The crisis against Canadian boxing must not stop there

Last Sunday, Canadian Boxing Association high performance director Daniel Trepanier resigned.

Four days ago, 121 current and former athletes, coaches, officials and members of provincial federations published an open letter demanding the resignation of Daniel Trepanier. They also called for an investigation into the Canadian Boxing Association’s inability to govern itself in an acceptable manner.

The plaintiff’s testimony was carefully collected, sparking a toxic culture and a climate of fear and silence. Cases of harassment and favoritism have also been brought.

Last Friday, two days after the open letter was published, Canadian boxing took off on the international stage when the International Amateur Boxing Federation stripped Daniel Trepanier of his qualifications for the Women’s World Championships, which will begin in 48 hours.

And, given the serious allegations made by the letter’s signatories, the International Federation said it would be particularly concerned about how Canadian sports authorities will follow up on the document.

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The Canadian boxing team is now looking to the future following the resignation of Daniel Trépanier. The Canadian Federation said it will form a selection committee in the coming weeks to work with provincial federations to find another high-performing executive.

But if we erase history so easily, it would be too easy if Boxing Canada could start over as if nothing had happened.

You can’t easily turn the page in an episode that lasted 12 years. Also, let’s remember that many of the signatories to this letter not only asked Trepanier to leave, they also wanted an investigation to uncover why their federation had become so dysfunctional.

This is the fatal problem.

Boxing Canada’s board said it commissioned an external report last March. She said the federation wants to conduct a comprehensive review of the culture of its high-performance programs and ensure that Canadian boxers can develop in the best possible environment.

However, this work was completed six years ago. In 2016, Gary Keegan, an Irish boxing expert and director of the Irish Institute of Sport, produced a report.

Keegan has a strong reputation in the industry and has seen firsthand how the Canadian boxing program works. He invited members of the federation to answer a survey, and secondly, he interviewed people working at all levels of Boxing Canada.

By the end of the fiscal year, Keegan had delivered a very poor report. At the beginning of the document, three comments summarizing its approach are:

  • There is no clear mandate, established policy or infrastructure to allow Canadian Boxing to operate in a high performance environment;
  • Training, development systems and support structures around advanced athletes lag far behind what a world-class athlete should be;
  • The application of training, management, scientific, medical, lifestyle and environmental expertise to motivate individuals and improve performance is urgently needed.

Put yourself in the shoes of a less serious administrator. You read this and the report hasn’t even started. It seems to me that you immediately tell yourself that the house is on fire and needs serious overhauling.

The report is also full of fairly clear sentences such as Former program athletes have low trust in Canadian boxing staff and boardsThe authors also stress that the coaches did not cite cases of serious deficiencies in athlete preparation, such as a lack of training partners or international opponents. Gary Keegan also pointed to the lack of performance metrics, the complete flaws in the talent identification process, the lack of resources, and more.

You read this and you tell yourself that the members of Boxing Canada were very patient before preparing their open letter. Too patient because the pot should have jumped years ago. Most importantly, what this report tells us is that if competent managers are in place, athletes will be protected and a quick clean-up will be done in Canadian boxing from 2016 onwards.

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Therefore, Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge must ensure an independent investigation. Not to find the culprit, but the most important thing is to make sure that Canada’s high-level athletes never encounter a similar situation in their pursuit of excellence.

Wearing Canadian colours at an international competition should be one of the greatest achievements of an athlete’s life. It certainly shouldn’t be the kind of ordeal that more and more athletes from a growing number of sports disciplines condemn and describe.

Just last March, 80 athletes from the bobsleigh and skeleton federation demanded the resignation of two senior leaders of the national federation. They claim security concerns, a flawed culture, lack of transparency and arbitrary decisions.

Also last March, 71 gymnasts, including 10 Olympians, published an open letter denouncing a toxic culture and abuse in their sport.

In April 2021, just before the Tokyo Olympics, 37 female rugby players denounced acts of psychological violence, harassment and intimidation of their alleged victims.

In September 2020, 18 athletes from the national artistic swimming team filed a complaint. They said they trained in a hostile atmosphere marked by harassment and abuse. However, their complaints were not accepted, and four months later, five former swimmers filed a class-action lawsuit against their federation for psychological abuse, sexual harassment and racial harassment.

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What will be done if Sports Canada and Minister St-Onge don’t see the staggering number of cases requiring a particularly strong response?

Serious investigation must be undertaken to find the common roots, if any, that allow this rotten climate to develop and integrate into what should be Canada’s flagship sport.

And while waiting for the abscess to be broken, let’s hope that if other federations are plagued by the same evil, their athletes will have the courage to come forward and condemn the situation.

Noting all the support they are enjoying today, the Canadian boxers must be very sorry to have waited so long to mobilize.

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