Montreal athlete battles wave of criticism
for showing Quebec flag on podium


The political waters were choppy in Ottawa yesterday as a defiant Jennifer Carroll refused to apologize to Swimming Canada officials for waving a Quebec flag after being awarded a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games last summer.

"I already apologized to my teammates and the Commonwealth Games staff after I came back," Carroll, a 21-year-old Montreal swimmer, said last night. "I didn't mean to offend anyone and I don't owe anyone else an apology."

Carroll was reprimanded by Swimming Canada for breaking international protocol by carrying a Quebec flag onto the podium after finishing second in the 50-metre backstroke at the Games in Manchester, England. "They thought it was a political gesture, but I told them I was only trying to thank my family and friends in Quebec who had supported me," said Carroll, a bilingual anglophone who stated she is not a separatist. "Carroll is an English name and I am Irish."

After a disciplinary hearing last month, Carroll was told to write a letter of apology to national team head coach Dave Johnson and Swimming Canada's CEO Karen Spierkel, an order Carroll says she will ignore. Johnson sent a letter to Swimming Canada's disciplinary committee in October recommending Carroll be suspended from international competition for six months. In an interview yesterday, Johnson said her action on the podium took all her teammates by surprise. "Everybody just went, 'Oh my God,' " said Johnson, who is based in Calgary. "The awards podium isn't somewhere where you're supposed to make a statement - and some people construed this to be a political statement."

Carroll said no one told her she couldn't wave her provincial flag. "It was just a small flag," she said. "If I was from Ontario, I would have had an Ontario flag." Yesterday, the House of Commons was swimming in controversy over the affair. Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said there were no repercussions when speed-skater Catriona Le May Doan mounted the podium at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 with a Saskatchewan flag. Bloc house leader Michel Gauthier attacked Johnson's letter, which said bringing the Quebec flag to the podium "turned the stomachs of an already fragile team." "Are we to understand from the comments of the chief coach that the mere sight of a Quebec flag makes people at Swimming Canada sick?" Immigration Minister Denis Coderre, a former minister for amateur sport, said athletes should be allowed to show their pride in their provinces: "If the only reason that they did what they did to the swimmer was because she brandished the Quebec flag, it is completely unacceptable." Liberal MP Carole Marie Allard (Laval East) said heads should roll: "We're not obliged to sanction imbecility."

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion called Carroll's situation "unacceptable." Spierkel said the affair is closed, and the swimmer is just manipulating the media to pressure Swimming Canada into giving her financial support she hasn't earned. In any case, this is the second time this year a Quebec swimmer has butted heads with the sport's ruling body. This spring, Carroll's roommate and training partner, Nadine Rolland, sued Swimming Canada after her name was mistakenly left off the Commonwealth Games team. She was later reinstated.

Carroll said she doesn't believe Swimming Canada is picking on Quebec athletes. But she was disappointed with it after she won the 50-metre backstroke at the world short-course championships in Moscow in April. "I received a plaque and I thought I deserved more than that," she said. "So when I went to the Commonwealth Games, I brought a Quebec flag so I could thank my supporters." Carroll is also bitter that she hasn't received national "carding" - a monthly allowance from Sport Canada for elite athletes.

Despite the controversy, Carroll hopes to make the Canadian team for the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the world champion-ships in Montreal the following year. "Whatever happens, I am going to keep swimming."

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