Physical, psychological and sexual abuse issues: 'Difficult and disappointing' that gymnasts were not heard

Physical, psychological and sexual abuse issues: “Difficult and disappointing&raquo ; that the gymnasts were not heard

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Quebecer Alexandra Landry finds it “very difficult and disappointing” that the first call for help from Canadian gymnasts addressed to the federal Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, seven months ago, did not didn't get the response they wanted.

On Wednesday, 500 gymnasts from across the country, including Landry, sent a second open letter to the minister. In it, they ask him to take the appropriate measures to eliminate the problems of physical, psychological and sexual abuse that undermine their sports environment, and in particular Gymnastics Canada.

Alexandra Landry, former gymnast who is part of the list of signatories of the letter denouncing the abuses in gymnastics.

They are also asking the Minister to launch an independent judicial inquiry.

“The lack of an adequate response sends a signal to us that these voices do not matter and that their experiences do not deserve change,” the gymnasts lamented in their letter, which CBC first obtained a copy of.

< p>“Their voices are too loud to ignore and so far their courage has not led to concrete action from your office,” they also wrote.

Funded by the government

The group of signatories, made up of current and retired gymnasts, as well as coaches and parents, believe that the Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner, recently set up by the Ministry of Sport, is not completely independent.

The latter is funded by the federal government. A fact that the minister defended on Wednesday in a scrum, while calling the stories from the Canadian gymnastics community “heartbreaking” and “disturbing”.

“Yes, [the program] is funded by the federal government, just like any court of law, but it remains an independent entity,” said Ms. St-Onge.

Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge

“It's part of the solution,” she added. This gives athletes a place to report cases of abuse and mistreatment.”

1000 Calories a Day

Last April, Alexandra Landry told the Journalthe physical and psychological abuse she says she suffered when she was part of the Canadian rhythmic gymnastics team.

The Montrealer explained that she had been criticized about her weight by a trainer whom she prefers to conceal the name. When she was 15, she was tricked into consuming only watermelon and water on the one day of the week she wasn't working out.

< p>“I did what I was asked, she explained in April. I wanted to do everything to lose weight. I was on a 1000 calorie a day diet.” 

Hard to talk about again

Landry mentions that the abuse reached peak when the coach punched her in front of all her teammates after she made a mistake during a competition.

The former gymnast, now in her late twenties, retired from sport after the London Olympics. She says she is disappointed that the first letter has not yet “received a response” from the ministry.

“It's difficult for athletes to share their experience,” she said on Wednesday. For me, it was difficult to open up. When we talk about these situations, we relive negative moments, things that we tried to put aside in order to move on.”

“The urgency of act”

Landry added that athletes “still experience these situations” and that the second letter is also intended to reiterate “the urgency to act”.

< p>“It's another way to show how much we need change and that we still receive, to this day, other reports of abuse that is happening in our sport,” she said.

Like the other signatories, Alexandra Landry explained that she feared “conflict of interest” situations if the investigation was conducted by an entity such as the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner. .

“Basically, it’s a way of demonstrating that we are listened to. But we are not moving any further, because it is funded by Sport Canada, the same organization that refused to hold the sports federations responsible for what is happening at the moment,” she lamented.

“The important thing is to have an investigation that takes place outside the sporting world, by experts,” she continued.

– With the QMI Agency

Not in the Shadow of Hockey Canada

If several Canadian sports federations, including Gymnastics Canada, have been splashed by scandals of abuse or mismanagement in recent months, none has hit the headlines as much as Hockey Canada.

It is is of course a totally different case. The organization has come under fire for settling various sexual assault claims against its players, including one for a gang rape that allegedly occurred in 2018

Its officials had to testify in parliamentary committee. Faced with political pressure, but also financial – many sponsors have severed their ties with the federation – its chief executive, Scott Smith, tendered his resignation.

The members of the board of directors who hadn't already jumped ship also announced they were stepping down.

In-Depth Look

At Gymnastics Canada, it is the abuses committed by people in positions of authority that are mostly denounced. And at Rugby Canada, for example, an independent report released in the spring described a “culture and leadership vacuum.”

High-profile as it is, the Hockey Canada scandal has not overshadowed athletes from other Canadian federations who are asking for help, says former Quebec gymnast Alexandra Landry.

On the contrary, she said Wednesday. “Yes, it takes up space, but it allows us to take a deeper look at what is happening within other sports organizations in Canada.”

“We understand that the same situation is happening in other sports, she continued. We are there to support the other athletes.”

Sexual abuse and humiliation

Landry adds that gymnastics is a different sport. “These are athletes who start very young and who are very vulnerable,” she explained.

The letter sent to Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge on Wednesday also mentions of a list of abuse suffered by young gymnasts, which would have been sent to his office last June.

It is about “children publicly humiliated”, “sexually abused ”, “forced to train despite injuries”, “deprived of food” or “verbally and psychologically abused”, reported the CBC.

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