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Rugby Canada provides details of its high-performance program review

Panel named and parameters given for review triggered by complaints from the women’s sevens team
Canada’s Renee Gonzalez, left, is tackled by United States’ Sarah Levy during HSBC Canada Sevens women’s semifinal rugby action, in Vancouver, on Sunday, September 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Rugby Canada has fleshed out details of its high-performance program review, which was triggered by complaints from the women’s sevens team.

The review panel will consist of Calgary’s STRAAD Consulting, led by president and CEO Megan Luu, along with Own The Podium’s Mel Davidson and World Rugby’s Mike McGovern.

STRAAD is described as a management consulting firm “that focuses on helping companies with their organizational effectiveness.”

Davidson is a former head coach and GM of the Canadian women’s hockey team. In 2017, McGovern was part of a review committee that looked into the Samoan national team program and was also involved in a USA Rugby high-performance audit.

“The review was triggered by concerns raised about the effectiveness of and culture within the high-performance program,” Rugby Canada said in a statement. “The review will analyze the current high-performance environment and provide recommendations on improvements that need to be implemented to create and sustain a world-class performance strategy and culture across all four national senior teams.”

Areas to be examined include:

— Training and other initiatives required to develop an inclusive and supportive high-performance culture.

— The rugby department staff structure, including support functions.

— Equity strategy across the four national senior programs, accounting for the challenges posed by funding and related factors.

— Supports for player development outside rugby

— Refinements to the high-performance strategy.

The review will include a look at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games quinquennial “with key lessons learned for the Paris 2024 triennial and Los Angeles 2028 quadrennial.”

But Rugby Canada says evaluation of performance pathways and age-grade programs will not fall into the scope of the review.

The sport’s governing body has established a committee “to facilitate and support the review.”

The committee members are Rugby Canada directors Sally Dennis, David Fortier and Bill Webb, Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen, Penn State professor Robert Boland and Sue Hyland, director of Varsity athletics at the University of Ottawa.

“The process to be followed has been designed to engage with and restore confidence and trust within the rugby community and spark a transformation of the high-performance culture,” Dennis, Rugby Canada’s chair, said in a statement.

“It has taken longer to get to this stage than initially thought, but we felt it important to build a strong foundation by assembling the right team. I am confident that we have found that team.”

Vansen said the goal is for the review to be completed by the end of November with results released in early December.

“Once completed, we will turn our operational focus to implementation of the recommendations, while also starting work on a second-phase review of our performance pathways and age-grade programs where we will seek involvement and engagement with our provincial unions and university partners,” he said.

The latest review was sparked by a formal complaint from the women’s sevens team in January under Rugby Canada’s bullying and harassment policy.

In the wake of the complaint filed by 37 current and former team members, an independent review concluded that while the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the athletes, it did not fall within Rugby Canada’s policy’s definition of harassment or bullying.

Unhappy at that conclusion, the players said their complaint “explained the psychological abuse, harassment and/or bullying these athletes feel they were subjected to in the centralized training environment.”

Head coach John Tait, while maintaining he had done nothing wrong, subsequently stepped down.

Rugby Canada has since approved an “updated safe sport policy manual.”


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press