Editorial – April 2021

Women’s 7s Team Issue Statement on Their Formal Complaint Under Rugby Canada’s 2013 Harassment and Bullying Policy

The women released their statement as three graphics on social media. The three items are listed below, we’ll go through the six paragraphs of the letter and add our comments on each one.

The first paragraph of the letter states, “The complaints explained the psychological abuse, harassment and/or bullying these athletes feel they were subjected to in the centralized training environment”. The key word here is “feel” as the independent investigator determined they didn’t meet the criteria for workplace abuse, harassment or bullying. I think most of us in our working career have felt abused, harassed and bullied by a supervisor or by the organization we’ve worked for, whether we had a legitimate case or the means to bring the case to light is another matter. The one person who perhaps has suffered the most in this process to date is the coach John Tait, caught between the athletes and the bosses above him and the culture of Rugby Canada, is he feeling abused, harassed and bullied?

The second paragraph goes on, “The national team athletes have shown true courage in coming forward to shine a light on what they have experienced in an effort to bring about meaningful change to their sport”. I’m not sure this qualifies as a display of true courage, I’ll reserve judgement on that, there are 37 individuals who signed and I’m guessing there are 37 variations on motive but let’s take it on belief that the motive for all is strictly altruistic, to bring “meaningful change to their sport”. What meaningful change is this? I sincerely want to know the details of the meaningful change? Will grassroots rugby improve or is this just about the training environment for the national women’s 7s team?

The third paragraph states, “We followed the procedures outlined in Rugby Canada’s policy, which as put in place in 2013. We feel that this process failed to protect us and did not acknowledge the abuse and harassment we believe we suffered. Rugby Canada has since replaced its 2013 policy.”

Again the abuse and harassment were “believed” by the athletes but they weren’t verified by an independent investigator. The 2013 policy and process is defined as a culprit in protecting the athletes, what changes in the new policy would protect them, or would it. Those details are important, is the post-2013 policy an improvement, would it have resolved this issue?

The fourth paragraph states, “Why now? There is an associated culture of fear and silence in sport when athletes experience psychological abuse, bullying, and harassment. We know firsthand how hard it is to speak out and how hard it is to ask for change. Athletes should never have to experience heightened anxiety, depression, racism, eating disorders, low self-worth, or mental illness as part of participating in sport at any level.”

This is true at many levels, the last sentence could be rewritten that, “Employees should never have to experience heightened anxiety, depression, racism, eating disorders, low self-worth or mental illness as part of participating in the workforce at any level.” That goes for athletes, coaches, physios, and any employee. I think most reading this will identify that they’ve suffered bouts of many of these during employment. Imagine now that you’re preparing to perform on the world stage in front of a million viewers, you’ve trained for years to prepare but only half of you will make the trip. If that situation itself doesn’t cause bouts of heightened anxiety, depression and feelings of low self-worth, then you’re not human. Add in the fact the event has been postponed a year and the drama prolonged and it’s no wonder these feelings have erupted. It’s not John Tait’s fault, the independent report cleared him but it didn’t clear the organization. So let’s focus the anger and the need for change in the right place, Rugby Canada as an organization. Instead of investigating one person, this should have been an investigation of a dysfunctional organization with a dysfunctional culture, starting at the very top.

The fifth paragraph states, “We need change. And meaningful change begins with accountability at all levels.”

As per my comments above, could not agree more.

The sixth paragraph states, “It is incumbent upon Rugby Canada to ensure they understand our experiences and chart a pathway forward to a positive and respectful training environment. We intend to be part of the discussion going forward to ensure that positive changes are implemented within our sport. We have been assured by Rugby Canada that the independent assessment will start immediately and we look forward to working with them.”

The sixth paragraph is perhaps the most disappointing, after raising expectations of meaningful change, at all levels and being an advocate for organizational change, the issue is brought back to having their feelings validated and about improving their training environment. This independent assessment isn’t of the organization itself, or for the benefit of rugby in general, but just about the training environment of elite athletes at Rugby Canada. Rugby Canada issued a statement on the independent assessment, it’s very specific, “we will also be undertaking an independent assessment of the National Senior Women’s 7s program, and our other performance rugby programs, to help us understand the journey and experiences of our athletes and staff involved with our National Teams.”

Posted in National Women's 7s, Rugby Canada.