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Toxic Culture Within Rowing Canada's High Performance Programs Report Reveals

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Editor’s Note: The next story deals with sexual assault, which may be painful for some readers.

If you or someone you know needs support, those in Canada can find province-specific centers, crisis lines and services hereFor American readers, you can find a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones here.

One of Canada’s best female rowers is recovering from an eating disorder that struck her in 2019.

What was getting out of hand was her attempt to maintain a sense of control over what she said was an unhealthy relationship with former National Women’s Coach Dave Thompson.

“I started feeling nauseous after I ate my meal because I started feeling a little crazy. I thought, ‘I have to throw up.'” Retaliation. “There was always some sort of trigger in anticipation of something happening or something that would make me very nervous or anxious.

“I felt like I finally had something under control.”

This habit became a full-blown obstacle, which she tackled with a counselor a few months ago.

From 1904, through the golden age of Marnie McBean, Kathleen Heddle and Silken Roman, to the women’s eight wins at the Tokyo Olympics, Canada has a rowing history boasting 43 Olympic medals.

But underneath the surface, the athletes say there is a toxic environment within the national organization, ultimately prompting an independent investigation by Rubin Tomlinson LLP.

Thompson was sacked in February 2020, five months ahead of the Tokyo Olympics’ original start date. The dismissal follows a complaint filed against him in 2019 under Rowing Canada’s Abuse, Harassment and Bullying Prevention Policy.

Rubin Tomlinson’s scathing report on the investigation, released Monday, said Thompson’s negative impact on the program and the lack of transparency from Rowing Canada (RCA) about his dismissal were among the biggest problems. and found it to have left a lasting blow.

“Participants in the review process … expressed deep feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal towards RCA as a result of these events. and perceptions of those who witnessed it and of RCA were affected by the response to the issue,” the report said.

Rowing Canada said in a statement Monday that it was committed to adopting all of the report’s recommendations.

“We deeply apologize for disappointing our athletes and undermining the trust of the high-performance rowing community,” the statement said.

“We are aware of the enormous impact caused by unhealthy high performance environments and we recognize that improvements need to be made to ensure the safest possible environment.

Several athletes and former Rowing Canada staffers spoke with the Canadian Press out of fear of toxic culture concerns being swept under the rug.

The Canadian Press was unable to contact Thompson.

“There is a lack of professionalism throughout the Wild West that surrounds this organization and many sports organizations when it comes to coaching standards,” said one former staff member.

An athlete who battled an eating disorder, Thompson singled her out three years ago. to one containing inappropriate text about her teammate.

“I’m really angry and really sad for my teammates,” she said. We talked and she really helped me understand what happened.

“I was a really happy person when I started rowing. I liked to do my best and work hard every day. And things like this took it away,” she added. “I really hated going to practice…but now I know I’m not crazy, and I find some peace of mind in a strange way.”

Another former staff member said a “really toxic culture and environment” had affected his mental health. started.

“It was very embarrassing to have such a document at one point, and when my vocal pleas to the administration fell on deaf ears, I knew I had to do more.” “Sports at the national level lack leadership, effective communication and accountability, and this has led to a poor sports culture.

“This made going to work every day difficult. I don’t think elite sports are all fun games, but when people around you have no fun at all, it can take a toll on your personal and professional life.” increase.”

Another Olympic rower said athletes continue to climb the podium “despite” the national organisation. I wondered if it wasn’t. In 2021, Darvill was named Canadian Coach of the Year in All Sports and Rowing Coach of the Year by the Canadian Coaching Association.

“She didn’t have a job the day after we won the Olympics,” she said. “Rowing Canada terminated her contract the day after we won the Olympics. She was on the flight with us and she was no longer a Rowing Canada employee. “

Darvill is currently the head coach of the Dutch women’s team, which won seven medals at the recent World Championships in the Czech Republic.

“I’m an Olympic champion. I’ve never had a louder voice than I do now,” said the athlete. “It’s the greatest power I’ve ever held, and I have to say something.

“I have seen the (RCA) culture deteriorate consistently. They burn athletes, they burn coaches. This is not healthy This is not healthy This is not working

A third Olympian said he wanted individuals to be held accountable for the tumultuous years leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think we did them quite a favor by not saying anything,” she said. It’s important that people realize that our program, especially the women’s program, has been in a pretty toxic cycle up to that point.

Canadian women won two medals in Tokyo, with Cary Filmer and Hillary Janssen taking bronze in the women’s pairs. The eight women won bronze at the recent World Championships for Canada’s only medal.

The rower who overcame an eating disorder hopes that speaking candidly will help future athletes avoid the same pitfalls.

“I love little girls or little boys or athletes who have an inner sense of things like sour smells and strange sounds. I know something is a little off, but putting my finger on it.” I can’t,” she said.

“I just want them to know, ‘Exactly the same thing is happening to me, I know this is wrong, I have all this energy, work, time, blood, sweat. , pouring tears, you can’t have one or one person… A group of people will take it away.”