Swimming Canada was questioned Monday by a member of the Canadian Parliament regarding its CEO taking personal leave just over one year out from the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
In late May, Swimming Canada announced that current CEO Ahmed El-Awadi would be taking a personal leave of absence, and that Suzanne Paulins, the organization’s Director of Operations & Sport Development, would be named Acting CEO, effective May 29.
Now, Conservative Member of Parliament Kevin Waugh is calling El-Awadi’s personal leave “a red flag” so close to the Games, noting how Canada is an “international powerhouse” in swimming during a Canadian Heritage Committee safe-sport hearing on Monday, according to The Canadian Press.
Paulins said El-Awadi took a personal health leave and that she took over on an interim basis to ensure continuity after having been with the organization for six years.
“Being with the organization and on the leadership team over the last several years, that was a conscious decision to protect and ensure that the continuity of the organization was maintained in these last 14, 16 months in preparation for the Olympics and Paralympics,” Paulins said, according to The Canadian Press .
“All of our decisions are around protecting and engaging our athletes, our coaches, our staff in the next 16 months.”
El-Awadi appeared before a Status of Women (a department in Canadian federal government) safe-sport committee hearing on Feb. 2, when he was questioned about his time as the head of Water Polo Canada from 2005 to 2013.
Four former members of the Canadian women’s water polo team sued the organization in October 2022 and alleged a toxic culture fostered by executives and support staff. The allegations have not been tested in court.
According to CBC, both the Heritage and Status of Women committees have been holding regular hearings in recent months to address what federal sports minister Pascale St-Onge has referred to as a safe sport crisis.
St-Onge announced a number of safe-sport reforms in May, including having a public registry of people who have been sanctioned or suspended within the sport system, restricting the use of non-disclosure agreements, making financial statements public and changing the makeup of boards of directors.
Athletes across several sports have testified at parliamentary committee hearings in Ottawa about the abuse and harassment they experienced from coaches and other team personnel in recent months, with many of them in tears, according to Sportsnet.
Hockey Canada, Canada Soccer, Gymnastics Canada and the Canadian Fencing Federation are among the other organizations that have come under fire from MPs regarding personnel and financial decisions and how they’ve handled reports of misconduct.
Paulins was also asked about what Swimming Canada had done about Mary-Sophie Harvey, who believes she was drugged last summer during an after-party at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.
The case was turned over by Swimming Canada to its safe-sport officer.
“At this time, there’s no further update I have with regards to an investigation,” Paulins said Monday. “But just to say that one was completed, documents were filed, but there was no further outcome that came out, aside from what is publicly known.”