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Rugby Canada condemns criticism of 7s team, with some coming from within

Much had been expected of the Canadian women in Tokyo, given their performance in Rio
Canada’s Women’s rugby team prepares to face Brazil during the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, in Japan on Friday, July 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, COC, Darren Calabrese

Rugby Canada has condemned “inappropriate comments” aimed at the women’s rugby sevens team after its disappointing performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

The fact that some of the comments came from within has added to a year of turmoil for the governing body and the sevens team, which launched a formal complaint 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.

Head coach John Tait, while maintaining he had done nothing wrong, subsequently stepped down. A former Canadian international, Tait was one of Rugby Canada’s most successful coaches, leading the sevens team to the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.

The controversy has divided Rugby Canada, with most of Tait’s staff leaving.

And it appears some could not resist taking a shot at the women given their performance at the Olympics under interim coach Mick Byrne.

“Karma is a bitch! #Survivorsmyass,” read a since-deleted tweet from the account of Jamie Cudmore, a former star player who now serves as an assistant coach with the Canadian men’s 15s team and runs Rugby Canada’s national development academy.

Rugby Canada confirmed the tweet came from Cudmore’s account. Cudmore did not immediately respond to an interview request.

“Rugby Canada stands with our women’s 7s athletes,” the governing body said in a social media post. “We support the team in their efforts both on and off the rugby pitch and are proud of the way they have represented our country. Rugby Canada is aware of recent social media comments made about the team and worked to ensure they were removed as quickly as possible.

“Our organizational values include solidarity and respect, and everyone on our staff is expected to help create an inclusive environment for all. We condemn any inappropriate comments directed at the team and our leadership will be meeting to address this matter immediately.”

Several of Cudmore’s deleted tweets were captured and posted by sevens player Charity Williams.

“I wanted to take this moment to talk about our performance and how proud I am of this team beyond any result,” Williams wrote on Instagram. “Because I am, and what we accomplished this year is far greater than one weekend. What this team stands for and who we have become means that young female athletes across Canada can play their sport and feel safe. I’m proud of that.

“But instead I have to sit here once again and share what we’ve been going through as a team. The consistent hatred we have received from people in our own organization. I’m only sharing because this is what we have been dealing with for months. From private texts, to public stalking online and in person. The bullying and harassment that we have received for coming forward is outrageous and scary at times. This is the reason we called for an internal investigation because we haven’t been safe.”

In the wake of that probe, the players said they had been let down by Rugby Canada’s harassment and bullying policy — which has since been updated and replaced.

Captain Ghislaine Landry also took to social media from Tokyo.

“We always knew this was about more than rugby, about more than one tournament, even if it’s the Olympics. We knew the last nine months might put our Olympic dream in jeopardy, we had that discussion as a group, and still the decision was clear. We were ready to put our dreams at risk for change.

“This has not been a distraction but it has taken a toll on us. And so, while we are heartbroken not to have been able to play our best, we are proud and united.”

In a statement released April 28, 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.”

Much had been expected of the Canadian women in Tokyo, given their performance in Rio and the fact they were tied with Australia on points for second in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings when the pandemic shut down the season last year.

But the Canadian women were not at their best in Tokyo, losing to Fiji and France after beating Brazil to miss out on the quarterfinals. Their next game in Tokyo is for ninth place.

Canada had hoped to qualify for the medal rounds after group play as one of the two best third-place finishers. But it was pipped by the Russian team by virtue of having scored two more points given the two sides had the same minus-12 point differential.

It came down to the wire, with the Russians blanked 33-0 by New Zealand in their final pool came. Canada would have advanced if the Kiwis had scored one more point.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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