With the Olympics just over a year away and the world championships less than a month away, Canada Artistic Swimming has severed ties with senior national team head coach Gabor Szauder.
In a very succinct press release published on its website on Wednesday, Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) explains that this departure applies “with immediate effect”. No details on the reasons for this decision are provided. Relaunched Thursday on this subject, the director of business development at NAC, Stéphane Côté, indicated “not being able, for the moment, to issue other comments on this subject”.
Olympic medalist Sylvie Fréchette said she was “relieved” to hear the news of Mr. Szauder’s departure, although it is still “sad” for the athletes who find themselves without a captain a few weeks before an Olympic competition. wingspan.
According to Ms. Fréchette, the “country is not on the right track globally” in artistic swimming. “It has nothing to do with the quality of the athletes. It’s taking a turn in our sport. We have to go back to our roots,” she said. Sylvie Fréchette also says that she offered her help to Artistic Swimming Canada for the support of the athletes.
Gabor Szauder’s journey at Canada Artistic Swimming has been rocky to say the least. He joined the Canadian team on January 1, 2019. Under his leadership, Canada finished first at the 2019 Pan American Games and sixth at the 2021 Olympic Games.
But in September 2020, NAC closed its Montreal training center following allegations of harassment and abuse in its national team. A Radio-Canada report had reported racist remarks made by Coach Szauder and the toxic climate that reigned by the pool.
A “Comprehensive Training Environment Review” was conducted in November 2020 by Canada Artistic Swimming. Gabor Szauder was suspended from duty for the duration of the exercise, conducted by an external firm. This review concluded that there had been “no instances of sexual abuse or physical abuse”. But he still recommended harassment and bullying prevention training for coaches. Gabor Szauder returned to office on January 18, 2021.
Erin Willson, Chloé Isaac, Gabriella Brisson, Gabrielle Boisvert and Sion Ormond have filed a class action lawsuit against NAC. In the petition, the athletes say they suffered physical and psychological abuse. Some say they have been under a lot of pressure to maintain a low weight, to the point of developing eating disorders. Different coaches are named, including Gabor Szauder. Two other athletes have since added their names to the query.
According to the class action lawsuit, Gabor Szauder “regularly targeted an athlete … to humiliate her in front of the team during practices, making fun of her weight.” Also according to the motion, Gabor Szauder allegedly went so far as to “threaten” 2018-2020 national team member Sion Ormond and other athletes that if they didn’t perform better, he would “hit them so hard that they wouldn’t know what would have happened.” When she complained to Canada Artistic Swimming, Sion Ormond was allegedly told Gabor Szauder was “European,” “as if that justified his conduct,” the court document reads.
The class action lawsuit is still awaiting authorization.
Prior to joining the Canadian team, Gabor Szauder coached the Slovakian national team for five years. There too, his stay was not without faults.
In an article published in November 2020 in a Slovak newspaper, filed as evidence in the Quebec class action request, we can read that two Slovak athletes, Viktoria Reichova and Natalia Pivarciova, also had difficulties with Gabor Szauder in 2017. Slovak newspaper reports that “several open letters, complaints and reports from desperate parents were swept under the rug” by the management of the then Slovak Swimming Federation.
Reichova’s parents reportedly complained in 2017 about the unhealthy and bullying training environment established by Gabor Szauder. Believing that she had been dismissed from national training shortly after without valid reason, Viktoria Reichova filed a complaint against the Slovak Swimming Federation at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne and won her case in August 2019.
La Presse tried to reach Mr. Szauder on Thursday, without success. As for many, Sylvie Fréchette has more questions than answers about this departure. But she believes that “everything needs to be reviewed in terms of sport and sport education” in artistic swimming in the country.
Ms. Fréchette believes that several issues need to be clarified. Including: “Why, at all the Olympics, do we wipe the slate clean and start over with younger athletes? “Normally you should want to stay,” she said.
On the side of Natation artistique Québec, we say to wish “the best” to the national team “in its preparation for the Olympic qualifications”. “In the eyes of Natation artistique Québec, the well-being of athletes is what comes first and what must motivate each of the decisions of the federations”, indicated by email the co-director general of Natation artistique Québec Valérie Savard. Kerri Morgan, NAC’s Senior Director of Athletics, will lead the team’s training until further notice.