Olympians question COC over lavish spending on new Montreal HQ

Some of Canada's leading Olympians are questioning the administration of the country's Olympic committee as a report surfaced on Friday alleging delays and cost overuns in the construction of its posh new headquarters in Montreal.

Audit reportedly reveals organization spent $3 million on a conference room

An artist's rendering shows the planned 'Lausanne Room' in Olympic House, the new Montreal headquarters of the Canadian Olympic Committee. The room is alleged to have cost $2.9 million. (Canadian Olympic Committee)

Some of Canada's leading Olympians are questioning the administration of the country's Olympic committee after a report surfaced on Friday alleging delays and cost overruns in the construction of its new headquarters in Montreal.

An audit commissioned by the Canadian Olympic Committee allegedly raised concerns about spending related to the $10-million Olympic House.

The audit, which was conducted by Deloitte and obtained by the Globe and Mail, is said to reveal that the COC spent nearly $3 million building a state-of-the-art boardroom, and more than $1 million on celebrating the opening of Olympic House in July.

Jean-Luc Brassard, who is Canada's chef de mission for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, said the alleged cost overruns are discouraging, given the limited financial resources of many athletes.

"It's difficult to accept," Brassard told Radio-Canada. "Most athletes are really living through difficult financial times."

The audit also alleged that construction of Olympic House is behind schedule. A street-level interactive museum, slated to open last fall, has not been completed.

Officials including then COC president Marcel Aubut, centre left, take part in the ribbon cutting during the opening of Canadian Olympic House in July. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"When I supported Canada Olympic House, I only saw the good," said Brassard, a former Olympic champion in freestyle skiing.

"Now, to see the pharaohic costs needed to bring that about, it's really for nothing — because there is no museum, nothing interactive, nothing for school. It's disappointing."

The opening of Olympic House in a downtown Montreal office tower allowed the COC to consolidate its offices in Montreal and Ottawa.

It was an initiative of former COC president Marcel Aubut, 68, who resigned as COC president in October after women accused him of sexual harassment.

Brassard has already expressed concerns about how the COC handled the Aubut allegations. Earlier this month, he raised the possibility of quitting because of the organization's failure to repair the damage from Aubut's time as president. 

Brassard said there were many in the COC who knew of Aubut's behaviour but did nothing to address the situation. 

Now other Olympians are wondering if there were more issues with Aubut's leadership.

'Keep turning over stones'

"Let's keep turning over the stones," said Sylvie Fréchette, a multiple Olympic medallist in synchronized swimming and a Canadian Sports Hall of Fame member.

"Let's keep finding what's wrong, and let's make sure the new administration — especially having Tricia Smith as president — feels supported and feels confident to take the right decision to clean [up] what's happening."

Canada Olympic House was opened to the public in July 2015. A museum component is not yet finished. (CBC)

Fréchette suggested a culture of deference may have taken hold in the COC under Aubut.    

"This is what I feel: that Marcel went out of his way to be able to get whatever he wanted," she said.

At least one prominent Olympian, though, supported the COC's spending on the new building. 

Mark Tewksbury, a gold medal winner at the 1992 summer Games and Canada's chef de mission to the 2012 Games, said it was unlikely the money spent on the building was diverted from athlete funding. 

"It's not so black and white," Tewksbury said. "I don't think this money would have gone to sport."  

COC defends spending

The COC defended its spending decisions on Friday, issuing a news release that said it had commissioned the audit "as part of our commitment to ensuring resources are used responsibly."

The organization added that the headquarters project is yet to be completed, so the audit's results don't accurately reflect the project's true cost.  

"Our intention is for the capital project to ultimately be revenue neutral," the statement said.

"We have met with each of our government partners in recent weeks and have their ongoing support for the completion of the project in 2016."

Ottawa gave $3.5 million to the project, while Quebec kicked in $3 million, and the City of Montreal a further $2 million. Private sponsorships made up the balance of the funding. 

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard wouldn't comment on the COC's spending decisions, saying it was up to that body to explain how it manages its money.

Montreal HQ for Canadian Olympic movement officially opens today. 1:14


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