Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton to call in mediator to address toxic-culture allegations

Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton says it will engage an independent, third-party mediator to help address the concerns of its athletes.

More than 60 athletes penned open letter calling for resignation of president, high performance director

Mirela Rahneva was Canada's top skeleton athlete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. More than 60 skeleton and bobsleigh athletes are calling for the leaders of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton to resign. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton says it will engage an independent, third-party mediator to help address the concerns of its athletes.

The national sport organization sent an email outlining its mediation plan to 49 of Canada's bobsled and skeleton athletes on Thursday morning.

It is in response to a letter signed by more than 60 athletes that was sent on Monday to Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton's board of directors.

That letter called for the resignation of president Sarah Storey and high performance director Chris Le Bihan.

The email, obtained by The Canadian Press, was only sent to active sliding athletes, while the original letter of complaint was signed by active and retired athletes.

Thursday's email from Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton's board outlined a two-step process to remedy the athletes' concerns.

BCS said the first step will be to convene meetings with athletes to identify issues of concern and opportunities for improvement within the organization's high-performance program.

Step 2 is to convene a mediated meeting of athletes, the board, as well as representatives from Sport Canada, Own The Podium, and the Canadian Olympic Committee to review the issues and develop an action plan.

WATCH | Justin Kripps pilots Canada to Olympic bobsleigh bronze medal:

Justin Kripps pilots Canada to Olympic bronze medal in 4-man bobsleigh

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The 2018 Olympic champion pilot in two-man bobsleigh, Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., won the bronze medal in the two-man bobsleigh event at Beijing 2022.

The call for mediation comes two weeks after the closure of the Beijing Olympics, where Justin Kripps piloted Canada's four-man sled to a bronze medal and fellow Canadian Christine de Bruin claimed bronze in monobob.

Issues with culture

The athletes letter cites issues with culture, safety, transparency and governance, claiming staff makes arbitrary decisions on matters like team selection based on biases, and has little concern for athlete safety.

The athletes who spoke with CBC News all described a grim culture, one where they're afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from the organization — namely, losing their spot on the national team and thus their Olympic dreams. Those concerns are also reflected in the letter, signed by athletes who competed for Canada as far back as 2014.

"BCS's leadership style feels authoritarian, and fear of retaliation silences athletes and prevents them from bringing forward any questions or concerns," the letter reads. "The athletes feel they have no voice on matters that directly affect them and face an organization that is unwilling to meaningfully address concerns and make improvements."

Canada's skeleton team competed at the Beijing Olympic test event this past fall without a coach present, which led to numerous bumps and bruises on the unfamiliar track.

Athletes on bobsled's development team said they had no access to medical treatment at a camp at Whistler, B.C., including an athlete who was ejected from a sled.

Canada's Blake Enzie races during a test event for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games at the Yanqing National Sliding Center in October 2021. Canada's skeleton athletes were sent to the event without a coach. Only three of the athletes who attended the event attended the Olympics three months later. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Several skeleton athletes recently told The Canadian Press that they were almost completely self-funded.

Mirela Rahneva, who was fifth in women's skeleton in Beijing, estimated her Olympic season cost her about $30,000.

The athletes' letter said "systemic issues within BCS have adversely impacted both the sports of bobsleigh and skeleton and have become increasingly problematic. Many athletes have suffered physically, mentally, emotionally and financially as a result of the organization failing to address these systemic issues, and the future of both sports are in jeopardy under the current administrative regime.

"The athletes believe that the immediate resignation . . . is required to shift the culture of this organization into a safe, supportive, functional athlete-centric model from which to build future world and Olympic champions."

With files from CBC News' Nick Murray and Lori Ewing of Canadian Press

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