The board of directors of Athletics Canada is planning to hire a law firm to review the leadership of its chief executive officer, David Bedford, over sexually inappropriate tweets in recent months on his personal Twitter account.
The tweets were brought to the attention of a board member on Saturday, who took screen shots of them and showed them to Helen Manning, the chair of the board. Ms. Manning confronted Mr. Bedford, who deleted the tweets and made his profile private.
The 12-member board convened for an emergency session via video conference call on Monday evening.
The turmoil within the national governing body for track and field follows sexual abuse and harassment scandals the Athletics Canada board had to deal with in recent years.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of what was discussed during the 90-minute board meeting, only one member said Mr. Bedford should not be dismissed because of his otherwise strong reputation and positive contributions to the organization. The majority voted to move forward with exploring Mr. Bedford’s dismissal, the sources said. The board does not need unanimous approval to take action, according to one of the sources.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The board also decided to seek outside counsel to carry out the review, rather than use the organization’s usual law firm, so as not to invite any potential conflicts of interest, the sources said. Under Mr. Bedford’s tenure, Athletics Canada has worked with Sport Law Group. The board also briefly discussed a succession plan in the event that Mr. Bedford is removed, but no replacement was selected, the sources said.
Mr. Bedford joined Athletics Canada as a well-respected and long-serving figure in sports marketing and administration, with ties to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the private sector. As CEO, his key role is to advocate on behalf of the organization’s athletes, coaches and clubs, meeting with potential corporate donors and government officials who make funding decisions.
Reached by The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Mr. Bedford, who took over in 2019, said he had no comment. He told The Canadian Press on Monday his actions did not break the misconduct policies of Athletics Canada, that he did not harass or abuse anyone, and that his comments were meant to be humorous. The since-deleted tweets dating back to August, 2021, included sexually suggestive comments on the physical appearance of female users.
The sources said board members disagreed with Mr. Bedford’s characterization of his tweets as benign, and were near unanimous that his conduct was unprofessional, had embarrassed the organization and that he was no longer fit to lead its 30,000 members. The primary concern during the emergency meeting was that Mr. Bedford’s social-media behaviour revealed a blindspot in his understanding of gender equity, the sources said.
A representative of Athletics Canada declined to comment. Ms. Manning indicated that the board will release a statement “in due course.”
The controversy comes after The Globe reported in February, 2020, that former national track team coach Dave Scott-Thomas had a sexual relationship with a teenage athlete in the early 2000s, and that Athletics Canada’s leadership was aware of his behaviour and did not act. The organization also has banned two prominent Ottawa-based coaches with close ties to national teams for sexually harassing and abusing athletes.
Special to The Globe and Mail