Canadian Olympic Committee ready for Rio despite challenging times
'We've taken challenges head on,' says CEO Chris Overholt
It has been a most unusual buildup to the Summer Games for the Canadian Olympic Committee.
The COC was rocked last year after allegations of sexual harassment were levelled at former president Marcel Aubut, who resigned in October. Olympic rower Tricia Smith took over as president, the COC agreed to make organizational changes after a third-party review, and two executives and a manager were fired.
With the Rio Games now just two months away, COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt said Thursday that the committee has taken on its challenges and is looking to the future.
"I certainly think that we've taken it head on," he said. "We've addressed the changes that we felt we needed to make urgently. And look, he's gone and we've moved forward. We've made additional changes to our policies. We've added some very significant board members that I know are going to help with matters of governance. We're in the middle of a governance review. We've taken some really good strides.
"As we've said, we all need to own it but we've done that and we've moved forward. We've still got more work to do and we're excited about that."
Several women accused Aubut of sexual comments and unwanted touching. The 68-year-old lawyer hasn't faced any criminal charges. In his resignation statement, he apologized to "those who may have been offended by my behaviour."
Another blow for the COC came in April when Jean-Luc Brassard resigned as chef de mission. He was unhappy with the committee's handling of the sexual harassment allegations.
The COC, which bills itself as the "the backbone of Canada's Olympic movement," works with national sports federations to prepare the Canadian team for competition. Despite the challenging year, Overholt remains confident the athletes will be ready to compete on the ultimate sporting stage this summer.
"They're always ready and in the moment," Overholt said. "Our coaches and our system makes sure that that's true. Every Games has its challenges of course and this is no different ... we've had a lot of time to plan for this. We do a lot of work operationally to make sure that we're ready for them and we are.
"We're just about set to go. We've got people leaving [for Rio] in the next two or three weeks, in fact."
The Thomlinson Report, released in January, made eight recommendations for the COC, including strengthening and implementing new policies and procedures on ethics, discrimination, harassment and whistleblowing. The COC board of governors met in mid-April and Smith said the organization agreed to act on all of the recommendations.
Other changes included mandatory training on harassment and bullying for all board members, staff and members of Olympic mission teams.
"We've made significant changes," Overholt said. "I think we've been pretty public with some of that. We've made significant changes to our policies already. We've added five new board members as part of all of this. We've made significant strides internally. We've had key hires at the leadership level and HR and our corporate sector.
"I know if you were talking to any one of our employees they would tell you that it's a great place to work. They're excited to be involved with it and they like the work that they do. It's important for the country and it's important for athletes and coaches. So we're only optimistic looking forward, it's going to be great."
Curt Harnett, who was chef de mission at last year's Pan Am Games in Toronto, will serve in the position again for the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games. The chef de mission is the team leader and spokesman for Canadian athletes at the Games.
Canada won 18 medals (one gold, five silver, 12 bronze) at the 2012 Games in London. The team's goal for Rio is a top-12 finish in the medal standings.
Also Thursday, the COC unveiled the design of the Canada Olympic House that will be used in Rio. The facility will be a gathering point for athletes, friends, family, partners and special guests during the Games.