OTTAWA, March 5. DAVE Johnson, Canada's head coach, has issued a grudging apology for remarks – described as "hurtful" and "reckless" by an inquiry report – he made about Quebec's Jennifer Carroll after she broke Commonwealth Games rules by carrying a regional flag (Quebec)to her medal ceremony in Manchester last year.
At the time, Johnson described Carroll's actions as "self-serving, disrespectful, upsetting and the most embarrassing action by a Canadian swimmer in the history in the sport."
Today, he said: "I didn't think it was appropriate at the time given the circumstances. I'm a proud Canadian. I think we were representing Canada at that particular competition and I think it's really important that when you're competing for your country, that that is the pre-eminent reason why you are there."
"I stand by my comment," he added noting that he would have reacted the same way had Carroll been carrying an Alberta flag and that his comments were not made in the context of French Canadian politics. "It wasn't that she was carrying a Quebec flag. It was that she was drawing attention to herself and her need at the expense of the team. That was the point."
Carroll responded by saying: "All I want is a sincere apology. I don't want him to apologize just because he has to, but because he thinks he should do it. Dave Johnson is a good man. But, I do hope he will learn from his mistake. The phrase that says 'think before you talk' applies to him."
The inquiry into the incident concluded that Johnson "crossed over the line of professionalism" when he publicly scolded Carroll.
Johnson's statements fuelled a political dispute in Quebec, where Bernard Landry, the Premier, joined a chorus of condemnation against the coach and Swimming Canada, the national federation. Some federal Cabinet members called for Johnson to resign.
The inquiry report concludes: "Mr. Johnson's initial media comments were not reactive and off the cuff remarks – they were made at a time when he had opportunity to reflect. The comments contributed to the escalation of the matter, they were wrong, and they were hurtful."
It also lays some blame at Carroll's door. It says trouble had begun before the Games, when Nadine Rolland, of Quebec, was granted a spot on the team through a series of court appeals despite having failed to qualify at trials because of an injury. Her inclusion caused another swimmer to be dropped from the team to make way for Rolland, whose close friendship with Carroll only served to cause further division on the Canadian team, according to the report.
Hilary Findlay, director of Brock University's Centre for Sport and Law and author of the inquiry report, states: "The two women were perceived as consistently alienating themselves from the rest of the team and, in fact, did separate themselves from the rest of the team. For example: the two athletes did not conform to team dress; they missed or were late for scheduled training sessions or meetings; they attended events separately from the rest of the team."
"The tension surrounding the team during the entire Games was palpable," the report reads. "In summary, this was a demoralized, divided, frustrated and angry team." That much showed in the results: Canada failed to win a title and notched up its worst performance in the pool in Games history.
The federation, also criticised in the report, was due to comment at a conference later in the day.
The inquiry panel has made 10 recommendations, including formally sanctioning Johnson with a letter of reprimand; rewriting job descriptions and performance reviews; and appointing a person to deal with outside conflicts normally handled by Johnson.
The swimming federation ordered the inquiry last December after the federal government threatened to withhold Can$1.78-million worth of annual funding unless the coach's conduct was independently investigated.
On August 3, 2002 at the Games in Manchester, Carroll, 21, won the silver medal in the 50 meter backstroke before taking a small Quebec flag – the fleur-de-lys – to the medal podium with her as a gesture of thanks to her supporters at home. That act violated Commonwealth Games regulations that prohibit logos on the podium: only national flags may be shown.
Two months later, Johnson submitted a report to Swimming Canada saying that Carroll's conduct was "unpardonable." He recommended that she be suspended for six months. However, a disciplinary committee said that her penalty should be to write letters of apology to the coach and to the federation's chief executive.
On December 11, Carroll called a press conference to announce that her annual grant of Can$13,000 had been revoked because of the flag-carrying incident. In fact, her funding had been cut because she opted not to attend qualification races.
Johnson told the Canadian media that Quebec athletes tend "to overreact and to complain to the media." That caused the government, sensitive to francophone feelings, to threaten to revoke Swimming Canada's funding.