Humphries backs Canadian sliders: ‘I sounded the alarm’

There’s nothing about the battle Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes are waging against their national sports body that surprises three-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries.

She’s not surprised, for example, that more than 80 current and former sliders signed a letter citing a ‘toxic’ culture in the organization and saying athlete safety has been ‘ignored’, along with related issues. transparency and governance, including “gross mismanagement.

And Humphries says she’s certainly not surprised that Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton President Sarah Storey and High Performance Director Chris Le Bihan haven’t stepped down as the athletes requested, and are instead trying to settle things with an “independent”. mediated process.

“I sounded the alarm four years ago and was portrayed as the problem,” Humphries said, referring to her harassment complaint against head coach Todd Hays, who also named Storey and The Bihan.

She quit the Canadian program to compete for the United States – and won Olympic gold in monobob at the Beijing Games last month – but is still in the middle of a formal process with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton which began in 2018.

In July 2021, an arbitrator from the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada, the nation’s highest sports tribunal, ordered a new investigation after determining the first was “neither thorough nor reasonable.”

“I had to risk ending my career to run away,” said Humphries, who lives in San Diego with her husband Travis Armbruster, a former American bobsledder.

“If I hadn’t gone to the United States team, I wouldn’t have been at the Games (in Beijing), I wouldn’t have had an Olympic gold medal. I would still be in the process with Bobsleigh Canada — indeed, there is no time limit. I could be in there for the next 10 years.

The experiences of Humphries and other athletes who have gone through mediation are part of why some signatories to the letter say they feel the system is rigged against them. They reject Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s group mediation plan and want to move straight to a “truly independent investigation.”

In a public statement, the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton Board of Directors states, “We are committed to identifying and resolving issues raised by athletes through a forum that encourages open dialogue and transparency, including participation of BCS athletes and staff.

Going this route means “we would end up in the same scenario that Kaillie found herself in a few years ago,” says Toronto bobsleigh pilot Cynthia Appiah, adding that she doesn’t feel the process has been fair to athletes.

Humphries’ separation from the Canadian team was bitter and she remains a controversial figure. But for some athletes and observers, what is happening now shows his fight with the federation in a new and broader light.

“There’s a reason she jumped ship and went to the United States,” says Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, an athlete advocacy group. “She was not treated fairly. It has been the subject of investigations which have been proven not to be independent and which are again ongoing. The experience from athlete to athlete is totally different, but the root of the problem is exactly the same.

What particularly disappoints him, he adds, is the lack of public support for athletes from decision-making bodies.

“You have over 80 athletes who have come together to speak loud and clear about the abuse and mistreatment that has happened in sport and no one has even whispered or spoken out on their behalf – be it Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee or Own the Podium,” says Koehler.

“It shows exactly where the athletes are in the system.”

Own the Podium, responsible for funding high-performance sport in Canada, says he supports the governing body’s plan to work with athletes through mediation as a first step.

Humphries says when she fought for her release from the Canadian team and filed a harassment complaint, she was called a traitor and traitor. This new front, opened last week by many bobsleigh and skeleton racers, means “more people can see the whole picture, which is nice,” she says. “But it’s really sad that this is how the athletes were treated, and are still being treated, by the same administration.”

She adds that she is convinced that change will happen this time around because numbers have power: “I don’t think they can vilify athletes like they did with me. They can’t explain every story because there’s a recurring theme here.

Leaving the Canadian federation after her first three Olympic medals, two gold and one bronze, turned out to be the right decision for Humphries, but it shouldn’t have been necessary, she says.

“I would have liked to stay. What if they had listened to me four years ago – if they had been willing to work with me, instead of painting me as a bad guy or someone who makes demands and is really hard to work with , and that’s the problem – then it would have potentially saved these athletes after another four years of aggravation.

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