Feds to freeze funding to national gymnastics organization after open letter

The federal government will freeze funding for Gymnastics Canada, a move that comes after more than 500 gymnasts signed an open letter alleging abuse the national organization failed to protect them from.

The letter, released Thursday, urged Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge to suspend funding to Gymnastics Canada (GymCan) and hold a third-party investigation, adding that this request had been ignored for months by GymCan, Sport Canada and also the government.

In an exclusive statement to CTV News, St-Onge said Thursday evening that funding would be frozen pending the organization’s cooperation with the new Office of Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which was installed last month to address reports of abuse in sports.

‘’I understand the sense of urgency that motivates these athletes and I share their call for meaningful change,” she said in the statement.

“A few days ago I notified GymCan that they needed to accelerate their process to sign up with OSIC, and that funding would be suspended until they completed that requirement.”

The minister is expected to send a letter to GymCan on Friday confirming the suspension of funding.

Gymnastics Canada is a national sports body that is intended to support gymnasts across the country.

According to hundreds of gymnasts, the sports body is not only unsupportive, but failed to protect them from abuse.

“We have been calling for changes,” Amelia Cline told CTV National News.

Cline is with Gymnasts for Change Canada, which released the open letter detailing the allegations of abuse.

The letter represents more than 500 active and former gymnasts. Many allege they were physically, mentally and sexually abused while in the sport.

“There’s been so many opportunities for Gymnastics Canada […] to really be a leader in these issues,” Cline said. “And unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened.”

The letter stated that gymnasts have been raising flags about abuse and sharing harrowing stories of their experiences over the last four months, but to no avail.

A lack of change is why they’ve been pushing for GymCan’s funding to be cut — just like what happened with Hockey Canada last month.

The funding change comes after new allegations of abuse.

Earlier this month in Lethbridge, Atla., gymnastics coach Jamie Ellacott was charged with sexually assaulting a child during training. The alleged abuse is just one of the reasons Abby Spadafora says the sport needs urgent attention.

“This needs to stop,” Spadafora said. “I want to see support for all the survivors out there.”

Spadafora is a former elite gymnast who spent six years on Canada’s national team.

“I was mentally, verbally and physically abused by both my male and female coach and I was sexually abused,” she said.

As a survivor, Spadafora vows to ensure future athletes are better protected.

“I think the only way we’re going to be able to do that is by doing the investigation, get to the root of the problem and hold those accountable,” she said.

The gymnasts are also calling for an independent investigation into GymCan’s handling of abuse cases.

GymCan was asked for comment on the letter but said it will issue a response Friday.

With files from the Canadian Press

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