… made me revisit my interactions with Swimming Canada and its Safe Sport Officer regarding the post titled “Ritalin: a PED”. What I mean is this…
In the case of running coach Dave Scott-Thomas (DST), you have a coach whose resume has virtually every major international competition on it, meaning that this coach was no stranger to Athletics Canada. Coach DST was at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 2017 Worlds, the 2016 Rio Summer Games and it keeps going for over a decade to his start as Head Coach of the 2005 FISU Games. Which begs the question…
How is it that this coach is accused of professional misconduct yet no one in over a decade ‘saw anything’?
Or… is it a case where a coach [DST] who the Globe&Mail in a December 2019 article classify as the coach who “put Guelph on the map, transformed a modest track and cross country program into one of the greatest dynasties in Canadian university sports history. A coach who has won 35 coach of the year awards. A coach who trained some of Canada’s best runners including Reid Coolsaet and Krista DuChene” simply did so much ‘good’ for the sport in general that certain details were dismissed until those details couldn’t be dismissed any longer (mainly because the abused would go public if there wasn’t follow through by the sport organization)?
I don’t know the answer, but it definitely begs the mental exercise of a discussion.
How Athletics Canada severed ties with DST and then shortly thereafter with the University of Guelph comes across as a bit of over-compensation. Why was severing ties with DST insufficient? Why did Athletics Canada have to sever ties with the University and feel obligated to state that a full internal review of its own operations would follow this incident? A full review of internal operations would be necessary… perhaps because the leadership was informed of concerns, informed of allegations of abuse, and the leadership did… nothing?
This is the issue at hand… the doing ‘nothing’ part. Sitting idly by, for what… years? Allowing the concerns to build, allowing the allegations to build, but hamstrung because a coach or team doctor was deemed invaluable, hence untouchable. If this is indeed the case, does this not make the leadership equally responsible when doing ‘nothing’ can be deemed aiding and abetting? It would explain why both Nike closed the Oregon Project and Athletics Canada closed the Centre of Excellence so swiftly.
Yet we are hearing over and over again of stories of abused athletes as if they are isolated cases yet they are anything but! In regards to Canadian swimmer Derek de Jong, the CBC reports that as many as 300 former Ohio State students are joining the lawsuits that school officials knew about the concerns but did nothing. In regards to the USA gymnastics team doctor… a BBC article reported that there were 265 identified victims of abuse, and countless unidentified victims. The BBC article went on to state that:
“USA Gymnastics says every director of its board has now resigned in the wake of the scandal. The US Olympic Committee demanded the board step down or face losing its governing authority. “We are in the process of moving forward with forming an interim board of directors during the month of February,” said a statement by USA Gymnastics. About 140 victims are suing Nassar, USA Gymnastics and MSU, seeking monetary damages from institutions they accuse of ignoring the allegations.“
Its time for sport organizations executives and boards living on the go-to escape pattern of finding an athlete or coach as a scapegoat as a distract and deflect strategy to come to an end.
Which is why I decided that the outcome of my interaction with Swimming Canada and its Safe Sport Officer needs to be shared: because the discrimination and/or psychological abuse of Canadian Olympian Sinead Russell at the 2012 London Olympics – as described in the blog titled “A Canadian Olympian – An Untold Story” despite ending up in the hands of SNC’s own Safe Sport Officer and despite the Safe Sport admitting to the culture that allowed that to happen to Sinead… has resulted in… nothing! No investigation, no internal review, nothing in terms of consequence.
Isn’t it amazing? The entire National Team of swimmers… let me repeat, the entire National Team representing Canada in London all knew how Sinead was being treated not only by SNC but by the entire delegation of coaches, so much so that they printed t-shirts with a special hidden message embedded showing their solidarity with Sinead, yet no one else, not a coach not a single Swimming Natation Canada (SNC) representative saw anything or said anything. And as if that wasn’t enough now SNC’s own Safe Sport Officer attempts to ‘cover up’ what happened by sweeping it under the carpet.
The fact that the t-shirts supporting Sinead had to have a hidden message speaks for itself: all National Team swimmers felt at risk of consequences if their show of support with Sinead was made known! What sort of team culture exists if athletes feel threatened to speak out against discrimination and abuse? No wonder it takes years and years and unfortunately serious mental and emotional health issues if not suicide before one breaks their silence… only for many more to follow. If Sinead was treated as such… how many others have been treated similarly?
