David Bedford retired as head of Canada’s governing body for track and field late on Wednesday after a controversy over comments he made on social media.
Athletics Canada announced the change in the evening in a statement posted on its website and Twitter, then removed it without explanation and released it again after a board meeting.
“It has been agreed that Mr. Bedford will be retiring from the organization effective immediately,” said the statement, which made no mention of the circumstances of the departure.
Mr. Bedford told The Globe and Mail he had no comment, but said on his personal Facebook account that he’d planned on retiring in 2022 when he took the role of chief executive officer in April, 2019.
He did not mention the controversy over his tweets as a cause for his decision to step down from Athletics Canada.
Last Saturday, a member of the track and field community notified Athletics Canada’s board about sexualized comments from Mr. Bedford on Twitter, going back to at least August, 2021.
The chair of the board, Helen Manning, confronted Mr. Bedford about the social media activity, and he deleted the tweets and made his account private. Screenshots of the tweets were then circulated in the media. The Canadian Press first reported about the issue on Monday.
The turmoil within Athletics Canada follows sexual abuse and harassment scandals the board had to deal with in recent years.
Two sources told The Globe on Tuesday that the Athletics Canada board of directors had concluded Mr. Bedford’s actions were firing offences.
Athletics Canada’s board of directors assembled in an emergency meeting on Monday evening, and voted to explore his dismissal after the 12-member group was near unanimous in concluding he was no longer fit to lead the organization, according to two sources familiar with the board’s decision making process.
Members of the board said Mr. Bedford acted unprofessionally while presenting himself as the head of the organization on Twitter, and that his behaviour is contrary to the organization’s stand on gender equity and inclusion, the sources said.
Mr. Bedford’s personal Twitter account listed him as head of Athletics Canada, and he joined discussions on the social media platform with tweets that included sexually charged comments aimed at female participants. Some of the activity appeared to take place during last year’s Olympic Games, while Mr. Bedford was overseeing Canada’s track and field team in Tokyo.
Mr. Bedford defended his actions, saying he never directed comments at anyone involved in track and field, did not harass or abuse anyone, and that the posts were meant to be humorous. The board disagreed, and sought external legal counsel with the aim of dismissing Mr. Bedford with cause, according to the sources.
The two sources and two others at Athletics Canada’s administration said the process that allowed Mr. Bedford to retire in place of dismissal did not involve all 12 board members.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they are not authorized to speak publicly about internal matters.
Athletics Canada’s chief operating officer, Mathieu Gentès, will step in as interim CEO, effective immediately. He has worked with Athletics Canada since 2005, and was named COO in 2016.
Mr. Gentes says he doesn’t see the controversy around Mr. Bedford’s social media posts as a step backward for the organization. “I think that we have done so much on the safe sport side, we’ve been moving forward and haven’t put our head in the sand with these issues,” he told The Globe shortly after being named interim-CEO. “We had so much momentum over the last couple of years. Has the organization made mistakes? Yes. Do individuals make mistakes? Yes. But right now our leaders are making decisions to improve the organization.”
Special to The Globe and Mail