Canada’s top bobsleigh, skeleton athlete calls for resignation amid allegations of toxic culture

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, accusing the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) of still being toxic – despite the organization touting a cultural shift following the departure of Kaillie Humphries in 2019 amid allegations of abuse.

The full list of signatories to the letter has not been disclosed by the organizers. However, CBC News has spoken to a dozen athletes and former athletes, and has verified the authenticity of the letter.

Athletes who spoke to CBC News said while cultural shifts have generally succeeded in improving the relationship between athletes and coaches, the BCS administration has not stopped short of bringing about positive change for the organization.

Canada won a bronze medal in the four men’s sledding at the Beijing Winter Olympics last month, as well as a bronze medal in the inaugural women’s monobob event.

VIEW | Justin Kripps led Canada to an Olympic bronze medal in a 4-man sled:

Justin Kripps leads Canada to an Olympic bronze medal in a 4-man sled

2018 Olympic champion pilot in a two-person sled, Justin Kripps of Summerland, BC, wins a bronze medal in the two-man sled event in Beijing 2022. 4:36

Fear culture

Athletes who spoke to CBC News all described a sombre culture, a culture in which they were afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal from the organization—namely, losing their place on the national team and thus their Olympic dreams. Those concerns are also reflected in letters signed by athletes who have competed for Canada since 2014.

“The BCS leadership style feels authoritarian, and the fear of reprisal silences the athletes and prevents them from asking any questions or concerns,” the letter reads.

“Athletes feel they don’t have a say in the things that directly affect them and face organizations that are unwilling to meaningfully address problems and make improvements.”

Athletes who spoke to the CBC also alleged concerns raised were often met with defensiveness from the organization, and their complaints ignored. When the BCS had taken steps to investigate the complaint, the athletes said the process was inadequate, as the letter also stated.

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

VIEW | Kaillie Humphries won monobob gold at the first Olympics as an American:

Kaillie Humphries won monobob gold in her first Olympics as an American

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

“Generally an investigation has been carried out to address this complaint, however the athlete is concerned about the timeliness, priority and process by which this matter has been addressed,” the letter read.

“Right now, the athletes don’t have the confidence in [BCS] to prioritize their safety, prevent new problems from arising, or ensure they are handled appropriately.”

Concerns surrounding the BCS process for dealing with complaints are not new.

In a 2021 decision from the Sports Dispute Resolution Center in the Humphries case, an arbitrator found that an investigator hired by BCS to examine Humphries’ complaint “started from a position where the tendency was not to interview witnesses,” the arbitrator ruled.

“Then he apparently reluctantly agreed to interview five of the six witnesses, in addition to the lead actor,” added the arbitrator in setting aside the findings of the investigation and ordering a new investigation.

Athlete safety issues

The athletes also alleged that their safety was not the main concern of the BCS.

In the letter, they pointed out how skeleton athletes were sent to the 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 while they were still in Beijing for the test event, BCS informed them that the national team selection race would take place a week later. Several athletes reportedly crashed during the team selection race after returning to Canada, they allege, because they were forced to jet lag off a Beijing trip.

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

Several jet-lag athletes also underperformed during the team-selection race, they alleged, citing mental exhaustion, and said the process for selecting the national frame team was unfair given the tight turnaround times for returning to Canada and coasting.

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

Teams selected at BCS discretion, athletes say

But the result of the selection race did not seem to matter, as a place in the national team was chosen at the discretion of the BCS. For example, on the women’s side, the two fastest sliders from the selection races are placed on the lower Intercontinental Cup circuits, while the third and fourth fastest sliders are placed on the top tier World Cup circuits.

Such clear discretion in choosing a team is another issue that the athletes exclude in their letter.

Justin Kripps, Ryan Sommer, Cam Stones, and Benjamin Coakwell, of Canada, skate for four players in the third round of the 2022 Winter Olympics, February 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. In a letter, 60 current and former athletes allege a place on the national team was chosen at the discretion of the BCS. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)

“BCS uses unilateral decision-making, while also ignoring best practice and athlete feedback. Policies and criteria need not be complex, relying heavily on the discretion of the coach or administration,” the letter reads.

“At first glance these policies seem strong. In reality, they only serve to reinforce the deeply held bias of the BCS, generate an anti-competitive environment, go against the fundamental essence of sport, and ensure in most cases that only athletes fit into the ‘BCS-ideal’.” ‘ will have the opportunity to compete.”

BCS plans a meeting to address the problem

In a statement, the organization said it appreciates athletes raising their concerns.

“We take our athletes’ concerns seriously. As we do at the conclusion of every four Olympics, we plan to meet with our athlete community in person as soon as possible to review and address their concerns,” the statement read.

“The meeting scheduling process has already started with our national framework program.”

Jackson Wintringham

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