From the Editor's Desk - March 2022

March 30 2022


BCRN Let's Rugby
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More on the Rugby Canada High Performance Program Review: Letters from Chris Le Fevre and John Lecky



[ed. I've added another letter from John Lecky, his comments can be viewed in this .pdf document.]

Not that I particularly wanted to resurrect this as, I think, most have given up on Rugby Canada and just want to concentrate on grassroots rugby, club rugby and supporting provincial rugby. However I did say I would publish this open letter from Chris Le Fevre to the Chair of Rugby Canada, Sally Dennis. Chris Le Fevre is a former Rugby Canada board member and was also on the iRB (World Rugby) Executive Council. The letter is posted below (as an image).

As an aside I had a chance to communicate with an old rugby buddy who was involved with Rugby Canada in the 80s. His thoughts pretty well mirrored mine, so I've posted his words below (in italic) as well.

I was involved a little bit in Rugby Canada in the mid 80s. At that time Rugby Canada consisted of John Billingsley, Tom Jones, and an office manager. The office was located with most of the other sports in a building in Ottawa.

After we started hiring professional sports managers the office began to grow. Some growth was needed, but it did seem that the CEOs wanted to grow the staff to include it on their resume for the next sports related position. They could say "I grew the organization from 5 people to 15 people over the four years I was the CEO". If I was hiring, I would look at different results such as: increase in number of players; international results; growth in coaching numbers; etc.

Using a foreign headhunter, I am afraid that we will get a foreign CEO that will continue the mess and leave after doing enough to move up in the rugby management hierarchy. I hope that I am wrong.

It would be nice to see Canadian Rugby cleaned up, but the managing style they use is best for self-preservation. It is unfortunate the Agents of Change did not enact any lasting change.

If the top buys into change and the bottom buys into change, the middle management can be a problem. To make a lasting change the CEO and Directors need to want a change and some or all the upper and middle management would need to be removed. The shock of this would enable the changes to be made. There seems to be no willingness to take the necessary steps. "Let's do a study and wait until it blows over" seems to be the method they are using.

I do not have much hope that it will change.






The Rugby Canada High Performance Program Review: Another Report Eh! - Thoughts and Summary



As readers probably know by now the Rugby Canada High Performance Program Review has been released and its release was co-ordinated with an article written by Neil Davidson for Canadian Press.

The Neil Davidson article can be read here.

The complete report can be read here.

For long time readers of BCRN, there's nothing really surprising in the report, we've been documenting the poor decision making and dysfunction at Rugby Canada for the past 17 years. It may be shocking for some to see a current snapshot of it in one document.

The report is divided into several sections which I'll summarize here.

Executive Summary

The system is f#cked, leadership has failed but we'll end the report with some unicorn sentiment. Things will get worse before they get better, journey ahead will be difficult, but there's a brighter future. Oh, and we need a strategy, a high performance strategy, we don't have one now but things will be better when we have one. That's the top recommendation, there are 11 others including governance improvements, people processes, transparency on funds, evaluate current leadership, hire a High Perfomance Director, develop pathway coherence, articulate Canada's rugby culture, repair athlete relationship, create inclusive culture, improve communication with athletes and community, and review Langford as centre of rugby.

Approach

They interviewed, held focus groups with 80 people and got 108 survey responses. The interview pool was select current athletes, player reps, current head coaches, select HP staff, select HP alumni, Board members, select Provicial Union reps, World Rugby reps, Own the Podium reps, Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada reps, Coaching Association of Canada reps, Canadian Sport Institute reps.

Organizational Context

Rugby Canada is basically funded by the Canadian Government (OTP, Sports Canada) and World Rugby. The government mostly funds the women's 7s program and World Rugby mostly funds the men's XVs program.

There are a few positives in the report, reestablishing the Academy program, concussion awareness, IDEB (inclusive, diverse, equity, belonging) awareness, athlete enthusiasm for change, resilience.

Insights

This is where it gets murky as the report tries to summarize conflicting complaints and wish lists from the interviewees and survey respondents. There appears to be several main groups with a strong representation in the report. The women's 7s athletes, the men's 7s athletes, the women's XVs athletes, the men's XVs athletes and the Toronto Arrows (owner is also a board member). There's a bit of mud slinging between programs, the report author seems to side with the women's 7s athletes when she/he presents conflicting views, inserting an editorial judgement, a bracketed "correctly", into the narrative. That immediately alters the perception of it being an unbiased report.
Members of the 7s teams – particularly Women’s athletes - are frequently described as ‘entitled’ predicated on a perception that the 7s athletes do not understand their relative financial privilege. In contrast, the 7s team (correctly) defends its funding as being based on its recent history of on-field achievement. They compare their funding to the Men’s 15s program which remains more highly direct funded and prestigious despite a long-term lack of on-field success.

The insights section takes up the largest part of the report.

Recommendations

Probably the best part of the report, and if you want a quick read go straight there. It's the 12 points mentioned in the executive summary but expanded with more detail.

Conclusion

A feel good paragraph or two of exhortation to do better.

EDITOR'S THOUGHTS

I've often thought the Canadian rugby world was a microcosm of Canadian society in general. In society we've seen a trend towards groups becoming more radicalized and polarized. We're seeing this trend in the rugby high-performance world as well, it came to a head when the women's 7s program erupted on social media and took their coach down in the process. The women's XVs program did the same more recently but went about it more quietly. The men's XVs, the European pros, voted with their absence on the field, no words needed. The men's 7s veterans quit en masse after the Olympics. These are the four main groups in high performance that need to get along, will it happen, it's difficult to say. A lot depends on the quality of people involved and the environment Rugby Canada creates. Who will be the new leadership group? Will they clean house, you would think they would have to but do they have the willpower to do that or will they vacillate and put off decision making, hiding behind another report which prioritizes writing a strategy. A lot of report writing, a lot of committees, but little action, that's been Rugby Canada's recent history.

I'll end with a Twitter thread borrowed from a rugby mind I respect.

Root and branch reform is urgently needed. It was 5 years ago. It still is now. And will continue to be unless there is a proper bloodletting...
A truly Canadian approach to rugby must now happen. Not one imported from NZ, Wales, Australia, England, etc. They are irrelevant. Argentina worked that out 15 years ago...
Canadian coaches, administrators, managers, referees, etc all must be empowered in this decision-making process...
The gatekeepers need to step aside. Those with passion greater than desire for status are better suited for the roles that lead the direction of our game. The gatekeepers don’t accept this, as they feel we aren’t capable (almost a direct quote from a high level RC official)...
I know little about board governance, so will reserve comment for those more qualified. The report suggests there are major flaws, however, so again, an approach to the Canadian rugby landscape is no doubt worth exploring...
A bloodletting must happen now. The game dies if people - no matter their status or length of tenure - don’t step aside. Do the right thing. Let the game reboot in order to survive.

Pemberton Holmes
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