More than 50 current and former Canadian fencers have joined a growing call for a Canadian judicial inquiry on maltreatment in sport, saying the fear of retribution has kept them silent for nearly 20 years on fencing's toxic culture and abusive practices.
"Unfortunately, we have been united by our shared experiences of abuse, neglect and discrimination," the group calling themselves Fencing for Change Canada said in a letter to Minister Pascale St-Onge sent on Thursday and published online.
"Over the past 20 years, we have experienced various forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and misconduct."
Many are still feeling the psychological and physical impact, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts, the fencers said in the letter.
The fencers allege that some of the perpetrators were Canadian team coaches, the athletes abused were often minors, and the maltreatment occurred at Canadian Fencing Federation (CFF) sponsored events at the provincial level up to national and international competitions.
CFF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"There were a wide range of abusive practices and environments that I was exposed to where I trained in Vancouver," a former Canadian team fencer told Reuters.
The athlete, who requested anonymity, said she has thought about killing herself.
"It's difficult to encompass everything, but really . . . from the time that you're very little, you're engrossed in this culture where your coaches are king, and you slowly get indoctrinated into this mindset of feeling like you're nothing if you're not everything to them."
The fencer, who retired recently, said the toxic behaviour began with coaches caressing her hair. They asked for kisses. They demanded she tell them she loved them.
By the time she was 10, coaches at her club in British Columbia would line the girls up in a row in front of the boys after practice.
"They would choose us one at a time to help the boys get changed (out of their fencing whites)," she said. "That progresses into comments about your body, and there was a lot I witnessed in terms of public humiliation and psychological abuse. I saw my coach tie someone's shoelaces together and made them run sprints because he thought it was funny."
She said she was regularly forced to train to exhaustion, often passing out or vomiting.
The fencer said she has been diagnos...