Former Natation Gatineau head coach Brian Kelly has been expelled by the Fédération de Natation du Québec (FNQ) after he was found to have psychologically abused and harassed his swimmers.
Kelly was found to have “demonstrated inappropriate behavior characterized by psychological abuse, blatant negligence and psychological violence” towards both his athletes and his assistant coaches, according to a report from The Protection of Integrity Committee (PIC) obtained by SwimSwam.
Following a six-month investigation, a formal complaint was filed against Kelly in August which led to a series of hearings in September and October.
A total of 30 complainants were a part of the investigation, 19 of which were heard during the hearings.
The report, dated Nov. 17, emphasizes that the repeated nature and seriousness of his actions paint an alarming picture of systematic abuse, including psychological violence, harassment and intimidation.
The investigation found that Kelly regularly lost his temper and engaged in verbal abuse with his athletes. All of the testimonies mentioned anger in some respect, with the “vast majority” of victims reporting that they would feel afraid to talk to him about their problems due to fear of his anger issues. Swimmers felt as though they “had to walk on eggshells” around him because they didn’t know how he would react.
He would also isolate certain athletes who he deemed had a “poor” performance, neglecting to talk or even look at swimmers. He would also tell his assistant coaches to treat athletes differently (or not give them attention) if they had unsatisfactory performances, were dealing with injury, or if they or their parents had made complaints.
In one specific instance, one of his swimmers was training with a broken foot, which the report says he “took pride in and was proud of this type of situation,” referring to medical notes as “fake” when presented to him.
One parent detailed how he immediately noticed his child’s change in behavior when he started getting coached by Kelly, as the swimmer would feel a heightened sense of anxiety, especially before races, out of fear of underperforming and subsequent mistreatment by the coach.
There were also instances where swimmers would transfer clubs and Kelly would encourage his athletes to refer to those who left as a “traitor”. He would only coach in English despite there being French-speaking athletes in his group.
The lengthy report goes on to detail other accounts of targeted punishment and unequal treatment, public shaming, humiliation and denigration, and swearing and insulting his athletes, resulting in an “oppressive and toxic environment.”
Kelly, who arrived at Natation Gatineau in 2016, was the head coach of the club for seven years.
According to the FNQ, he “retired” from coaching in August and has not been employed with the Gatineau club “for a few months.”
Kelly neglected to file evidence or present witnesses in his defense, failing to appear at the final hearing where he would’ve had the opportunity to testify. The Protection of Integrity Committee concluded that he waived his right to submit a defense after numerous attempts to communicate with him.
The report calls for an improved complaint process within the club, one with more transparency as some parents and athletes noted that at times they didn’t want to file a complaint with the Natation Gatineau Board of Directors because they’d seen previous reports get swept under the rug.
There are reportedly calls from club members to dissolve the current club Board and place Natation Gatineau either under trusteeship or have the FNQ host new elections.
The FNQ has also initiated an investigation, led by the Institut Sur la Gouvernance D’Organisations Privées et Publiques (Institute on the Governance of Private and Public Organizations), into the club and how the abuse was allowed to go on for so long.