More than 70 Canadian gymnasts are calling on an investigation into what they say is a toxic culture and abusive practices within their sport in the country.
In a letter Monday to Sport Canada’s director general Vicki Walker, the current and retired athletes said that the fear of retribution has prevented them from speaking out for nearly a decade.
“However, we can no longer sit in silence,” the letter said. “We are coming forward with our experiences of abuse, neglect, and discrimination in hopes of forcing change.”
According to the letter, there have been multiple complaints and even arrests for various forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
The subject of the complaints have been Canadian coaches, many of whom athletes were exposed to as minors.
Former Canadian women’s Dave Brubaker was banned for life by Gymnastics Canada in 2021 following an internal investigation. Brubaker was found not guilty of sexual assault and sexual exploitation in 2019 after being accused of sexually assaulting a young gymnast years ago. He was arrested in December 2017.
“We know that there are many more examples of harm that have not yet come to light, and we know that abusive behaviours continue in gyms across this country today,” the gymnasts wrote Monday. “The current Board and CEO of GymCan have failed to address these issues and have failed to earn the trust and confidence of athletes.”
They pointed out that athlete complaints are currently directed to Gymnastics Canada CEO Ian Moss, who “wields significant power over athletes’ careers,” rather than an independent third party.
The athletes are calling for an independent investigation saying complaints to Gymnastics Canada have been unheard. They’re asking that the investigation incorporate the experiences of both current and retired athletes and include a public release of recommendations and findings.
The letter comes a month after a group that has grown close to 90 present and past Canadian bobsled and skeleton athletes wrote to their national organization asking for the resignations of their high performance director and acting CEO.
“We also express solidarity with our fellow athletes from other sports who have bravely called for change in similar ways, including bobsleigh and skeleton athletes who are currently advocating for a similar investigation into their national governing body,” the gymnasts wrote.
The letter was written by 71 Canadians gymnasts past and present including Olympians and national team members.
Copies were sent to Canada’s Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge, Canadian Olympic Committee president Trisha Smith, CEO of Own the Podium Anne Merklinger, and Gymnastics Canada president Ian Moss.
There is a growing chorus of athlete complaints. Rowing Canada announced last month it is planning an independent review of its high-performance culture and governance in the wake of concerns voiced by members of the rowing community in late 2021 and early 2022.
And an independent review into Rugby Canada’s high-performance programs painted a damning picture of a dysfunctional organization at odds with its athletes, staff and supporters.
Global Athlete, a worldwide athlete-led movement that was founded to address the balance of power between athletes and administrators, sent the letter on behalf of the gymnasts.