Unigym under scrutiny over gymnastic coach's behaviour, suspension

The City of Gatineau, Que., will meet with Unigym sports club administration Wednesday about the controversial conduct of a high-performance gymnastics coach as parents express concerns with the response.

Coach Dave Fallon to return to Gatineau, Que., gym in June

A gymnast's feet on a balance beam.
Some parents are denouncing the situation at Unigym Gatineau leading up to and during the suspension of high-performance gymnastics coach Dave Fallon. (Matthias Schrader/The Associated Press)

The City of Gatineau, Que., will meet with Unigym sports club administration Wednesday about the controversial conduct of a high-performance gymnastics coach as parents express concerns with the response.

In March, Radio-Canada reported several former coworkers, athletes and parents had denounced Dave Fallon's coaching methods and the environment he fostered at Unigym Gatineau.

The Integrity Protection Committee (IPC) at Quebec non-profit Sport'Aide found Fallon had engaged in "inappropriate" behaviour at work since the club's inception in 2012, including pulling an athlete's hair and "psychological violence."

Unigym Gatineau counts the city as one of its partners, and the president of Gatineau's recreation, sports and community development commission called for the meeting when Radio-Canada's reporting brought issues with the club to light.

"What we want from our partners is that there is an alignment with the values of the city," Bettyna Bélizaire said in French. "When you see the facts that have been reported by the newspapers — it's impossible to condone that."

The committee recommended Fallon serve a 30-day suspension. In a news release last week, Unigym Gatineau and Gymnastics Quebec announced the coach would return on June 11 in compliance with those recommendations.

Fallon, who has coached gymnastics for more than 25 years, has held various positions on the national circuit, including leading Quebec's gymnastics team as recently as the 2023 Canada Games.

A man in a white jacket stands in an arena during a gymnastics competition.
More than 15 athletes, coaches and parents have shared allegations with Radio-Canada about unacceptable conduct by Dave Fallon. (Gabrielle Drumond/Radio-Canada)

Bélizaire said she hopes the meeting with Unigym will help her determine what measures the club is taking to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

The city gives more than $1.6 million in grants and services to the gymnastics club each year.

That funding will not be withdrawn, Bélizaire said, as she believes such a measure would penalize young athletes.

Parent disappointed with club

Although the city will continue to fund the club, some parents whose kids train at Unigym Gatineau are frustrated with its management.

Caroline Chouinard, the mother of an athlete in the club's sports school program, said she believes the IPC's recommendations don't go far enough.

"I am disappointed with the penalty. I don't think it acknowledges what the victims have gone through," Chouinard said in French.

A woman in a park.
Caroline Chouinard says she is disappointed by the penalty imposed on Fallon. (Radio-Canada)

Joanne Gemme, whose daughter attends the same program, said in French she finds it "inconceivable" the club would reinstate Fallon without first consulting parents and her trust in the gym's management has "completely eroded."

Chouinard agreed, saying management did not do enough to supervise Fallon despite "severe repercussions" for victims, coaches and families.

"Then, it looks like they wash their hands of it," she said in French.

Calls for outside involvement

Chouinard served as secretary for the Unigym Gatineau board of directors until she left the position last autumn. She did so after failing, she said, to get answers on important issues from management and board members.

Seven coaches left their jobs at the club's sports school within the last year and several told Radio-Canada that the club's coaching environment and management played a role in their decision to leave.

Several members of Unigym Gatineau's management and board of directors testified in support of Fallon to the IPC.

A gymnast spins in a blur above the parallel bars.
Some parents are calling for an outside intervention into Unigym management. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

As Unigym is the only gymnastics club in Gatineau, Gemme said she and other parents would like the city or provincial Sport Minister Isabelle Charest to get involved.

"Honestly, it would have to be an outside agency or the city," she said in French. "Right now, everything [the club] says it is going to put in place — I do not believe it."

Unigym management did not respond to a request for comment from Radio-Canada.

The club invited parents of kids in the sports school program to a Tuesday evening meeting at the Gatineau sports centre where representatives of the city and Gymnastics Quebec were to also be present.

Bélizaire is set to meet with Unigym on Wednesday.

With files from Radio-Canada's Jonathan Jobin and Rebecca Kwan