Canadian gymnasts ask to suspend government funding for their sport amid devastating stories of abuse

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Athletes call for tougher measures, including third-party investigation and suspension of funding, as was done with Hockey Canada

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

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St-Onge said Thursday that she told GymCan CEO Ian Moss last week that the federation needed to speed up its registration process or its funding would be suspended until it met that requirement.

The minister said it was effective immediately.

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

“I understand the sense of urgency that drives these athletes and I share their call for meaningful change,” St-Onge said in a statement. “That has been my main goal since my appointment, to work with the tools I have and to evolve towards solutions that encompass our sport system.

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“One of those key solutions is the new Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC). It is completely independent and responds to what athletes and organizations are asking for.”

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

  1. London Police Chief Steve Williams.

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  2. In this 2002 image courtesy of Amelia Cline, gymnast Amelia Cline at the 2002 National Championships in Winnipeg, Canada.

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Canada’s first Sport Integrity Commissioner, Sarah-Eve Pelletier, began receiving and processing complaints of mistreatment in sport on June 20. It is unclear whether the OSIC will hear historical complaints.

Gymnasts for Change, which represents more than athletes, wrote a public letter to St-Onge earlier today, calling for the suspension of funds, and reiterating their calls for an independent investigation into their sport amid numerous allegations of bad treatments. More recently, a trainer from Lethbridge, Alta., was arrested last week for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl.

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Their initial request months ago, the gymnasts said, was ignored by Gymnastics Canada (GymCan), Sport Canada and “now by your 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 avoided if their calls for intervention had been heeded.

“Over the past 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 reads. “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 has commissioned McLaren Global Sport Solutions to conduct a “culture review” of the sport’s national governing body. But gymnasts have decried the exam because it is “bought and paid for by the very organization to be investigated”.

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The Gymnasts for Change group, which grew from an original 70 members three months ago, called for funding to be suspended to stop taxpayers’ money going to what they say is an ineffective and harmful review which will “whiten the survivor’s experience”.

Thursday’s letter said GymCan and Sport Canada were aware of the potential for widespread abuse complaints. Moss told Sport Canada CEO Vicki Walker in August 2020 – in a communication recently published by TSN – “there could be a historic wave of athlete complaints very soon.”

In April 2021 and again in December, the GymCan Board was urged by survivors to launch an independent investigation into the sport.

The gymnasts released their first public letter on March 28, urging Sport Canada to investigate.

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

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