Three-time world boxing champion Mary Spencer is surprised that Daniel Trepanier still has his job.
“He should have been fired a long time ago,” Spencer said. “A long time ago.”
The eight-time national middleweight champion — and one of Canada’s most recognizable boxers — was among the 121 athletes and coaches who signed Wednesday’s letter to Sport Canada calling for the resignation of Trepanier, Boxing Canada’s high performance director, plus an independent report into what they say is a toxic culture in their sport.
Athletes painted a picture of a hostile environment of homophobic, misogynistic and sexist comments. They wrote about safety concerns including being forced to spar despite have concussion symptoms.
They said there’s a lack of impartiality around things like the dispersal of funds, and said there’s rampant favouritism that clouds decisions around team selection.
“It’s a real problem when the high-performance director of a national boxing federation is openly against women boxing,” Spencer said. “Somebody’s opinion shouldn’t stand in your way while preparing, but when you work with him, the way he treats women, it’s a huge obstacle.”
Spencer was one of Canada’s top medal favourites ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, and so she said Own The Podium poured $140,000 into her training.
“Daniel instead decided to send me and two male boxers to a training camp in Ireland where there wasn’t a female boxer at all,” Spencer said. “I didn’t spar. It showed in my performance. When I learned a few months later that one of these two boxers turned pro and that (Trepanier) was his personal coach, I was mad.
“My coach at the time sent a letter to Boxing Canada brass to tell what happened and how mad we were. To this day, I haven’t heard from them.”
Spencer lost her first bout at the London Olympics 17-14 to Chinese fighter Jinzi Li.
The 37-year-old said she didn’t point any fingers after her shocking elimination.
“But the more I thought about it, the more I remembered how badly things went on the road to London, and the more I thought I should have said something about it,” Spencer said. “When I heard how the 2016 team has been treated, I felt guilty of not talking earlier.”
When asked why Trepanier is still employed by Boxing Canada, Spencer replied: “That’s a good question, one for BC to answer.”
Own the Podium and Boxing Canada commissioned an independent report in 2016 to “identify existing gaps” ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Trepanier was the high performance director at the time. The results of the review by Ireland’s Performance4Podium, and obtained by The Canadian Press, were damning.
Among the main findings, a clear mandate supported by modern policies and infrastructure doesn’t exist for Boxing Canada to operate a high performing system. The training and development environment around senior athletes “are well behind world-class competitors.” And the application of coaching, management, science, medicine and other “systems that drive people and process performance have significant room for improvement.”
The report found that only 30 per cent of Boxing Canada’s board of directors believed they had the highest standard of leadership in the high performance program, and only 20 per cent were clear on the HPD role.
Some coaches were found to display a “lack of awareness around performance science and how it can impact performance.” One of the survey comments was: “LOL. It doesn’t seem to be the culture of Canadian boxing to use analytics.”
In its recap, the report said Boxing Canada has “stood still throughout a period of significant change to their sport in a global context.”
Six years later, athletes said they’re fed up.
Two-time Canadian super heavyweight champion Chris Bernier said his battles with Boxing Canada and Trepanier felt like constantly climbing into the ring with an extra opponent.
“The situation is corrupt, and it removed the good things about our sport, what we love,” Bernier said. “I thought 100 times about dropping everything and just leaving. But I would have let (Trepanier) win, and as a boxer, I’m programmed to fight.”
The 29-year-old said he felt in constant competition with one of Trepanier’s personal athletes, and that he had to jump through numerous hoops, such as attending training camps on a couple of days’ notice.
“(Trepanier) 100 per cent set us up to fail, he’d set up an obligation, but the obligation was unfulfillable, it was impossible to do it,” Bernier said. “That situation was a landmine, and he was looking for me just to step on it.
“Because of his lack of professionalism and the lack of trust and the atmosphere and everything, I had to fight against an opponent in front of me and at the same time had to fight one in back of me. For a boxer just fighting an opponent is hard enough than fighting two at the same time.”
A frustrated Bernier has warned young athletes at his BoxeMontreal.com gym: “Guys, just pick another sport.”
Jennifer Huggins and Ariane Fortin, the presidents of Boxing Ontario and Boxe Quebec respectively, filed a requisition for a meeting of Boxing Canada’s board members on Wednesday. They’re calling for a third-party investigation that includes interviews with athletes and provincial organizations, a new team selection committee that includes one person from each member province and a vote of no-confidence in the Boxing Canada board of directors.
Boxing Canada’s president of its board Ryan Savage said in a statement Wednesday that “Boxing Canada prides itself on values such as health and safety, integrity, and accountability and takes these concerns very seriously.”
The statement said among the national organization’s recent initiatives was the creation of a high performance advisory group, which includes provincial and coach representatives from across Canada, to ensure transparency in high performance decisions, including team selection.
The statement said a high-performance culture review — by Ilan Yampolsky of ITP Sport & Recreation Inc. — is underway and will continue over the next few months.
The boxers’ complaints come amid what Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge called a “crisis” in Canadian sport. Hundreds of athletes in both bobsled and skeleton and gymnastics have written similar letters to Sport Canada calling for independent investigations and, in the case of bobsled and skeleton, resignations of senior managers.
Wednesday’s letter was sent to Minister St-Onge, Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger, the Boxing Canada board of directors, and AthletesCAN.
AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, said in a statement: “We support these athletes as they continue their internal processes and advocate for a better boxing culture, while we look to further our ongoing work with the Minister’s office, and fellow sport partners.”
With files from Frederic Daigle in Montreal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press