The University of Victoria’s rowing program is one of the top programs in the county.
But allegations of an abusive coach and toxic environment are now making national headlines.
“This kind of old school coaching is still very much around and it’s very damaging to many many athletes,” says UVic Martlet Reporter Natasha Simpson.
Simpson broke the story — detailing accusations of verbal abuse and harassment by Olympic silver medalist Barney Williams, who started coaching the women’s team last year.
“It’s kind of a dream come true in many ways I think that there’s an energy that a student athlete brings to the table that’s very rewarding to work with,” Williams told CHEK News at the time. “They’re in a transformative stage in their life.”
Four athletes and an assistant coach filed complaints with the university and Rowing Canada, including claims Williams cornered people in a small training room.
“What Williams would apparently do is stand between them and the door, and sometimes lock the door, and yell at them and berate them,” Simpsons says. “And I was told he’d get right in their face and poke at them.”
The University of Victoria declined an interview, saying it can’t comment on complaints or investigations for confidentiality reasons.
But in a written statement to CHEK News, they said they’re committed to providing an environment free from abuse, discrimination and harassment.
Some rowers say UVic was slow to respond, waiting months to take any action despite repeated complaints..
But the investigation has divided the rowing community, with others speaking out in support of Williams.
“Do I believe there is zero room for abuse in sport —absolutely,” former Olympic rower Lindsay Jennerich Bergan wrote in a statement. “But what I do believe there is room for is high expectations, hard facts and only time within a large squad to invest your greatest efforts in those that will produce the greatest returns. That is all I have ever seen Barney do as a friend, as a teammate and as a colleague.”
Williams returned to coaching last month, after a personal leave.
Results of the UVic investigation, which began in April, will be released Thursday but not made public.