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner’s report was also included. In response to a July 24 submission from Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton Athletes for Change, OSIC said it had no jurisdiction to act on information submitted in the report, since BCS is not a signatory to the program.

St-Onge said NSOs will need to sign with OSIC to be eligible for federal funding, but so far Volleyball Canada and Weightlifting Canada are the only two NSOs that have done so.

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Canada’s Olympic silver medalist joins Andi Petrillo to talk about the issues bobsleigh and skeleton athletes have with their national organization.

“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 ruling. “The organization referenced in your report, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, is not a signatory to the program and therefore OSIC has no 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.

The letter comes amid what St-Onge called a “crisis” in safe sport in Canada.

Hockey Canada has been mired in sexual assault allegations that have seen many sponsors withdraw their support and St-Onge freeze their 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 problems … and therefore cannot be charged with fixing the organization in the future,” the letter states.

The bobsleigh and skeleton letter asks St-Onge to look beyond funding freezes to influence change, as it would only exacerbate the negative effects on athletes.

The letter was also sent to Anne Merklinger, CEO of ANP, David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Vicki Walker, Executive Director of Sport Canada, and Brian Rahill, Bobsleigh/Skeleton representative of ANP.


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