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Lifetime ban for former Cambridge gymnastics coach is upheld

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An arbitrator with the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada upheld a lifetime ban for a former Cambridge gymnastics coach, Elvira Saadi, though she tried to appeal the decision.

The move to uphold the ban on the 72-year-old is one of the first of its kind in sports.

Saadi was suspended from coaching in 2020 following several complaints of physical and psychological abuse.

A subsequent discipline committee banned her for life from coaching athletes again.

After ten years, Saadi would only be allowed to train coaches.

Saadi appealed the decision, arguing the process was unfair and biased. According to her lawyer, it’s an unprecedented ban for someone accused of non-sexual offences.

"I have never seen that and I can tell you that we canvassed the law in order to make the submissions for this case and there are none. That was a major point of contention in the hearing for this case, was that there is no similar ban for a non-sexual case," said Saadi's lawyer, Elliot Saccucci from Loopstra Nixon LLP.

Saadi is a two-time Olympic as a member of the Soviet Olympic teams. She moved to Canada in 1991 and began training gymnasts in Cambridge.

She was inducted into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame In 2009.

Violations listed

According to the arbitrator’s decision, investigators found sixteen different violations of five policies and 11 different categories of maltreatment over a period of 13 years.

The substantiated complaints included both psychological abuse and physical abuse, including body shaming, name calling and criticizing athletes, yelling and screaming at them, creating a toxic environment, and exercising an excessive amount of control over them, restricting their food and water intake, aggressive physical contact, dispensing non-prescribed and or unapproved pills/supplements, forcing athletes to train and compete while injured or too exhausted to do so safely, rejecting medical opinions and recommendations of professionals when those conflicted with her own personal views, and ignoring policies and procedures.

In her decision, the arbitrator said the ban was based on facts and fell well within a range of acceptable outcomes.

Her lawyer said the issue he takes with the decision is it allows disciplinary committees to set an almost never-ending range for punishment.

"My concern is that there will be worse actors in sport than Ms. Saadi. We've already seen worse actors in sport, but you can't punish someone more than a lifetime ban. So how do you escalate from here," Saccucci said.

A lawyer for one of the complainants who was coached by Saadi as a minor told CTV News it's been difficult for the athlete to move forward and trust adults and coaches in a position of authority again.

"For those gymnastics coaches who do act abusively towards their athletes, it signals that all forms of maltreatment in sport are unacceptable and non-sexual abuse warrants a serious sanction, too,” said Amanda Fowler, one of the lawyers representing one of the complainants.

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