From the Editor’s Desk – May 2021

Sevens – A New Model Seems Certain: Article by BCRN 7s Correspondent

[ed. this story seems to be lingering in the news, I’ve had a number of messages and calls with a common theme. Release the report and redact the names for privacy. John Tait has already publicly given his permission, now time for Rugby Canada and the players to follow suit.]

Article submitted by BCRN 7s Correspondent

It’s difficult to sit by without a response as turmoil surrounds Canada’s most successful rugby program. Rugby fans, followers and participants have never been shy about expressing their view points when issues confront the public domain – and certainly this is the case presently.

Trying offer some clarity to this situation is complicated as there are extreme view points across the landscape. But that is nothing new for rugby in Canada.

Here’s a few facts and view points to consider:

1. A complaint letter was sent to the Union by a group of players outlining their concerns regarding their head coach.

2. The complaint(s) / charges were significant and very serious in nature – in fact damning.

3. In today’s fragile environment where you might say fireman instead of firefighter and someone takes offence – the national union reaction was to put their most successful coach since coach Ian Birtwell on leave while they hired an independent investigator to review the complaint – and to clarify – the request to investigate was made by the sevens coach himself.

4. After a suspended period of time the ‘review’ was concluded and sent back to the CEO of the rugby union.

5. The union sat on the conclusions of the review well beyond an acceptable time period knowing that the players were away at a tournament in Dubai and presumably the conclusions might upset their focus.

6. When the result of the investigation was finally released details were not forthcoming – but what was released cleared the coach completely of any of the very damaging accusations and complaints.

7. Accordingly – responses to the findings flashed onto social media platforms from all quarters – there had been comments made during the period when the investigation was ongoing and these comments continued and were enhanced in their bitterness and point of view when the coach was cleared.

So now what…?

No one disputes, unless you lived on Mars, that today’s workplace or sporting environment should be free of harassment, bullying and abuse – no question. That said our editor reviewed some wording of the complaint with some good sense and clarity to consider.

(“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)

From this desk it seems appropriate to point out that this is an ‘elite sport’ environment not house league soccer in Oak Bay!

These athletes are competing for a spot on the limited rooster to the Japan Olympic Games – and within that highly competitive environment the objectives seem clear – winning games are the critical component – a fact which is reinforced by their financial backers at Own the Podium.

Likewise – improvements to team performances and individual performance should allow (and players should expect) a level of critique so that goals are maintained and new goals are reached.

It’s personal – both from a team perspective and on the players involved. If you don’t like to be advised about your assets or shortcomings it would seem you are in the wrong environment.

Anyone who needs to review the inner workings of Own the Podium should check out their website and it will become abundantly clear that there are rigorous mechanisms that protect players and athletes in all sports.

So – what has happened here – have our athletes overstepped the boundaries and the regulations of protection that they are accorded in the charter?

The intended post Olympic review by the national union is another futile gesture that will only show that many in-house protections accorded to our athletes and staff are desperately in need of a 21st Century overhaul.

That said – it needs to be clarified that these recent player complaints have been ‘thrown out of court’ completely – and massive damage has been done to a coach and his family in the community. That is unacceptable on every level.

As well – it could be, as a result of the post Olympic review, that the union and Own the Podium might easily determine that the days of centralization have run their course in women’s sevens program – it seems the model is wrong now and a new charter must be established.

So – is that the right assumption or is this present turmoil the result of a few disgruntled players worrying about their selection to Japan? And frankly listening to a player this morning on Global TV News made the complaints sound like a major whine!

Others have said that the model is doable and that this situation has been a case of a few individuals causing and misdirecting the squad. It does seem on the face of it highly unlikely that all these signatures from 37 squad members would confirm all these charges in unison. Maybe the release of the full report would confirm or deny this fact. Once again – our editor stated with clarity – ” 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?

There are already reported phone calls to the CEO from parents of squad members to say their daughters have been pressured into signing the original letter of complaint. That is disturbing at the very least as it implies that a few ring leaders have been leading the assault on the coach (and his family).

Also – it has come to light that many of the original senior players with world class resumes had told the disgruntled complainants to ‘take a hike’ when they were called to sign off on the letter to the union CEO – ouch!

Fans who know our fantastic women’s teams over the years will see with abundant clarity whose names do not appear in the letter of complaint…

Meanwhile the new coach must be wondering what sort of situation he has inherited – in fact there is one report that he has already expressed his dismay in a phone call to the CEO.

So – with only a prescribed number of players to select for Japan this situation is far from resolution and the new coach may want to adopt a line from an old Tom Hanks movie… “there’s no crying in baseball!”

So where to go from here – one caller suggested the former coach should sue the union and then sue the players as well unless they retract their accusations publicly in the media – another ouch there!

And if he was cleared of all charges should the coach not be reinstated immediately?

Clearly – he has stated he no longer wants the job but RC should at least publicly say they offered it to him again as a component of the review conclusions?

Sadly – RC responses at these continual ‘rodeos’ are starting to be repetitive as no one can sit in the saddle for eight seconds or more!

In conclusion – let’s be crystal clear – our women’s teams (Fifteens and Sevens) have been and are presently our most successful teams in this union. They have overcome massive hurdles over the years and now rank third in the world in both disciplines.

From the past to the present these women were made of stern stuff and played with tenacity and skill across the globe to reach these incredible heights.

History will show that the leadership within those squads and guided by the amazing manager Roxanne Butler from Newfoundland never flinched from their intended goals and it should give her great pleasure to witness where these teams reside in the rankings on the world stage today. But one thing seems abundantly certain – this present mess would never ever have happened under her watch.

Stay tuned and if you get selected to Japan – good luck!

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Sir Winston Churchill

Posted in Editorials.