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Gymnasts say they're dismayed by Sport Canada's call for a third-party investigation

A group of more than 400 Canadian gymnasts are angry over Sport Canada's response to calls for a third-party investigation into their sport, saying it "deflects and defers any meaningful action.
Canada's Brittany Rogers watches the scoreboard during the artistic gymnastics women's qualification at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Julio Cortez

A group of more than 400 Canadian gymnasts are angry over Sport Canada's response to calls for a third-party investigation into their sport, saying it "deflects and defers any meaningful action."

Gymnasts for Change Canada -- a group that has grown from an original 70 to close to 450 current and retired athletes -- wrote to Sport Canada late last month pleading for an investigation into the sport's toxic culture and maltreatment of athletes, many of them minors.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Sport Canada's director general Vicki Walker, they said her response "closely resembles how Gymnastics Canada has responded to athletes for decades. As the leading sport authority in Canada, we expect stronger leadership. Instead, we are left with yet another Canadian organization enabling systemic child abuse and failing to step into their obligatory duty of care.

"Every day sport fails to act is another day athletes remain subject to abuse. How many more children need to be abused? How many more, because of this abuse, will contemplate suicide or self-harm before Sport Canada implements meaningful action?"

Walker's April 20th letter to the gymnasts commended the athletes for their "courage and resilience in coming forward." She said that since 2018, Sport Canada has introduced new requirements of federally-funded organizations, supported the development of the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport, and supported the establishment of the first Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner to receive and manage reports from victims and witnesses.

Sarah-Eve Pelletier, a lawyer and former artistic swimmer, was appointed commissioner on April 6.

The gymnasts' complaints come amid an outcry from athletes in numerous sports about toxic environments. Bobsled and skeleton athletes penned a similar letter to Sport Canada, asking for a third-party investigation and the removal of their CEO and high-performance director. New federal sport minister Pascale St-Onge said, in her first five months on the job, she heard accusations of maltreatment, sexual abuse or misuse of funds directed aimed at eight national sport organizations. St-Onge called the situation "a crisis."

"We are dismayed at your reluctance to provide at least some insight into why Sport Canada will not yield our call for an independent, third-party investigation," the gymnasts wrote Monday. "Instead, you have opted to completely abdicate responsibility, offer information that is already publicly available, leave athletes with no justice or reprieve for years of endured abuse and offer NO hope for a better future."

The gymnasts said they stand "strong and united" in their call for an independent investigation. They also noted that Walker addressed her letter incorrectly, to "Global Athlete Gymastic athletes."

"There is no such group," they said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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