Rick Westhead: Gymnastics Canada publicly praised coach who was fired after multiple complaints

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At 6:40 a.m. on May 31, 2019, Gymnastics Canada CEO Ian Moss sent an urgent and confidential email to the organization’s seven-member board of directors, explaining that he was about to fire l veteran trainer Alex Bard.

In his email, which was recently provided to TSN by a source, Moss wrote that he had received numerous formal and informal complaints about Bard and that the coach had not changed his behavior despite attempts. repeated to “educate” him.

“This confidential note is to inform you that I will be meeting with Alex Bard later today to inform him that I am removing him as National Team Coach…” Moss wrote.

“This decision is the result of formal and informal complaints I have received over the past two weeks regarding Alex’s behavior in his official capacity with Gymnastics Canada; the nature of these complaints is consistent with issues we have discussed with Alex in the past, and it appears our efforts to warn and educate him have not worked. As such, the gravity of the situation is at such a level that I have to remove him from his role.
Moss also wrote that he was worried about Bard’s health.

“I know this will be a shocking turn of events for Alex himself and I’m a bit concerned for his well-being – that’s why I’m traveling to Toronto to tell him the news directly knowing he will have family nearby in case of problems. Unfortunately, the severity of the complaints and the consistency of his behavior make it impossible to consider any further efforts to temper his behavior or educate him further – we have certainly tried many times.

But a few days later, when Bard’s departure from Gymnastics Canada was publicly announced, the organization wrote in a press release that Bard was stepping down “for personal reasons.” No complaint against him was mentioned.

“This is to inform you that Mr. Alex Bard has resigned as National Team Coach (Women’s Artistic Gymnastics) for personal reasons,” the statement read. “His resignation is effective immediately. Alex has been instrumental in the WAG National Team leadership group for the past two years and has helped the team reach their best [fourth-place] performance at the 2018 World Championships.”

Moss insisted in an Aug. 11 email to TSN that Gymnastics Canada handled Bard’s departure in 2019 appropriately. He confirmed that Bard had been removed from his post.

“Alex’s position was that of contracted national team coach and technical manager,” Moss wrote. “…I was relieving him of that position. That’s what I communicated accordingly.

Bard was one of Canada’s most prominent gymnastics coaches for over 30 years. After immigrating to Canada from Russia in 1977, he trained dozens of gymnasts who competed in five Olympics, 10 world championships, three Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games, his LinkedIn profile shows.

Two years after his alleged resignation in June 2019, TSN, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported that Bard was fired from his post following complaints that Bard was seen touching a teenage gymnast on her buttocks. .

Moss, however, continued to insist that Bard had resigned from the national team program for personal reasons, and on August 10, 2021, he forwarded a three-page memo titled “Response Statement from Gymnastics Canada to the July 30 TSN article” to provincial gymnastics federations. and local gym owners.

In the memo, which was provided to TSN, Moss chastised complainants who spoke to TSN about Bard and other Canadian coaches accused of misconduct, saying they may have undermined the integrity of the SafeSport process of Gymnastics Canada.

A year later, the revelation of Moss’ email detailing his role in Bard’s firing comes as more than 500 current and former gymnasts have called for an independent investigation in what they claim is a toxic culture in sports. Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Sports announced in July that Gymnastics Canada’s funding was frozen until it signed with the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which was set up to independently receive and investigate allegations of abuse and abuse. misconduct in sport.

Moss’s decision not to make public the reasons for Bard’s dismissal from Gymnastics Canada illustrates how organizations put future athletes and coaches at risk, said Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, an advocacy group based in Montreal for athletes, in an interview.

“This is further proof that Canadian sport is in the business of hiding with a short-term view of protecting its own people and the brand instead of the long-term goal of protecting athletes,” Koehler said. .

“A complaint should be enough to trigger action, but again, the sport favors its coaches and staff over athlete safety. [St-Onge] said herself that Canadian sport is in crisis, but no one to date has been held accountable for her inaction; not a single survivor saw justice served. Gymnastics Canada has proven that it is not fit for purpose. We need resignations, a full-scale cleanup, and people relieved of their duties. »

Kim Shore, a Gymnastics Canada board member from 2018-2021 who also served as chair of the organization’s SafeSport committee, said in an interview that she ‘screamed out loud’ when she read the statement. release announcing Bard’s departure.

“I was devastated that ‘resigned for personal reasons’ was the message,” Shore said. “GymCan had enough information to warrant a SafeSport investigation, but chose not to. When someone is allowed to resign for personal reasons instead of being investigated when there are complaints, they can coach anywhere in the country, in any sport. This deprives parents and athletes of the information they need to ensure a safe training environment.

While Shore said she resigned from the Gymnastic Canada board after saying Moss told her she had “extreme views” on child abuse, Shore said she disagreed. with the leaders of the organization from the time she attended her first board meeting.

“At my very first board meeting, everyone was talking in code about an internal investigation that had been conducted into the conduct of former Gymnastics Canada officials,” she said. “I was the chairman of the SafeSport committee, but I never saw a report and I was never told what happened.”

Shore said she attended board meetings when Bard’s alleged misconduct was discussed.

“I was present when another board member told GymCan management that Bard had been inappropriate with a young judge in an elevator, by unzipping her top halfway,” said said Shore.

In February 2021, the Gymnastics Canada board met with 22 coaches to discuss SafeSport issues, Shore said. She said coaches told the board they were upset that Bard had not been investigated by SafeSport and that there had been repeated incidents of Bard touching inappropriately young gymnasts.

Shore said she challenged Bard’s “resignation” at least three times to two Gymnastics Canada board chairs, including current board chair Jeff Thomson.

“In October 2020, I spent 90 minutes with Thomson giving him all the information,” Shore said. “He said he was going to find out. He spoke with the harassment officer. I was told to give up more than once.

On February 1, 2021, Shore emailed Moss and copied Thomson to say that the gymnastics community did not trust the national organization’s safe athletic processes. Many “have a strong feeling” that Bard was not always appropriate with his conduct, she wrote.

“…I strive for the transparency, within the confines of confidentiality, that our community needs from us to feel secure in its own behavior,” Shore wrote. “I ask if GymCan has been specific enough to communicate to members why he is no longer part of the organization, to ensure that (1) we leave no minors at risk and (2) be consistent with how GymCan responds to complaints that have a safe sport aspect to them, whether the person is a staff member or otherwise.

Moss did not respond to the email, Shore said. Thomson responded four days later.

“As much was *** (as much?) I wish we could go back in time and handle messaging differently, I really believe we need to drop this one and take away the key learning which is to never let this happen produce this way again,” Thomson wrote in his Feb. 5, 2021, email to Shore.

Thomson did not respond to a request for comment.

Bard confirmed in an interview with TSN on Thursday that he was aware of at least one complaint about his inappropriate touching with a gymnast.

“I am not aware of the details of any other complaints,” Bard said. “I remember a special session with just one bar in Calgary. The way I have been trained by the best Russian coaches is that the safety of the gymnast comes first… A coach mentioned to me that one of the gymnasts did not feel comfortable. I said if that was the case I really apologize, and he came over and told me it was no problem and not to worry about it.

Bard said Moss gave him the choice in May 2019 to step down or face a formal investigation into allegations of misconduct.

“I have nothing to prove to anyone,” said Bard, who is 80. “I’m not ready to go and prove my proper behavior. I didn’t feel like dragging on…My life, age-wise and what I’ve done for Canada, I think it’s It’s probably appropriate that I leave. If I feel I was wrong, I’ll apologize.


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