Its the same pattern over and over again: people in positions of authority, of power, of oversight failing to fulfill their duties, sweeping whatever they want and can under the carpet; eventually resulting in hundreds of cases of athletes coming forward with stories of pain, suffering, cutting, of attempted suicide.
Indeed, coaches need to be held responsible for their behaviour, and all Canadian coaches who were members of the Olympic Team that went to the 2012 London Games should be held responsible and liable for the treament Sinead experienced prior to and during the Olympics Games. But it shouldn’t end with the coaches, the entire executive of SNC and its Board should be equally responsible and liable and an investigation should occur to identify who knew what, when and why wasn’t anything done to ensure that Canadian swimmer Sinead Russell was provided appropriate and an equal level of coaching and care that all other National team members received. If not an issue of abuse, then clearly its an issue of discrimination.
If the Government of Canada and Canada’s Olympic Committee are truly interested and invested in sport being safe – free of abuse, free of discrimination – for athletes, then NSO and PSO Boards and Executives should be investigated alongside each and every athlete and coach who is investigated in order to discern who knew what and when, and what actions were taken, and if no actions… why not.
Hence I call for an audit by Aquatics Canada and/or by the Canadian Olympic Committee into the actions of the Executive and Board of Swimming Natation Canada (SNC), the Executive and Board of Swim Ontario and all National Team Swim Coaches who attended the 2012 London Olympics in regards to their awareness and their allowance (direct or indirect) of discrimination and/or psychological abuse of Canadian Olympian Sinead Russell at the 2012 London Olympics.
With the SNC Safe Sport Officer confirming that these actions did occur in London 2012, the issue is not if, but who.
Not long after the post titled “Ritalin: a PED” I was contacted by the CEO of Swimming Natation Canada (SNC). He came across expressing concern about the well-being of athletes and stated that if I was open that an independent investigator – a Safe Sport Officer – would follow up to obtain as much information as possible.
Having dealt with SNC many times in the past, I didn’t fall for the false sincerity over concern over the well-being of athletes (knowing full well that the CEO’s concern was amounting to little more than a CYA effort) but I thought it would be interesting to go along and play SNC’s game just to see what they were up to… and possibly – as I am an eternal optimist – hoped that the Safe Sport Officer would truly be an independent investigator who would look beyond the surface of this issue and be willing to dig deeper into the swamp that lurks below: the culture of SNC itself.
In short order I was contacted by said Safe Sport Officer.
They informed me that they were truly independent and would investigate independently.
It sounded too good to be true, so I figured a test was appropriate in order to assess the true extent of this independence.
I asked the Safe Sport Officer to consider a wider perspective on the issue so I asked the Safe Sport Officer to first read and review the post titled:
Untold Story of a Canadian Olympian
The Safe Sport Officer said that they would.
They did, and this is how they replied…
Unbelievably to me, the Safe Sport Officer replied that the “culture” at the time of the 2012 Olympics which resulted in the story of Canadian Olympian Sinead Russell, did exist and although troubling is now in the past. The Safe Sport Officer then turned the conversation back to the use of Ritalin, eager that I provide a list of athlete names.
I replied to the Safe Sport Officer: you just admitted to a culture of witch-hunting at SNC, and in the same sentence you want me to hand over a list of names for what… another SNC led witch-hunt where another group of athletes would be used as ‘examples’ like Sinead Russell was in London 2012?
In that moment it was evident that the Safe Sport Officer had no interest in doing anything to address the actual issue.
Hearing that the treatment of Sinead Russell would be again swept under the carpet, the farce that is “Safe Sport” became evident.
Loads and loads of talk… everyone talks about being so concerned, but when it comes to action… nothing.
To add, the reality that both the CEO of SNC and the Safe Sport Officer opened the discussion with a lie by each stating that it would be an independent investigation when it was later revealed that the Safe Sport Officer is in a financial conflict of interest [Red List SDRCC COI] as a result of being a contractor of SNC helped me realize the extent of the farce: to perpetuate that all is well, lies upon lies are told with the hope that a handful of athletes and parents – perhaps if lucky a coach – can be caught and held out to hang like Sinead Russell as an example to all other swimmers, parents and coaches. In the end, nothing changes at the NSO or PSO level.
Safe Sport… yeah right… sport is not safe when only athletes & coaches are accountable for their behaviour; sport will only be safe when the Executive and Board of NSOs and PSOs are held equally accountable for their own behaviour and the behaviour they permit, perhaps even create and cultivate.