Posted on April 28, 2022

Black Bobsleigh Athlete Alleges Racism in Olympic Team Selection

Judy Trinh and Nick Murray, CBC, April 23, 2022

After he gave up the gridiron for the ice, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence says his dream to compete for Canada at this year’s Beijing Olympics was thwarted by systemic discrimination within Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.


Despite posting overall better performance results, Murray-Lawrence says his spot was given to a “walk-on” athlete who never even competed with his eventual Olympic teammates until the Beijing Games.


His main rival was Jay Dearborn, another CFL player. A snapshot of how the two stack up against each other is seen in the performance records tracked by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF).

Dearborn competed in just five races in the past two years, and his best finish was fifth place in the four-man sled event, racing with Canada’s best pilot.

The two athletes have similar profiles — but with one glaring difference.

“When one athlete is white and one athlete is Black, you know, do we see past that? Do we say, ‘Oh, no, that’s normal.’ Or is there something deeply rooted?” asked Murray-Lawrence.

A ‘toxic culture’

The allegations of racism are putting BCS under increased scrutiny just weeks after the sport organization was called out for its “toxic culture” in an open letter signed by 90 current and former national bobsled and skeleton athletes.

The letter stated that BCS policies had “deeply held biases, resulting in an environment that is anti-competition … and ensure in many cases that only the athletes who fit into the ‘BCS ideal’ will ever have the opportunity to compete.”

It also called for the resignation of BCS president and CEO Sarah Storey and high-performance director Chris Le Bihan.

Many of the signatories chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution or losing their spot on national teams.

Not an isolated incident, fellow athletes say

But two other bobsledders, veterans Cynthia Appiah and Neville Wright, are breaking their silence. They tell CBC that Murray-Lawrence is just the latest example of systemic racism within the national bobsled organization.

For Appiah, racism within BCS takes the form of “microaggressions and snide remarks,” she said. She said she’s seen athletes of colour shortchanged on training, opportunities and even treatments, like physiotherapy and massage, during her more than eight years with the team.

Appiah has pushed her way to gold and bronze at elite World Cup events as a brakewoman and is currently ranked third in the world in women’s monobob, following an eighth place finish at the Beijing Olympics.

“It’s hard not to see patterns emerge, where certain people are given preferential treatment over others. And at times, those that aren’t being given opportunities tend to be athletes of colour. Black athletes,” she said.

Three-time Olympian Neville Wright, who was on the team for nearly a decade before retiring in 2018, said he’s experienced overt racism in his career, being called “garbage” and “trash” and left off teams despite good performances. A top team official once accused him of stealing a helmet after his coach told him to get a spare from the equipment shed, he said.


BCS president Storey said the team selection is a “robust process” and the decision is more complex than the rankings of each athlete.

“There are weight limits, there are combinations, there’s riding position.… It’s not just about times. There’s push, there’s speed and other aspects,” said Storey.

“It’s a tough thing to do,” she said. “Somebody is always going to be disappointed and that is the nature of high-performance sport.”

The organization says it wants to resolve the issues brought forward by its athletes in the open letter and hopes the sledders will participate in an independent, third-party mediation process it has initiated.

And the trouble at BCS is adding to the turmoil in national sport that has made its way onto the radar of the federal sport minister. Pascale St-Onge’s office has received more than 100 complaints from athletes from eight different sporting federations, ranging from bad governance to safety concerns to abuse.

St-Onge says Canada’s national sport policy, which was drafted four decades ago, needs to be updated to guard against racism. “We’re going to review and make sure that it’s at the forefront of the new Canadian sport policy to make sure that we take action against racism, discrimination,” she said.

Sport federations need to have more diversity in their leadership, St-Onge said, noting that organizations that rely on federal funds will be held to account for mismanagement and abuse.