More than 100 Canadian boxers are calling for the resignation of Boxing Canada’s high performance director Daniel Trepanier and an independent investigation into the sport’s culture and safe sport practice.
In a letter sent to Sport Canada on Wednesday morning, athletes said Boxing Canada has cultivated a toxic culture of fear and silence.
“There has been a consistent trend for over a decade where Boxing Canada athletes and coaches who spoke out against wrongdoing or advocated for what is right end up outside of the organization,” the letter said. “Many athletes feel they have suffered physical abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect by the organization because of their failure to address these issues. Repeated attempts have been made to bring these issues to light, and they have been ignored or dismissed.”
Last year, they said, a comprehensive collection of boxers’ experiences was submitted to Boxing Canada’s board of directors, and no formal investigation was launched to look into allegations.
Mandy Bujold, a double Pan American Games gold medallist, two-time Olympian, and 11-time national champion, tweeted: “I stand with the athletes and coaches! #Timeforchange.”
Boxing Canada didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wednesday’s letter was signed by 121 current and former boxers back to 2008. It was sent to Canada’s Minister for Sport Pascale St-Onge, Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger, the Boxing Canada board of directors, and AthletesCAN.
The letter comes amid what St-Onge has called a “crisis” in Canadian sport. She said there were accusations of maltreatment, sexual abuse or misuse of funds directed at least eight national sport organizations in her first five months in office.
Canadian bobsled and skeleton athletes wrote a similar letter in March asking for the resignation of their acting president and high performance director. They have said they won’t participate in proposed mediation, calling it a “Band-Aid solution.” And a group of some 70 gymnasts – it’s since grown to more than 400 – wrote to Sport Canada asking for an independent investigation into their sport’s culture of maltreatment.
The boxers identified four major areas of concern: governance and transparency, safety, toxic culture and harassment and restriction of opportunities.
They said there’s a lack of transparency and impartiality around such things as the dispersal of funds.
There’s “blatant disregard” both the mental and physical health of athletes, including allegations of sexual misconduct that has “been ignored and not reported” to the board. They wrote that athletes often train and compete in unsafe environments, and have been forced to spar despite having clear signs of concussions or with significant weight disparities.
The national organization through its high performance director, they wrote, has “cultivated an authoritarian leadership style that retaliates against the careers of those who speak out against the organization and silences others who have genuine concerns but are instilled by fear.” Athletes have experienced and witnessed harassment in the form of homophobic, misogynistic and sexist comments by the program’s management.
And Boxing Canada’s decisions around team selection, they said, is based on subjective discretion. It’s prompted several high performance athletes, they said, to turn pro earlier than anticipated and other athletes to compete for other countries internationally.
“Athletes have repeatedly attempted to raise their concerns in a respectful and constructive manner internally with Boxing Canada, and through external avenues in the Canadian sport system,” they wrote. “Perhaps what is most concerning is that Boxing Canada has shown a total inability or unwillingness to meaningfully address many of these issues and work toward real positive change.
While there’s been some recent “superficial changes” in the governance structure, they said “there is no indication that any of the athletes and coaches’ past concerns have been addressed or that there has been any concrete and meaningful changes in 2022.”
Former artistic swimmer Sarah-Eve Pelletier was hired last month as Canada’s first sport integrity commissioner. She’ll oversee the central hub of Canada’s new safe sport program through the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. St-Onge has vowed the office, which was awarded to the SDRCC last summer, will be operational by the end of spring.
It will receive complaints about alleged maltreatment in sport, launch independent investigations and recommend sanctions against individuals who are found to have committed violations.
Many athletes have said they believe the process for reporting maltreatment through the SDRCC won’t be truly independent.