Gymnasts angry at not participating in discussion of abuse

Laurie Ewing, The Canadian Press

Gymnasts expressed their anger at not being heard at an emergency meeting organized by Canada’s Minister of Sports regarding the mistreatment of athletes.

The open letter, published last Monday, was supported by at least 270 signatories.

Last Monday, a group of 70 gymnasts signed an open letter denouncing this reality. Then, over the past few days, that number more than tripled to 270 during the day on Friday. This departure of the gymnasts comes a month after dozens of bobsleigh and skeleton athletes demanded the departure of their national federation’s president and acting director of performance.

These public appearances, which are in addition to many others, prompted Minister Pascal Saint-Onge to call an emergency meeting on Thursday with representatives from various organizations, including the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium.

But the gymnasts decry the fact that they were excluded from the conversation.

Brittany Rogers is already an adult and retired from competition three years ago. However, the harsh words repeated to her in childhood during sports continue to haunt her like a galloping record.

You are fat. You are stupid. You’re not good enough.

“I don’t think I understood the extent of the damage until I retired from the sport,” Rogers said. And I could not think deeply about the impact that has had on my personality today, and the consequences that I continue to suffer before I retire.

Rogers, who represented Canada at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, is one of the signatories of an open letter sent to Sport Canada about abuse in sports and gymnastics in particular.

While incidents of abuse are alarming in all sports, physical and psychological abuse in gymnastics affects minors. These young people then carry these traumas into adulthood.

“New things come out almost every day,” Rogers says. My self-confidence is practically non-existent. I doubt myself. Sometimes I can’t even look at myself in the mirror because I judge my appearance so harshly or because it’s in me that I can never do it.

She says that as a child she had to step on the scale for every workout, and that today she still has to train hard six days a week for fear of gaining weight. The routine she hates.

“People don’t understand the long-term consequences of being told that they are fat, dumb and can’t do anything,” says renowned sports psychologist Penny Werthner.

“When you are physically, emotionally or sexually abused, it has long-term and often lifelong consequences,” adds the dean of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary.

Former athlete and former board member of Gymnastics Canada Kim Shor, who is also the mother of young gymnasts, says she was “disappointed” that the athletes were not invited to an emergency meeting.

The anger shared by the skating athletes has also been a source of denunciation.

“These are two groups that we know are mobilized, excited and speaking out in public,” explains Shor, who doesn’t understand the minister’s oversight.

For her part, the sports minister says she has accelerated the deployment of an independent sports safety oversight mechanism within the Sports Dispute Resolution Center of Canada, which will be mandatory for each of the federations. She promises that by the end of spring everything will be in place.

The minister called the situation a “crisis” in sports Canada, adding that since her appointment five months ago, at least eight sports federations have faced allegations of abuse.