Canadian fencers cite maltreatment in plea to sport minister
More than 50 current and former Canadian fencers have joined a growing call for a Canadian judicial inquiry into sport abuse, saying fear of retribution has kept them silent about fencing’s toxic culture and abusive practices for nearly 20 years.
“Unfortunately, we are united by our shared experiences of abuse, neglect and discrimination,” the group, which calls itself Fencing for Change Canada, said in a letter to Minister Pascale St-Onge mailed on Thursday and published online.
“Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed various forms of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and misconduct.”
Many are still feeling the psychological and physical effects, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide, the fencers said in the letter.
The fencers allege that some of the perpetrators were Canadian team coaches, the abused athletes were often minors, and the abuse took place at Canadian Fencing Federation (CFF) sponsored events ranging from provincial to national and international competitions.
CFF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There was a wide range of abusive practices and environments that I was exposed to where I trained in Vancouver,” a former Canadian team fencer told Reuters.
The athlete, who requested anonymity, said she had considered killing herself.
“It’s difficult to encompass everything, but really … from a young age you’re engrossed in this culture where your coaches are king, and you’re slowly being indoctrinated into this mindset of feeling like you’re nothing when you’re with them.” are not everything.”
The fencer, who recently retired, said the toxic behavior began with trainers stroking her hair. They asked for kisses. They challenged her to tell them she loved them.
When she was 10 years old, the coaches at her British Columbia club lined up the girls in front of the boys after practice.
“They picked us one by one to help the boys change (out of their fencing whites),” she said. “That leads to comments about your body, and there’s been a lot I’ve witnessed in terms of public humiliation and psychological abuse. I’ve seen my trainer tie someone’s shoelaces and make them run sprints because they thought it was funny.”
She said she was regularly forced to exercise to the point of exhaustion, often passing out or vomiting.
The fencer said she has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and is working with a psychiatrist.
“When I left (the sport) I felt so worthless without their approval,” she said. “Many days I woke up wanting to kill myself.”
Canada was rocked by sports scandals last year, with thousands of athletes in gymnastics, bobsleigh and skeleton, boxing, women’s soccer, rowing and other st-onge calling on the sport to be cleaned up.
They are calling for a national investigation similar to the 1989 Dubin Inquiry into drug use following the Ben Johnson doping scandal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“I started fencing as a kid and I really love this sport,” another former athlete, who also requested anonymity, told Reuters. “And I’m really struggling to see what my friends went through, which I didn’t realize until later.
“Our goal is to maintain the positivity that sport can bring…while eliminating that negative weight that perpetually shapes culture.” Our hope is to make sport safer and have safer reporting systems that athletes feel comfortable in telling stories, where they really feel like something is about to change, that they are being listened to and that they have a voice .”
St-Onge has opposed an investigation and has spearheaded the creation of Canada’s first Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which began hearing complaints on June 20.
The Canadian Heritage Standing Committee recently heard testimonies from members of Canada Soccer’s women’s national team and senior management in their ongoing industrial dispute.
Athletes from numerous sports have also testified before the Standing Committee on Women’s Rights on the safety of women and girls in sport since December.
(Reporting by Lori Ewing, Editing by Toby Davis)