Canadian Swimmer, Jennifer Carroll, Reprimanded, Sparks Controversy -- December 12, 2002
OTTAWA, Canada, Dec. 12. CANADIAN swimmer Jennifer Carroll has been reprimanded for waving the Quebec flag at last summer's Commonwealth Games -- a gesture her coach called "unpardonable" by her coach -- according to a story in today's [Canadian] National Post by Michael Friscolanti and Andrew McIntosh.
"Jennifer Carroll's decision to fly the provincial colours on the medal podium received little attention back in July, when she placed second in the 50-metre backstroke. But Quebec politicians pounced on the incident yesterday after it was revealed that Dave Johnson, Ms. Carroll's coach, demanded the swimmer be suspended for trumping the Maple Leaf with a fleur-de-lis."
"'[The] gesture was unprofessional, selfish, disrespectful, infuriating and the most embarrassing that I have seen during all my years in the sport,' Mr. Johnson wrote in a report shortly after the incident. 'This gesture made an already fragile team sick and is unpardonable.'
"Swimming Canada ultimately decided not to suspend Ms. Carroll, even though she violated a signed agreement, mandated by the Commonwealth Games, that prohibits athletes from carrying provincial flags on the podium. Instead, a disciplinary committee ordered her in November to write a letter to her teammates and apologize to the board. She did both.
"Last night, Karen Spierkel, Swimming Canada's CEO, said the entire issue had been blown out of proportion, largely because it appeared that the organization was being biased against Quebec.
"Ms. Spierkel stressed that Swimming Canada was simply following the rules, which prohibit athletes from carrying any banners -- from provincial flags to bumper stickers -- when standing at the medal podium.
"She admitted the wording in Mr. Johnson's recommendation was harsh, but she said the punishment would have been the same no matter what flag she was waving.
"'She was reprimanded as any athlete would have been reprimanded,' Ms. Spierkel said. 'She knew full well that what she did was inappropriate.'
"Ms. Carroll, a bilingual anglophone Quebecer, said she was just trying to pay back the people in her home province.
"'They saw it as a political gesture, which it was not,' she said yesterday. 'I did it to thank the people who have supported me'
"Her coach, Mr. Johnson, said she should have found a different way to express her thanks.
"'You don't make political statements on a podium,' he said yesterday. 'She contends it wasn't that, but everyone else felt it was inappropriate. It would be the same if it was a British Columbia or Alberta flag.'
But despite the fact that Ms. Carroll violated her signed agreement, Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, insisted Canadian sport officials are promoting a double standard.
"In the House of Commons, Mr. Duceppe noted that Saskatchewan speed skater Catriona Le May-Doan was photographed on the medal podium at the most recent Olympics in Nagano, Japan, holding her provincial flag along with a Canadian one. Nobody threatened her with suspension, he said, proving that Quebec athletes are the victim of 'discrimination.'
"Some people suggested the flag incident also cost Ms. Carroll her status as a carded athlete, which entitles her to an annual government stipend worth $13,000. But both Paul de Villiers, the Amateur Sports Minister, and Swimming Canada said the two are not connected.
"'Just because she doesn't have carding this year has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the Quebec flag incident,' Ms. Spierkel said. 'It's wrong and it's false. If an athlete had lost their carding status or been suspended for carrying a flag, Quebec, Albertan, Manitoba or the Montreal Canadiens, I would be appalled.'
"Ms. Carroll does not have her card, Ms. Spierkel said, because she did not compete in the necessary qualifying events.
"Still, Mr. de Villiers said he will review Mr. Johnson's conduct in the wake of his disparaging remarks. In the meantime, he said Canadian athletes should be able to wave both the Canadian flag and their provincial flag.
"Others, including Stéphane Dion, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, said even though Ms. Carroll was not suspended, Mr. Johnson should be punished for his remarks.
"'There's no way she should be sanctioned or blamed or accused of anything,' he said.