Former Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller calls for investigation to address abuse in sports

WARNING: This article contains details of sexual and other physical abuse and suicidal ideation.

A former Olympic athlete with a history of combating harassment in sports says she wants an investigation into amateur sports in Canada to address systemic sexual, physical and verbal abuse of athletes.

Waneek Horn-Miller is the former co-captain of Canada’s Olympic women’s water polo team. She was removed from the team in 2003 for allegedly having “team cohesion” issues from Water Polo Canada. She said that Canada’s amateur athletes need help.

“We can’t rely on existing rival athletes to fight in their sport. You can’t, because that would mean the end of their careers. That’s why as a retired athlete I’ve been so vocal to do something about it,” Horn said. Miller, who is the first Mohawk woman from Canada to compete in the Olympics, told a parliamentary committee of lawmakers on Monday.

“I want an investigation, but we can’t do another one without teeth. We have to do something.”

Horn-Miller first came to national attention at the age of 14 during the Oka Crisis. stabbed in the chest with a soldier’s bayonet holding his four-year-old sister.

Waneek Horn-Miller, headquarters, holds her 4-year-old sister in her arms when chaos erupts during the 78-day siege of the Oka Crisis in 1990. Horn-Miller, 14, was stabbed in the chest by a soldier. bayonet. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Horn-Miller, now a water polo coach, joined Water Polo Canada’s diversity task force in June 2020 to assist the organization’s efforts to combat systemic racism in sport.

Water Polo Canada issued a public apology when announcing Horn-Miller’s appointment, acknowledging that he had to leave the team before the end of his athletic career.

“We sincerely apologize to him and to others we hurt and excluded,” the statement said. “We reach out to our current and retired athletes to hear their stories and learn from them.”

WATCH: Olympian says athletes cannot be held responsible for tackling abuse in sport:

Olympian says athletes cannot be held responsible for tackling abuse in sport

Olympic water polo player Waneek Horn-Miller, in her testimony before the standing committee on women’s status, discusses her role as a retired athlete and her recommendations to the committee.

Horn-Miller told the committee that after Oka, water polo became her “suicide … stress reliever.”

“As my life spiraled out of control politically, it became much more important to me. I focused more on my Olympic dreams.”

He said that like many other athletes, his goal of going to the Olympics and winning a medal convinced him to accept racist and verbal abuse that he wouldn’t have tolerated otherwise.

“The harassment was well known, it was known that the power was in the coaches. The rumors that were there were always sexual harassment, verbal abuse, abuse of power,” he said.

Horn-Miller said he was told by the team’s former captain that he needed to prepare himself for harassment to come. He said he struggled with the atmosphere at first, but remained “laser-focused” going to the Olympics.

“You have a dream of becoming an Olympian and you are extraordinarily vulnerable. The power is in your hands. You will do anything, anything to make your Olympic dream come true. It’s an obsession that leaves you vulnerable to all kinds of abuse,” he said.

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Elite athletes are “basically employees” of the federal government: An Olympian debates Sport Canada

Olympic water polo player Waneek Horn-Miller, speaking before the standing committee on women’s status, says elite athletes do not receive enough protection from the federal department.

Horn-Miller said that the abuse within the organization increased when he did not get a medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and filed a complaint.

Sport Canada and Water Polo Canada brought in York University for investigation, which found that harassment that was not sexual in nature took place. The coaches were fired and a new regime was introduced.

Shortly after this report was published, Horn-Miller was removed from the team. He told lawmakers on Monday that he felt labeled as a “Troubled Indigenous”.

“I understood that there was no desire to resolve our disagreements, our problems within Canada Water Polo, there was no solution, then there was no compromise,” he said.

next generation

In October, four former members of the national water polo team filed a $5.5 million lawsuit against Canada Water Polo.

Former athletes allege in un-court-tested statements of claim that several former coaches and staff members working for Water Polo Canada subjected the athletes to physical, psychological and emotional abuse and sexual harassment.

One of the coaches named in the indictment coached the women’s national team from 1985 to 2001, but was sacked after complaints of verbal abuse.

The statement of claim states that the same coach was rehired two years later and sacked again in 2011.

WATCH: Horn-Miller addresses rehiring of a coach she says she lost ‘career trying to stop’

Canadian Hall of Fame addresses rehiring of a coach it says lost ‘his career trying to stop it’

Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller testifies before the standing committee on the status of women.

“They just rehired this coach. I lost my career trying to stop him,” Horn-Miller told lawmakers, and was visibly emotional.

“I was depressed and suicidal and I can’t tell you. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t native and my community didn’t take me and say, ‘We love you, we honor you and we care about you.’

“I am furious that Sport Canada continues to fund an organization that is rehiring one of these coaches who continues to work unattended to ruin the lives of another generation of women. How could that be?”

Support is available to anyone who has experienced sexual or physical abuse.

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