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Olympic Organizer Says Weekly Defamed Him

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - The former head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics claims in court that a weekly newspaper defamed him in an article accusing him of abusing students decades ago while he worked as a gym teacher.

John Furlong sued reporter Laura Robinson, the Vancouver Free Press Publishing Corp., its publisher Daniel McLeod and editor Charlie Smith, in British Columbia Furling, now head of Vancouver's pro soccer team Whitecaps FC, worked as a volunteer gym teacher in the northern British Columbia communities of Burns Lake and Prince George in the 1960s and 1970s.

Furlong claims the defendants defamed him in an article in the Georgia Straight, a free weekly with a circulation of about 800,000.

He claims that Robinson's article defamed him by falsely accusing him of being violent and racist toward his students.

Furlong was a volunteer sports coach at Catholic schools between 1969 and 1972 and after returning to his native Ireland, he subsequently immigrated to Canada.

He claims Robinson published a series of articles between 2008 and 2012 that were "sharply critical" of the Vancouver Organizing Committee's handling of the games.

In September, the newspaper ran a lengthy piece under the headline "John Furlong Biography Omits Secret Past in Burns Lake."

The article relied upon affidavits and interviews with former students who claimed Furlong physically and verbally abused them as their sports coach.

Furlong claims in the complaint that before the 2010 Olympics began, an unnamed woman and her counsel confronted him with similar allegations, telling him that a $5,000 payment would make the allegations "go away."

Furlong says he reported the incident to police and that Robinson knew about it before the article was published.

A few months before the article went to print, the complaint states, Robinson began sending Furlong's friends and colleagues copies of the "statutory declarations" containing the allegations. Furlong's lawyers had warned Robinson that the allegations were untrue, but under the "guise" of seeking comment for the article, she sent them out "with the true intent of discrediting the plaintiff," according to the complaint.

Despite warnings from plaintiff's counsel, defendants published the article on Sept. 27, alleging that Furlong had racially taunted students, physically abused them and omitted part of that history in his post-Olympic memoir, "Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country."

The article made international headlines far beyond the Georgia Straight's local readers, according to the complaint.

"The Georgia Straight article is false and defamatory," the complaint states. "During his time as a teacher, the plaintiff never engaged in abuse of his students, nor did the plaintiff engage in bullying or racial taunting, as alleged or at all."

Furlong claims he and his family suffered "distress and embarrassment" from the article, and that he lost income when speaking engagements were canceled after the article's publication.

He seeks damages for defamation, an injunction, a retraction and an apology. He is represented by John Hunter and Claire Hunter with Hunter Litigation Chambers in Vancouver.

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