I’ve written repeatedly about the mistreatment (verging on psychological abuse) of Canadian Olympian Sinead Russell while at the 2012 London Olympics, but this is not the full extent of athlete mistreatment and abuse that Swim Ontario (SO) and Swimming Natation Canada (SNC) have committed. The pattern of athlete mistreatment and abuse ranges not over one incident, the fact is that there is a culture of athlete abuse & mistreatment based on the evidence that the actions taken by both SO & SNC spanned years and included numerous policies implemented with the intention of harming athletes:

  • SO affiliated swim club delisting was executed as a form of athlete ‘punishment’,

  • athlete blacklisting so that as additional ‘punishment’ no other SO affiliated swim club would accept an athlete ensuring by SO & SNC that blacklisted athletes could not gain access to the sport of swimming, and

  • elimination of the ‘unattached’ category of registration with SO and SNC to ensure that no blacklisted athlete could ever gain access to the sport of swimming, and if that wasn’t enough…

  • SO implemented a moratorium on new swim clubs to ensure that access to the sport of swimming was limited, again ensuring access to the sport of swimming was available only for those that SO & SNC did not deem a threat to their organizational reputations.

Sinead Russell was on one such team that was delisted. Can you imagine training for over a decade for the opportunity to represent your country at the Olympics and just weeks before Canadian Olympic Trials, Swim Ontario (SO) and Swimming Natation Canada (SNC) team up to ensure that your chances of making it to Olympic Trials – forget about the Olympics – is made infinitely more difficult, if not impossible.

Sinead had to find another team that would accept her in those final days before Canadian Olympic Trials (with that team and coaching themselves risking delisting as a result of associating with Sinead) just to have the opportunity to make Olympic cuts, all the while knowing that both SO & SNC were actively working to try and prevent her from succeeding.

If this is not considered all-out psychological warfare against an athlete then I don’t know what counts as athlete abuse. That SO & SNC managed to get away with this still boggles the mind, but now its clear who is aiding and abetting SO & SNC… Sport Canada!

Indeed… Sport Canada through its addition of the “organizational reputation” clause into the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS) has provided all PSOs and NSOs the policy statement that allows for athlete abuse to continue without consequence. With PSOs such as Swim Ontario and NSOs such as Swimming Canada able to argue that all of the above athlete punishments were appropriate because without these actions the risk was that their organizational reputations could be compromised is exactly how SO & SNC have gotten away with what a Safe Sport Officer confirmed as athlete mistreatment.

Think about that… a Safe Sport Officer confirms athlete mistreatment, but is unable to do anything about it because… SO & SNC use the “organizational reputation” clause to substantiate the policies they implemented.

What is the point of having Safe Sport Officers if they are not free to investigate all allegations of abuse & mistreatment, even when committed by a PSO or NSO? Why have PSOs and NSOs been placed out of reach of investigation, of review, of audit? Why have PSOs and NSOs been placed above the law? No one is above the law. Place anyone above the law and immediately you allow for abuse. Why encourage abuse of power… huh, Sport Canada?

Note to Sport Canada: you have completely destroyed any power that the UCCMS had to assist athletes in times of mistreatment and abuse. You have rendered UCCMS completely impotent because PSOs and NSOs have an escape clause… “our organizational reputation was perceived to be at risk”… “that’s why we had to punish”, and punish severely and repeatedly athletes [who in reality only wanted to swim].

Along with Sinead, my own two children aged 10 and 12 at the time were on that swim team that was delisted by Swim Ontario. Furthermore, there were at least another 50 if not 60 children on that team who were not only delisted but subsequently blacklisted (as parents we shared emails of how local SO affiliated swim teams refused to accept our children clearly under the direction of SO & SNC to ensure that any swimmer from the delisted club had no opportunity to swim). No my children will never have the opportunity to regain the years they lost as a result of SO & SNC deeming them a risk to their organizational reputation but my hope is that this doesn’t have to happen to any other children.

But that would require Sport Canada to realize what it has done by adding the “organizational reputation” clause into UCCMS and would require Sport Canada to rewrite UCCMS eliminating all opportunities for PSOs and NSOs to substantiate athlete mistreatment & abuse. If this did happen then SO & SNC could finally be fully audited in light of the policies that they have implemented to ‘punish’ (aka mistreat) athletes, neglect athletes (e.g. Sinead at the 2012 London Olympics), and ‘groom’ coaches into mindless spineless gutless pawns that must comply with policies which end up mistreating athletes (or risk banishment from the sport of swimming).

If we simply review the cases of athlete abuse… from USA Gymnastics protecting their team doctor, to Ohio State University protecting its own sport doctor, to Athletics Canada protecting DST the pattern is clear & consistent: PSOs and NSOs did NOTHING despite allegations of athlete abuse, why? Because someone’s reputation was on the line, and because someone’s reputation was on the line, NOTHING was done… in some cases for years, in others for over a decade resulting in hundreds upon hundreds of cases of abuse.

If PSOs and NSOs can hide behind “protecting their reputation”, if Safe Sport Officers are prevented from investigating PSOs and NSOs because “the organizational reputation” clause is cited… then we have learnt nothing from all the cases of abuse that have happened and we are swinging wide open the door to new cases.

Its up to you Sport Canada, who will you protect: athletes or the “organizational reputation” of PSOs and NSOs? Its one or the other, but it cannot be both simultaneously.

“Silence” athletes by stating that their allegations risk harming the ‘organizational reputation’ of a body and…

The reputation of the cross-country coach had to be protected, the reputation of the University had to be protected, everyone had to be protected, except the athletes…

Click here to link to the full article at runningmagazine.ca