There’s nothing about the battle that Canada’s bobsled and skeleton athletes are waging against their national sport body that comes as a surprise to three-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries.
She’s not surprised, for example, that more than 80 current and former sliders have signed a letter citing a “toxic” culture in the organization and claiming that athlete safety has been “disregarded,” along with problems related to transparency and governance, including “ gross mismanagement.”
And Humphries says she is certainly not surprised that Sarah Storey, president of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, and Chris Le Bihan, the high-performance director, have not resigned as the athletes have called for, and are instead trying to fix things with an “independent mediated process.”
“I sounded the alarm four years ago and I was painted as the problem,” says Humphries, referring to her harassment claim against head coach Todd Hays, who also named Storey and Le Bihan.
She left the Canadian program to compete for the United States — and won Olympic gold in monobob at the Beijing Games last month — but she’s still in the midst of an official process with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton that began in 2018.
In July 2021, an arbitrator for the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada, the nation’s highest sports court, ordered a new investigation after determining the first one was “neither thorough nor reasonable.”
“I had to risk ending my career in order to get away,” says Humphries, who lives in San Diego with husband Travis Armbruster, a former US bobsledder.
“If I had not gone to Team USA, I wouldn’t have gone to the (Beijing) Games, I wouldn’t have an Olympic gold medal. I’d still be in the process with Bobsleigh Canada — effectively there’s no time frame. I could be in this for the next 10 years.”
The experiences of Humphries and other athletes who have been through mediation is part of the reason why some who signed the letter say they feel the system is rigged against them. They reject Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s plan for group mediation and want to skip straight to a “truly independent investigation.”
In a public statement, the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton board says: “We’re committed to identifying and resolving the issues brought forward by athletes through a forum that encourages open dialogue and transparency, including the participation of BCS athletes and staff.”
Going down that road means “we’d be putting ourselves in that same scenario that Kaillie found herself in a few years ago,” says Toronto bobsled pilot Cynthia Appiah, adding that in her opinion the process hasn’t been fair to athletes.
Humphries’s split from the Canadian team was bitter, and she remains a controversial figure. But for some athletes and observers, what’s happening now shows her fight de ella with the federation in a new and broader light.
“There’s a reason she jumped ship and went to the US,” says Rob Koehler, CEO of Global Athlete, an athlete advocacy group. “She wasn’t being treated fairly. She had investigations that were proven not to be independent and are now being run again. The lived experience from athlete to athlete is totally different, but the root of the problem is exactly the same.”
What leaves him particularly disappointed, he adds, is the lack of public support for athletes from decision-making bodies.
“You have 80-plus athletes that have come together clearly expressing the abuse and maltreatment that’s happened within the sport and no one has even whispered or spoken up in support of them — whether that’s Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee or Own the Podium, Koehler says.
“It shows exactly where the athletes stand in the system.”
Own the Podium, responsible for high-performance sports funding in Canada, says it supports the governing body’s plan to work with athletes through mediation as a first step.
Humphries says that when she fought for her release from the Canadian team and launched a harassment claim, she was called a backstabber and a traitor. This new front, opened last week by many bobsled and skeleton racers, means “more people get to see the entire picture, which feels nice,” she says. “But it’s really sad that this is how athletes were treated, and are still being treated, by the same administration.”
She adds that she’s confident change will happen this time because there’s power in numbers: “I don’t think they can vilify the athletes the way they did me. They can’t explain away every single story because there’s a recurring theme here.”
Leaving the Canadian federation after her first three Olympic medals, two golds and a bronze, turned out to be the right move for Humphries, but it shouldn’t have been necessary, she says.
“I would have loved to stay. And had they listened to me four years ago — had they been willing to work with me, instead of paint me as a villain or somebody that makes demands and is really hard to work with, and is the problem — then potentially it would have saved these athletes from another four years of it getting worse.”
The Canadian News
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