Minister suspends Gymnastics Canada funding until signed with office of safe sport

Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge is freezing Gymnastics Canada’s funding until the national federation signs off with the new Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner.

St-Onge said Thursday that he informed GymCan chief executive Ian Moss last week that the federation needed to speed up their registration process, or their funding would be suspended until they complete that requirement.

The minister said it was effective immediately.

The news comes just after more than 500 gymnasts asked St-Onge to do just that. St-Onge froze Hockey Canada funding in the wake of the national organization’s handling of an alleged sexual assault and an out-of-court settlement.

“I understand the sense of urgency that motivates these athletes and I share their call for meaningful change,” St-Onge said in a statement. “It has been my main focus since I was appointed, to work with the tools that I have and move towards solutions that encompass our sports system.

“One of those main solutions is the new Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC). It is fully independent and responds to what athletes and organizations have been asking for.”

St-Onge has asked all national sports organizations to sign on with OSIC.

Canada’s first Sports Integrity Commissioner, Sarah-Eve Pelletier, began receiving and addressing complaints of mistreatment in sports on June 20. It is unclear if OSIC will listen to historical complaints.

Gymnasts for Change, which represents more than athletes, wrote a public letter to St-Onge earlier in the day, requesting a suspension of funding, as well as repeating calls for an independent investigation into his sport amid numerous allegations of mistreatment. . Most recently, a trainer in Lethbridge, Alta., was arrested last week for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl.

Their initial request months ago, the gymnasts said, has been ignored by Gymnastics Canada (GymCan), Sport Canada and “now for his office, and to the great detriment of child gymnasts across the country.”

Several gymnasts told The Canadian Press earlier this week that they wondered if the abuse could have been prevented if their calls for intervention had been heeded.

“Over the last four months, we have publicly bared our souls, sharing stories of the devastating treatment we have suffered at the hands of our sport,” the letter said. “We have called for an independent third-party investigation to address the systemic culture of abuse that is prevalent in Canadian gymnastics.”

GymCan recently announced that it had commissioned McLaren Global Sport Solutions to do a “culture review” of the sport’s national governing body. But the gymnasts criticized the review because “it was bought and paid for by the very organization that will be investigated.”

The group Gymnasts for Change, which grew from the original 70 members three months ago, has called for a suspension of funding to prevent taxpayer dollars from being directed toward what they say will be an ineffective and damaging review that will “whitewash the experience of survivors”.

Thursday’s letter noted that GymCan and Sport Canada had been aware of the possibility of widespread allegations of ill-treatment. Moss told Sport Canada CEO Vicki Walker in August 2020, in a statement recently published by TSN, “there could be a wave of historic athlete complaints very soon.”

In April 2021 and again in December, survivors urged GymCan’s board of directors to launch an independent third-party investigation into the sport.

The gymnasts published their first public letter on March 28, urging Sport Canada to move forward with an investigation.

“According to this timeline, GymCan and Sport Canada have had knowledge and opportunity to act on suspected systemic abuse in gymnastics for at least two years and have done nothing, allowing the abuse against Canadian child athletes to continue without intervention,” the letter said. “We were hoping for a better and more urgent response from you.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 21, 2022.

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