British Parasnowsport: UK Sport launch bullying investigation

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I have really suffered in the system - Cava

UK Sport has launched an independent investigation into allegations of bullying and discrimination in British Parasnowsport, the BBC can reveal.

The complainant, British Para-snowboarder Cassie Cava, says she was made to feel "worthless" after revealing she has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cava, who was not included in the initial selection for the British team for the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics in March, spent time in a psychiatric unit in early 2017.

"They made me feel really bad for opening up about my mental health," she told BBC Sport.

"I have had my dreams shattered."

Cava, who had her right foot amputated in 2014 and was one of the faces of the 'This Girl Can' campaign a year later, says the recent situation with her national governing body has led to her experiencing "suicidal feelings."

A UK Sport spokesperson told the BBC "athlete welfare is of the utmost importance to all of us".

They and British Parasnowsport (BPS) say the jointly commissioned independent investigation will be carried out by Sports Resolutions UK, who have worked on a series of high-profile cases involving British athletes and national governing bodies.

In their own statement BPS confirmed that "an athlete" - known to be Cava - made the complaint to UK Sport regarding a "BPS staff member and a range of other issues".

"As is absolutely necessary in these circumstances, the complaint will be fully investigated by an independent organisation who will report back to us and UK Sport when it's completed," the statement added.

"We would caution against any conclusions being drawn by others not in possession of all the facts."

Cassie Cava
Cava featured in a Sport England campaign 'This Girl Can' posters with the caption 'stare all you like but you'd better be quick' alongside a picture of her running in the park.

British Parasnowsport is the latest UK Sport funded National Governing Body (NGB) to become embroiled in controversy surrounding athlete welfare following inquiries into duty of care standards in British Para Swimming, British Cycling, British Gymnastics and GB Taekwondo, among others, in the last year.

Cava suffered from clubfoot since infancy and opted to have her right foot removed after a series of operations to improve her condition failed.

The 26-year-old believes sport was a "real driver" for her to "carry on life" after the amputation and hoped snowboarding would lead to a Paralympic career.

However, Cava - who has successfully trained and competed with the British Para-triathlon team during the summer months in recent years - struggled in the British Parasnowsport setup almost immediately after joining in 2015.

"It was very male-dominated and being an only girl it was a lonely place, it was hard from the word go," said Cava.

Her mental health continued to deteriorate before she and her family took the decision to undergo psychiatric treatment in February 2017.

At this time Cava also learnt that her UK Sport support was to end two months later.

"Afterwards I really felt like I'd been discriminated against because it was a mental health problem rather than a physical problem," says Cava.

The British Athletes Commission (BAC) helped secure full reinstatement in September, while UK Sport also backdated payments to the beginning of June.

Cava achieved the initial qualification criteria for a British athlete hoping to compete at the 2018 Winter Paralympics by claiming a World Cup silver medal in New Zealand in September last year.

However, she was not named amongst the first batch of athletes selected for the Paralympics GB squad following discussions between several concerned parties about how to best support her needs at the Games.

Although the final ParalympicsGB Winter Games athlete line-up selections are due to be made in the coming weeks, the snowboarder has now removed herself from contention - describing the decision as an "enormous relief".

UK Sport responded by stating that "British Parasnowsport, UK Sport, the British Athletes' Commission and the British Paralympic Association were working together to support Cassie's ambition to compete at the Paralympic Games.

"Cassie was involved in developing a plan to support her through the selection process and to compete in PyeongChang."

UK Sport, who will continue to fund Cava until April, insist that all options remained open for the snowboarder until she removed herself from the British Parasnowsport programme at the beginning of the year.

"I think it's really important to speak out now because I think when I've been stuck in it, my voice hasn't been heard and I haven't been taken seriously by anybody involved. And how I've been treated has been incredibly unfair and I don't think any other athlete should be put in this position. I have really suffered in the system and I want things to change. It's not ok," said Cava.

"I hope that the kind of safeguarding and athlete welfare will be taken a lot more seriously and I think that's why I feel the need to speak up because it's really been neglected and it's dangerous."

In a joint statement, the British Paralympic Association [BPA], UK Sport and BPS said: "Any allegations will now be independently and thoroughly investigated, so we are unable to comment further."

Since cycling's independent review in June 2017, UK Sport claim to have attempted to address concerns around athlete welfare by introducing a number of measures, including the establishment of a Sport Integrity Function and development of a 'Culture Health Check' process.

The findings of the investigation are not expected to be revealed until after the 2018 Winter Paralympics have ended in late March.

The BBC understands that Cava is currently considering her own legal options.

Meanwhile, Cava is considering potential future career options in Para Triathlon, although her disability category is not currently one of those selected for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Another option which could potentially be open to the athlete would be to switch to her father's nationality and compete in Para-snowboarding for Ireland in the years ahead.