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