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A coach’s suspension has turned the sport world upside down

January 24, 2020

(*All of the linked articles are in Finnish.)

Background: In 2019 the Finnish Sports Ethics Center (SUEK) launched an investigation when more than 10 former synchronized skating athletes filed a complaint through the “You’re Not Alone” site to report the abusive behaviour they experienced at the hands of their coach.

Some of this behaviour included bullying, verbal abuse, humiliation, exclusion, body shaming, singling out athletes who had made mistakes, and putting the “offending athlete” in the middle of a circle so the others could shout at them. Overall, what one could describe as unethical behaviour.  It took nearly a YEAR to process the complaints.

Last week, the Disciplinary Board of the Finnish Figure Skating Association imposed a one-year ban on the coach (Coach A) in question, and suspended another (Coach B) for not intervening to stop the abuse. Coach A is banned from coaching in domestic and international competitions. She was also employed by the club in question, but her employment has been suspended. She has denied all the charges through her legal representation. What is also surprising is that the Disciplinary Board of the Finnish Figure Skating Association didn’t even exist until AFTER the skaters had filed their complaint! <WHAT?>

The sports division of the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation broke the story last Friday and it has snowballed since then. Some media outlets have not named the coach, but others have, so it is not difficult to find out who is involved.

Helsingin Sanomat also reported that Finnish Figure Skating Association had received information about the behaviour of the coach in question back in 2017. “At that time, our interventions and subsequent measures did not have the desired and desirable impact,” says Laura Raitio, chairman of the union. See more about that here.

The question is, why wasn’t something done sooner? Apparently she has been coaching for a very long time – and that adds up to many lives touched by her behaviour and abuse.

More background on the story is here from YLE and from Helsingin Sanomat. Google Translate helps a lot and gives a much more in-depth analysis of the issue.

The Finnish Figure Skating Association also issued its own statement.

What is really sad is that abusive behaviour seems to be pretty commonplace in this sport, because former figure skater Kiira Korpi lambasted the Finnish Figure Skating Association last fall. Korpi also posted a video on Facebook last week lamenting the current situation and iterating that all young athletes deserve to grow and develop in a safe sporting environment. I couldn’t agree more.

***

In the end, this affects anyone who coaches junior athletes. This affects me. The reported abhorrent behaviour of this coach has now put every other junior coach under the microscope and I resent that. People have asked me about it and I have told what this really means for me and others who coach kids…

I coach young girls in Espoo in both junior hockey and ringette. I can tell you right now that if I ever behaved like this coach did, I would never be allowed to coach in this city ever again.

When I was at practice earlier this week with our ringette crew, there were a lot more parents in attendance than normal. While I knew about this story breaking on the figure skating scene, it didn’t really register with me until later – parents in all sports are watching.

Helping develop today’s girls into the athletes of tomorrow means encouraging them no matter what their starting point is. We have girls who have started playing ringette and hockey which many would consider “quite late.” Late, maybe – but it’s never too late to learn and improve, especially if they are motivated. I had one team of less experienced girls a few weeks ago who took a big beating a tournament, and I expected that would happen. I also shared that with them, but it didn’t bother them in the least. We had a fun day, they did their best and that was all I expected out of them. So – something was done right on that day. <thumbs up> Small victories like this add up over the season.

Exhale…

I am sure we have not seen or heard the last of this yet.

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