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Canada’s artistic swim team halts training after complaints from athletes

In this July 16, 2019 file photo, members of team Canada perform during  the FINA Swimming World Championships 2019 at the Yeomju gym in Gwangju, South Korea. Canada's artistic swim team has halted training at it's Montreal facility after complaints from athletes. Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.
In this July 16, 2019 file photo, members of team Canada perform during the FINA Swimming World Championships 2019 at the Yeomju gym in Gwangju, South Korea. Canada's artistic swim team has halted training at it's Montreal facility after complaints from athletes. Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

Canada’s artistic swim team has stopped training following complaints from athletes.

The Canadian team had just resumed preparations for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games when it was pulled from the pool Monday at Montreal’s Olympic Park Sport Centre.

Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) chief executive officer Jackie Buckingham would not identify the exact nature of the complaints.

“We have suspended our operations for hopefully a short period of time while we do an internal review of some of the information that we’ve been provided through a couple of athletes and several others,” Buckingham told The Canadian Press.

“There have been conduct-related comments. They’re talking about things like athlete safety and this is a huge priority for Canada Artistic Swimming.”

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A CBC Radio-Canada report stated some swimmers heard offensive comments made by a coach about Black, Muslim and LGBTQ people.

“I don’t want to talk about specific allegations, complaints or words that have been used because we’ve had different ones,” Buckingham said.

“We want to make sure that before we talk about any of those things, we’re clear on what it is we’re dealing with from all athletes involved.”

The artistic swim team, formerly known as the synchronized swim team, is comprised of 18 swimmers from across Canada.

A dozen won gold at the 2019 Pan American Games to qualify Canada for Tokyo in both team and duet events.

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The group resumed training Sept. 17 following a hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This whole COVID situation has created such a stressor on our athletes,” Buckingham said.

“They’re really having a tough time, wondering if the Olympics is going to happen, wondering if they will have what it takes to make the team, wondering if we’re actually going to be able to achieve our performance goals, because we’ve been out of the water for so long.”

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“We need to do some work with them for sure on their mental wellness and we’ll see where this has landed. Our goal and objective is to make it better, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

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Complaints came from both inside and outside the organization, Buckingham said.

Some came via CAS’s safe sport co-ordinator, she added.

National sport organizations are required to have a safe sport policy and a designated individual to handle complaints in order to receive Sport Canada funding.

The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada provides a third-party investigation unit to probe allegations of harassment and abuse in sports organizations.

Own The Podium and the Coaches Association of Canada held a virtual Safe Sport Coaches Summit last week that drew 180 attendees.

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Buckingham was not sure if CAS personnel participated.

“Our athletes need to tell us what they need in order to find their training environment safe,” she said.

“How can we work together to a resolution that will allow them to feel comfortable to come back to training?”