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Canadian national artistic swimming coach Gabor Szauder taking leave of absence

Four months out from the Tokyo Olympics, Canada's artistic swim team is without a head coach.

Four months out from the Tokyo Olympics, Canada's artistic swim team is without a head coach.

Gabor Szauder is taking a personal leave pending the outcome of a discipline panel hearing in the aftermath of complaints from athletes, Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) announced Tuesday.

The CAS says the sport's national governing body and Szauder mutually agreed Monday that the situation had become too difficult to manage for the team and coach.

"The whole situation has been very challenging. The last two, three weeks in particular, with all the extra attention . . . and (the athletes) are in the middle of it," said CAS CEO Jackie Buckingham. "It's brought extreme pressure to the athletes, and the coaches and staff, everybody is feeling this enormous responsibility to the community. And so we just thought that if we took a pause and gave everybody a little space that it would help take some of that pressure off.

"It's just been really, really hard for everyone."

The swimmers were informed during a team meeting Tuesday morning. Assistants Kasia Kulesza and Karine Dore will assume head coaching duties at the team's national training centre in Montreal.

Canada has qualified in both the team and duet for the Tokyo Olympics, which open July 23.

The CAS completed an investigation into allegations against Szauder, and said it showed there was no clear evidence of a dangerous training environment in the senior national team program. The hearing before a third-party disciplinary panel will decide whether the Hungarian coach breached the organization's code of conduct.

Buckingham said they expect a decision from the panel probably in May.

"At this point, we don't know what the outcome will be, we're very hopeful that it will be positive and the training can resume," she said. "It's unfortunate the process has taken so long. . . In the best world, they're done quickly, so there's a resolution and these are not allowed to drag on for so long. 

"So, we're hopeful that will have a positive outcome, and then we'll have two-and-a-half months or so to knuckle down and get ready for the Olympic Games."

Earlier this month, five former elite artistic swimmers announced they had filed a proposed class action against Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) for allegedly failing to provide a safe environment for athletes.

Chloe Isaac, Gabrielle Boisvert, Erin Wilson, Sion Ormond and Gabriella Brisson allege CAS did not provide an environment "free of psychological abuse, neglect and harassment'' during their time with the program from 2007 to 2020.

They also accuse Szauder and previous coaches of disrespectful or abusive behaviour.

The New York Times reported Szauder has faced similar criticism from swimmers and officials in Slovakia, where he coached from 2013 to 2018, before leaving to coach in Canada.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Szauder did not immediately respond to an interview request. 

CAS last week temporarily suspended previous coaches Meng Chen and Leslie Sproule as it awaits the results of an independent safe sport investigation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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