Canadian Bobsleigh skeleton turmoil traced to election

The sports minister orders a fast-track audit of the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton amid allegations that the organization has caused “physical, mental, emotional and financial suffering” to athletes

The federal sports minister has ordered an audit of the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) after athletes challenged the organization’s plans to hire a third-party mediator.

A second open letter from 87 athletes on March 21 called the BCS proposal a plaster solution that would not resolve “the physical, mental, emotional and financial suffering resulting from the failure of the BCS organization.”

“We continue to believe that BCS cannot move forward to address athlete concerns in a positive or productive way with the current leadership, and again recommend that at a minimum, the board president/acting CEO [Sarah Storey] and high performing director [Chris Le Bihan] closed until this process is completed,” reads the open letter, which did not mention the names of the athletes.

One Olympic-level athlete, who asked not to be named for fear of losing funds, said in an interview that mediation would not fix “structural integrity issues” at BCS.

“The last eight years, we have exhausted every internal mechanism that has been given to us,” says Slider.

Federal sports minister Pascale St-Onge responded by using his powers to expedite regular BCS Sports Canada audits to ensure compliance with all federal contribution agreement requirements, including finance and governance.

During the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021, $2.35 million of BCS’s $3.4 million budget came from Sport Canada. Only $249,000 came from sponsors and donors. When Vancouver hosted the Olympics in 2010, BCS reported sponsorship of $804,000.
St-Onge said the government was also working to establish, by the end of the spring, an independent reporting process through the Canadian Sports Dispute Resolution Center that would be mandatory for all federally funded national sports organizations.

“Let me be clear: there is no place for harassment, harassment, discrimination or abuse in sport. I want to acknowledge the courage of the athletes who have come forward,” St-Onge said in a statement.

The first letter on March 14 came two weeks after the 21-member Team Canada left the Beijing Olympics with just two bronze medals. Two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Kaillie Humphries won her first gold for the United States in the new monobob event. He dropped out of the Canadian team in 2019 due to the coach’s verbal and mental abuse.

BCS spokesman Chris Dornan said Storey was not available for interview, but sent a statement from the board acknowledging it received two letters and plans to upgrade. “We believe that constructive dialogue and a clear plan of action will bring about positive change,” the statement said.

Storey responded to athletes following a March 14 letter saying that BCS, with the support of Own the Podium, would engage an independent third-party mediator to hold meetings with athletes and other stakeholders, including the board, management and funding agencies. This process is in addition to the routine post-Olympic debrief.

Frustration with Storey’s leadership has been festering since his election. The attorney is the vice president who helped draft a new version of the BCS rules in 2013 and is accused of using the new rules to win the presidency in 2014. Storey also serves as BCS chief executive, although Canada’s Sports Governance Code states that no board member is may serve as CEO or interim CEO during their tenure as directors.

Rivals for the presidency in 2014 filed a whistleblower complaint with the Canadian Olympic Committee, which inadvertently shared the complaint with Storey. Rita Vathje has asked COC to keep her name secret to protect her daughter, member of the national skeleton team Elisabeth Maier, from retaliation.

Vathje alleged that “with unregulated voting membership and not registered with the Ontario province Bobsleigh Framework Association, president Max Storey gave 196 provincial member representatives (the majority of votes counted) to elect his sister, Sarah Storey, president of BCS.”

Hacking group “Fancy Bear”, which is affiliated with the Russian government, published the complaint in early 2018. Nonetheless, Storey was re-elected to another term later that year, unopposed.

Max Storey, Olympic organizing and bidding consultant, was involved in developing the sliding center for the 2014 Sochi and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

A national team athlete who did not want to be named, now regrets signing a power of attorney in 2014.

“I only trust this person that they have my interests in mind. And that, you know, this is just another form to fill out. I didn’t realize I was signing my vote in the sense of being involved, I think, in Sarah’s takeover.”

Vathje’s complaint also mentions that elite athletes paid huge sums to compete in the world cup race to qualify for PyeongChang 2018, but Storey had withheld financial information from membership. Vathje declined to be interviewed.

Sarah and Max Storey’s father, Bob Storey, was a three-time Canadian Olympic bobsleigh (twice as athlete, once as coach), president of the BCS from 1976 to 1994 and president of the International Bobsleigh and Framework Federation from 1994 to 2010.

In 2018, Sarah Storey withdrew her challenge for the IBSF presidency, citing transparency and poor governance. Ivo Ferriani, who beat his father in 2010, won a third term.

Bob Storey is also known in Lower Mainland as the founder of South Fraser Broadcasting, which owns Richmond’s CISL and Z95.3 FM radio stations. He was chief international strategist for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics bid. In 2012, longtime president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and IOC member Rene Fasel said: “Vancouver wouldn’t have won the 2010 Olympics without him.”

Hadwin Floyd

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