Rowing Canada has signed an agreement to join Abuse-Free Sport, three weeks after an independent report revealed a toxic environment in the sport.
The national federation will be able to access the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner following a transition period that will end no later than Dec. 13.
“The sport community is in need of a consistent national safe sport program and this is a great step forward for everyone involved in sport in Canada,” said Jennifer Fitzpatrick, Rowing Canada’s director of partnerships and sport development. “We look forward to working with the (Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada).”
Canada’s women’s eight crew rowed to gold at the Tokyo Olympics, continuing the tradition of excellence in Canadian rowing. But athletes complained about a toxic environment beneath the surface, prompting a third-party investigation by Rubin Thomlinson LLP.
Three-time Olympic gold medallist Marnie McBean called the results of Thomlinson’s report “shocking.”
In an Instagram post, McBean quoted the report’s findings: Over 50 per cent of people surveyed describe their experience with RCA’s high-performance environment as negative; over 85 per cent of people surveyed witness, experienced or heard maltreatment; and over 25 per cent of those surveyed wouldn’t report maltreatment.
“These results should be a clear indicator to RCA board members that rowing is not being managed well by its leadership and that change is needed immediately,” McBean wrote. “When are they going to accept the evidence that has been presented to them?”
A member of Canada’s Olympic team told The Canadian Press she was recovering from an eating disorder caused by her unhealthy relationship with former national women’s coach Dave Thompson, who was fired in February 2020, five months ahead of the original start date of the Tokyo Olympics. The dismissal came after a 2019 complaint filed against him under Rowing Canada’s Prevention of Abuse, Harassment and Bullying Policy.
Thomlinson’s scathing report on its investigation, released Oct. 3, found that Thompson’s negative affect on the program, and the lack of transparency from RCA around his dismissal, was one of the biggest issues and left a lasting blow.
Rowing Canada’s announcement Friday came on the heels of another embattled federation, Gymnastics Canada, announcing it had signed on with OSIC.
Canada’s first sport integrity commissioner, Sarah-Eve Pelletier, began receiving and addressing complaints of maltreatment in sport on June 20. Canada’s sport minister Pascale St-Onge has given national sport organizations until April to sign on or risk losing federal funding.
Rowing took another hit last week when the sport was dropped from the Canada Games program for 2025.
RCA said it has adopted the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS), which is a requirement before it can become part of the Abuse-Free Sport program, and that the transition period will include “continued updating of our safe sport policies.”
Rowing Canada said that prior to Dec. 13, participants who have experienced or witnessed abuse can access third-party services through Lisa MacLean of Wiser Workplaces.