Rowing Canada signs with OSIC on the heels of a damaging study

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Rowing Canada has signed an agreement to join the Sport Without Abuse three weeks after an independent report Olympic champion Marnie McBean called “shocking” revealed a toxic environment in the sport.

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The national federation will have access to the new Office of the Commissioner for the Integrity of Sport after a transition period that ends on 13 December at the latest.

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“The sport community needs a consistent national safe sport program and this is a great step forward for everyone involved in sport in Canada,” said Jennifer Fitzpatrick, Director of Partnerships and Sport Development at Rowing Canada. “We look forward to working with the (Sports Dispute Resolution Center of Canada).”

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Canada’s eight-man crew rowed to gold at the Tokyo Olympics, continuing a tradition of excellence in Canadian rowing. But athletes complained of a toxic environment beneath the surface, prompting a third-party investigation by Rubin Thomlinson LLP.

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McBean, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, cited some of the report’s findings in an Instagram post: More than 50 percent of people surveyed describe their experience with RCA’s high-performance environment as negative; more than 85 percent of people surveyed have witnessed, experienced or heard of ill-treatment; and more than 25 percent of respondents would not report mistreatment.

“These results should be a clear indicator to RCA board members that rowing is not well managed by its leadership and that immediate change is required,” McBean wrote. “When will they accept the evidence presented to them?”

The Canadian Olympic team member told The Canadian Press that she is recovering from an eating disorder stemming from her unhealthy relationship with former women’s national team coach Dave Thompson, who was fired in February 2020, five months before the original start date of the Tokyo Olympics. The dismissal came after a complaint was filed against him in 2019 under Rowing Canada’s Abuse, Harassment and Bullying Prevention Policy.

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Thomlinson’s scathing report of her investigation, published on October 3, found that Thompson’s negative influence on the program and RCA’s lack of transparency around his dismissal were among the biggest problems and left a lasting wound.

Katie Edwards, former president of Row Nova Scotia and president of the Canadian University Rowing Association, said she was struck by the fact that Rowing Canada did nothing to retain, support or develop female coaches, which was ressed in the report.

Michelle Darvill was out of a job after coaching Canada’s eight to Olympic gold. He now coaches the Dutch women’s team, which won seven medals at the recent World Championships.

“There are coaches that would lay down in traffic for you, and (Darvill is) like that, and the women on this team would do anything for her,” Edwards said. “She came back from the Tokyo Olympics on a plane with unemployed women.”

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Friday’s announcement by Rowing Canada came on the heels of another committed federation, Gymnastics Canada, announcing that it had signed an agreement with OSIC.

Canada’s first Sport Integrity Commissioner, Sarah-Eve Pelletier, began receiving and ressing complaints of misconduct in sport on June 20. Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has given national sports organizations until April to sign federal funding or risk losing federal funding.

Edwards said we need to stop seeing cases of abuse in sports as anomalies.

“It’s so common for people to have negative experiences with sport, but it’s also common for people not to talk about those negative experiences or even recognize them as negative or offensive,” she said. “So rowing is above that? No. And I think any sports organization only reflects the people at the helm.”

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Rowing took another hit last week when the sport was dropped from the 2025 Canada Games program.

“Rowing Canada seems confident that we’ll be able to come back in 2029, but that’s by no means certain,” Edwards said. “And yet that means a generation, if not two, of young rowers won’t have a Canada Games.”

Funding for many provinces is tied directly to the Canada Games, Edwards ed.

“So we’re already seeing in BC that the provincial coach no longer has a position,” she said.

The RCA said it had adopted the Universal Code of Conduct for Preventing and Addressing Mistreatment in Sport (UCCMS), a requirement before it can become part of the Sport Without Abuse program, and that the transition period would include “continuous updating of our Safe Sport Policy.”

Rowing Canada said that before Dec. 13, participants who have experienced or witnessed abuse can access third-party services through Lisa MacLean of Wiser Workplaces.

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