amateur sport

Medals Medals Medals*

2022 is an Olympic year, and as the Beijing Olympics unfold, the focus of a lot of the media coverage is on the medals. It’s great for any athlete to win, especially at such a high-profile event – but a lot gets lost when the Olympics, or any major sporting event, are framed mostly in terms of who wins.

Leadership theory tells us that a leader can’t be a leader without followers. Similarly, a winner is only a winner if they have competitors to beat. Everyone competing at the Olympics has worked incredibly hard, spent a lot of money (or a lot of their parents’, sponsors’, or sports federation’s money), and sacrificed opportunities to do other things. Viewership for Olympic TV and streaming broadcasts has been declining and maybe, just maybe, the nationalist focus on only the athletes who win medals is starting to wear a little thin.

Prior to the Games, the Globe and Mail newspaper ran an extremely interesting article on how Norway increased the number of medals won by its Winter Olympic athletes. Many countries have programs like Canada’s Own the Podium, which use medals as the measure of success in sport, and direct funding to the sports and athletes perceived as most likely to win medals. That strategy usually requires identifying potential medalists as early as possible, and then supporting those athletes in intensive training in a single sport. Norway took a completely different approach. (more…)

Accusations and Investigations

This is a post that I really didn’t want to write, but now I feel I have to.

It’s a very difficult time in my sport of figure skating. In mid-December, an allegation of misconduct by a skater was filed with the US Centre for SafeSport. SafeSport is an independent regulatory organization, funded by sport federations; its mandate includes training, education, and outreach, but it is also responsible for investigating complaints of sexual misconduct against athletes in Olympic and Paralympic sports. SafeSport can’t charge someone with a crime – although it does require any reports of criminal acts to also be reported to police – but if it believes, after an investigation, that the allegations are accurate, there are several types of penalties it can impose, including banning the abuser from the sport.

The allegation filed with SafeSport involved John Coughlin, a coach, broadcast commentator, and two-time US champion in pairs skating. As a result of the allegation, SafeSport temporarily restricted Coughlin’s “ability to participate in the sport”. In early January, according to USA Today reporter Christine Brennan, two more allegations against Coughlin were filed with SafeSport, and on January 17, SafeSport imposed an interim suspension on Coughlin. An interim suspension, according to SafeSport’s definitions, means that the “covered individual” (the subject of the allegations) cannot “participate in any activity or competition” authorized by or sanctioned by the US Olympic Committee or the sport’s governing body, “pending final resolution of the matter”. On January 18, Coughlin took his own life.

This very sad series of events has led to a lot of discussion about norms and cultures within the sport of skating, the rights of the accuser and the accused during investigations of alleged abuse, and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the processes that are supposed to protect athletes. After Coughlin passed away, the US Figure Skating Association asked SafeSport to continue with its investigation of the three allegations. SafeSport subsequently announced that while it does not comment on individual cases, it “cannot advance an investigation when no potential threat exists”, and ended its investigation. While I can understand why SafeSport made that choice – I’ll explain why in a while – abandoning the investigation may only (more…)