Over 100 Canadian boxers call for High Performance Director’s resignation

More than 100 Canadian boxers are calling for the resignation of Boxing Canada‘s Director of High Performance, Daniel Trépanier, and an independent inquiry into sport culture and safe sport practice.

In a letter sent to Sport Canada on Wednesday morning, the athletes said Boxing Canada has cultivated a toxic culture of fear and silence.

“There has been a consistent trend for over a decade where Boxing Canada athletes and coaches who have spoken out against wrongdoing or stood up for what is right end up outside the organization” , indicates the letter. “Many athletes feel they have experienced physical abuse, psychological abuse and organizational neglect due to their inability to address these issues. Repeated attempts have been made to bring these issues to light. light, and they were ignored or rejected.”

Athletes painted a picture of a toxic environment where favoritism ran rampant, leading to arbitrary decisions about things like team selection, compounded by a lack of communication.

“I always felt like there was this push of almost having to do it on your own because you weren’t getting any help from them,” said 11-time national flyweight champion Mandy Bujold. twice at the Pan American Games. gold medalist and two-time Olympian. “It definitely made you think from time to time: Why am I doing this? What’s the point?”

Three-time Canadian heavyweight champion Bryan Colwell left amateur boxing behind to turn pro, saying he had “a very, very tough and trying experience with Boxing Canada.”

“All the things reported about favoritism and toxic training environments, it’s all true, and we’ve all experienced it in different ways,” he said. “I was not one of the favorites, and it was clear every day that I was [in Montreal].”

The Victoria native, who trained at the team’s home base in Montreal for a year, said for example he was sent to Bulgaria on two days’ notice to fight, along with his international ranking — and therefore its federal funding status — at stake.

“I didn’t find out from my team, but because the Boxing Canada account manager called me to confirm my flight time, and I said ‘What flight?’ “You are going to Bulgaria. Don’t you know?” It was my only chance to compete [internationally] all this year.”

He lost his first fight.

The boxers said they compiled a comprehensive collection of experiences and submitted it to Boxing Canada’s board of directors, but no formal investigation has been launched to look into the allegations.

Wednesday’s letter was signed by 121 current and former boxers since 2008. It was sent to Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge, Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger, Boxing Board of Directors Canada and AthletesCAN.

“Crisis” in Canadian Sport

The letter comes amid what St-Onge called a “crisis” in Canadian sport. She said there were accusations of mistreatment, sexual abuse or embezzlement directed by at least eight national sports organizations in her first five months in office.

Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes wrote a similar letter in March calling for the resignation of their interim president and high performance director. They said they would not participate in the proposed mediation, calling it a “quick fix”. And a group of some 70 gymnasts – it has since grown to more than 400 – have written to Sport Canada demanding an independent investigation into their sport’s culture of abuse.

WATCH | Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes speak out:

Athletes describe a toxic culture at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

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The boxers identified four main areas of concern: governance and transparency, safety, toxic culture, and harassment and restriction of opportunity.

They said there was a lack of transparency and fairness around things like the distribution of funds.

There is a “blatant disregard” for both the mental and physical health of athletes, including allegations of sexual misconduct which have been “ignored and unreported” to the board. They wrote that athletes often train and compete in dangerous environments and have been forced to train despite clear signs of concussions or with significant weight disparities.

Boxers say athletes have experienced and witnessed harassment in the form of homophobic, misogynistic and sexist comments by program management.

Problem with team selection

And Boxing Canada’s team selection decisions, they said, are based on subjective discretion. This has prompted several top athletes, they said, to turn professional earlier than expected and other athletes to compete for other countries internationally.

“Perhaps most concerning is that Boxing Canada has shown a complete inability or unwillingness to meaningfully address many of these issues and work towards real positive change,” they wrote.

Another Canadian champion, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, was told he was “too old to be worth developing” and believed preferential treatment had been given to an athlete based in Montreal.

“My dream of participating in the Olympics quickly turned into a nightmare, because I had the door closed in my face quite quickly by Daniel Trépanier”, says the boxer, who became a pro shortly after.

Although there have been some recent “superficial changes” to the governance structure, the Boxers said “there is no indication that past concerns of athletes and coaches have been resolved or that there have been any changes concrete and significant in 2022”.

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, Boxing Canada said it “takes pride in values ​​such as health and safety, integrity and accountability and takes these concerns very seriously.”

The national organization said it has taken steps in recent months to improve transparency and governance, including creating a high performance advisory group and separating the role of high performance director from coaching responsibilities.

Additionally, under the direction of the Board of Directors, Boxing Canada engaged a third-party expert in March to conduct a high performance culture review, “to ensure athletes and coaches can excel in a challenging environment. ‘optimal training’.

Newly hired Sports Integrity Commissioner

Former artistic swimmer Sarah-Eve Pelletier was hired last month as Canada’s first sports integrity commissioner. She will oversee the central core of Canada’s new safe sport program through the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada. St-Onge promised that the office, which was assigned to the SDRCC last summer, will be operational by the end of spring.

It will receive complaints of alleged mistreatment in sport, launch independent investigations and recommend sanctions against those found guilty of offences.

Many athletes said they thought the abuse reporting process through the SDRCC would not be truly independent.

Bujold made international headlines when she and her lawyer Sylvie Rodrigue attacked the International Olympic Committee – and won – its human rights lawsuit, based on her pregnancy, to compete in Tokyo.

She said her experience with Boxing Canada included dealing with so many little frustrations for so many years that it “almost became normal.”

“And now that I’ve taken a step back and have teammates dealing with this stuff right now, it hits you differently. I’ve always been able to put it aside and focus on performance, try to focus on the things that matter,” she said.

“Athletes don’t need that extra stress. Competing is hard enough. And you know, they shouldn’t have to struggle with their own sports organization either.”

Bujold said it would be good for the next generation of his sport to be able to train and compete with a “clean slate”. Colwell agreed.

“Representing your country is a big deal and there’s a lot of pressure on you, and on top of that you’re fighting against your organization. You feel it’s not about the athletes at all, it’s a matter of ulterior motives, it’s a matter of agenda.”

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