Speed Skating Canada says the complaints around national team head coach Michael Crowe were serious enough to call for an independent investigation, but the organization won’t get into specifics about the nature of those complaints.
Crowe was put on leave on Jan. 9 — one month before the start of the Pyeongchang Olympics — after Speed Skating Canada received negative "feedback" about him from members of their organization.
"The decision to put Mr. Crowe on leave was based on recent feedback from our athletes and coaches and it was substantive enough that it called for an independent, comprehensive professional investigation," Speed Skating Canada CEO Susan Auch told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.
The 64-year-old Crowe joined the Canadian national team in 2007 and was promoted to head coach on April 27, 2015. He spent time as a coach with the U.S. national team from 1983 to 1991 and again from 1999 to 2006.
In a report that surfaced late last week, former American speedskaters claimed that Crowe had sexual relationships with some skaters while coaching the U.S. team.
"I can’t really speak to the information regarding Mr. Crowe before he was an employee of Speed Skating Canada," said Auch.
Crowe did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Auch, a four-time Olympian who won two silver medals in speedskating in 1994 and 1998, was named interim CEO of Speed Skating Canada last February.
The Winnipeg native said she didn’t know whether the organization knew of any rumours surrounding Crowe when he was hired.
"I wasn’t in a position in the organization where I would know," Auch said. "I would assume not though, that would be the logical assumption to make."
Auch said that since she’s been with Speed Skating Canada, she’s seen an "extensive" vetting process when it comes to hiring coaches.
"I don’t know whether there wasn’t a higher vetting process in those days. Google wasn’t as extensively used as it is now in jobs so I wouldn’t want to say that they were not vetting people. I think they vetted (Crowe) as much as they could," she said.
"I would say that SSC has a very extensive vetting process in place at the moment, we do background checks on staff since I’ve been in place. So going forward, obviously we need to do everything we can to ensure the people we’re hiring are going to put our athletes and coaching staff and all members of the organization in an atmosphere of security and respect and professionalism."
While the timing of Crowe’s leave is unideal, Auch said it hasn’t disrupted athletes’ preparation for the upcoming Olympics.
"This is obviously a very, very important concern. It’s at the top of the list," she said. "Our athletes not getting distracted is equally important to us and clearly the information was substantive enough for us to decide that we needed to act now.
"Timing is never perfect. That being said the athletes have their coaches. Mr. Crowe is not the coach of any specific athlete. He is the head coach so he coaches the coaches. The coaches have a very strong leadership in place with them that has not changed other than Mr. Crowe’s leave. And those athletes and those coaches and the leadership staff, they are entirely prepared for the Olympics."