A University of Calgary psychology professor stresses the critical importance of recognizing extreme power imbalances between coaches and athletes.
Lorraine Radtke explains when coaches, doctors and administrators are given a position of power they have a level of authority that puts athletes in a place of great vulnerability that can directly affect their ability to compete.
“If they are still athletes, they may be concerned about their reputations and futures in the sport,” Radtke says.
Over the past year, Canada's gymnastics community has been dealing with its own sexual abuse allegations.
A CBC investigation last December revealed that Coach Michel Arsenault was suspended after three women came forward with sexual abuse allegations spanning back to the 1980s and 1990s. Quebec provincial police have been investigating but no charges have yet to been laid.
South of the border, the Larry Nassar trial shook the world to its core.
The once world-renowned USA Olympic Gymnastics team doctor got away with sexually abusing female gymnasts for over a span of two decades. With 156 victims coming forward, Nassar was served a sentence of at least 100 years in prison.
Despite his well-deserved sentence, questions still continue to surround how Nassar got away with decades of systemic sexual abuse.
"It all started when I was 13 or 14 years old, at one of my first National Team training camps, in Texas, and it didn't end until I left the sport,” said Olympic gymnast, McKayla Maroney, during her victim impact statement in Nassar's trial.
"Victims fear not being believed. These incidents generally occur in private with no witnesses. They may also see no point to it, having little confidence that the criminal justice system will respond in a helpful way,” Radtke says.
"It all started when I was 13 or 14 years old at one of my first National Team training camps in Texas, and it didn't end until I left the sport.” - McKayla Maroney
“Another myth is that somehow women are deserving of being sexually abused, because they must have done something to arouse the sexual interest of the perpetrator, perhaps through how they dress or act or through their failure to be clear in their communications.”
Radtke is encouraged by the #MeToo movement in which thousands of people are coming forward with their personal stories. Her hope is that survivors receive the encouragement and professional help they require in order to heal.
“We are at a moment in history when there is a lot of public conversation about the topic,” says Radtke. “There are many services and programs available for sexual assault survivors. Speaking with a qualified sexual assault counsellor would be important.”
This story is part of Hindsight 2026, a joint project between the Sprawl and the Calgary Journal (which is produced by journalism students at Mount Royal University). We’re digging into past Olympics to evaluate whether a 2026 Winter Games in Calgary would help or hinder our city.
- By Alexandra Nicholson