Bobsled’s governing body in Canada still wants Kaillie Humphries to race for her country despite their acrimonious relationship that has spilled into court.
A Calgary judge has denied Humphries’ request for an injunction forcing Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton to release her so she can compete for the United States.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist wants to participate in the U.S. push trials in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Wednesday, but needs her release to do so.
Tuesday’s legal decision is the latest chapter in a dispute involving one of Canada’s most prominent sports stars and the organization that has overseen her career for 15 years.
Humphries and brakewoman Heather Moyse won Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014, making them the first to repeat as Olympic champions in women’s bobsled.
Humphries also won Olympic bronze in 2018 with Phylicia George.
“Kaillie is obviously a world and Olympic champion. We want Kaillie in our program,” BCS high-performance director Chris Le Bihan said Tuesday at the Calgary courthouse following the judge’s ruling.
“Kaillie is obviously going to be a threat in the next Olympics and there’s nothing more that we like to see other than Canadians standing on the podium.”
Justice Cheryl Anderson ruled court was not the right vehicle to make decisions on the standoff when national and international sport bodies have established processes and procedures to do so.
“There are specialized sports tribunals with comprehensive sets of rules, regulations and dispute resolution mechanisms that have specialized knowledge of the policy considerations at play and the consequences of any decision to release or not, and whether it is reasonable or not,” she said.
Humphries contended that since her athlete agreement with the Canadian bobsleigh organization expired in June, she’s no longer subject to the group’s regulations. But Anderson said asking BCS to release her contradicts that assertion.
Humphries first asked BCS to release her Aug. 3. The 34-year-old Calgarian will continue her bid to sever her relationship with the organization and compete for the U.S., according to her lawyer.
“There are options available to us. We’re considering them now,” Jeff Rath stated. “We’re obviously not giving up the fight and we’re continuing to move forward.”
USA Bobsled has said the organization would welcome Humphries to its team once she gets her release from Bobsleigh Canada.
“As far as I know she’s still invited to Lake Placid tomorrow,” said Rath, adding that Humphries is planning to attend.
“The issue is whether she’s going to be able to train there or not or whether she’s just there as an observer until we straighten out this mess Bobsleigh Canada has intentionally created.”
Humphries married American bobsledder Travis Armbruster last weekend, which would allow her to represent the U.S. in competition if she was released by Canada.
The first public indicator of a rift between Humphries and BCS surfaced a year ago. Humphries said she would not compete during the 2018-19 season after filing a harassment complaint against a coach with BCS in August 2018.
BCS hired an independent third-party investigator to review Humphries’ complaint. A report was submitted to the Canadian organization just last week.
“The report found there was not sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations,” BCS lawyer Arif Chowdhury said Tuesday following the judge’s decision.
Humphries also filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against BCS last week.
In her statement of claim, she accused head coach Todd Hays of mentally and verbally abusing her during the 2017-18 sliding season. Hays didn’t directly address her allegations in a statement provided Tuesday by BCS.
“This entire situation is very unfortunate for everyone involved, and for our sport in Canada,” Hays said in the release. “There are no winners when your sport is in the public eye like this.
“My focus right now is on the season ahead. Our athletes and coaches are committed to continuing to build on the positive team culture in our national program in an effort to ensure we are fully prepared to achieve excellence on the world stage.”
Humphries contends BCS was in violation of its own discrimination and harassment policies and that she was punished by BCS for filing the harassment complaint.
Humphries says she wasn’t invited to camps. She believed she was going to be given substandard equipment and that teammates were actively discouraged from working with her if she returned to the team.
The allegations have not been proven in court. BCS has yet to file a statement of defence.
Le Bihan denied his organization retaliated against Humphries and says he has confidence in Hays, who has coached the national team since 2017.
“We’ve done significant due diligence and researching as we hired him,” Le Bihan said. “Our athletes in our current pool have clearly been outspoken that he’s the one they want in the program.”
Justin Kripps, who piloted Canada to Olympic gold in two-man bobsled last year, denied there is a culture of abuse on the national bobsled team.
“All I can say really is that our team culture is really good,” Kripps said Saturday. “We compete and train in a positive, safe environment. That’s my opinion and that’s the opinion of most of the World Cup athletes that I’ve talked to.”
Le Bihan says BCS is reluctant to release Humphries because she is a medal threat and also because of the time and money invested in her over a decade and a half.
“This sport in particular takes a very long time to take the skills to be able to do this, driving a sled down the track,” he said. “Kaillie is excellent at this. Not everyone can achieve the skill set Kaillie has. Of course we want that to be in our program.”
Humphries has received roughly $270,000 over her 15 years on the national team from Sport Canada under the Athlete Assistance Program, which is money high-performance athletes get to cover living expenses.
BCS also gets Sport Canada funding from Own The Podium to cover the competitive costs of its national teams.
Humphries can take her case to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), which is a tribunal funded by the federal government with jurisdiction over amateur sport disputes.
She said in her statement of claim that in order to compete for the Americans in 2019-20, she needs a release letter from BCS and an acceptance letter from USA Bobsled by Sept. 30.
Whether Humphries and BCS can heal their relationship enough for her to ever race for Canada again remains to be seen.
“Bobsleigh Canada has been making it clear she’s not welcome to come back. They’ve been treating her abysmally since her harassment claim was filed,” Rath stated.
“It’s a pretty shocking story when you look at how this clearly national treasure of a Canadian athlete has been so grossly mistreated by a Canadian amateur sporting organization.”
With files from The Associated Press.