Independent review paints damning and dysfunctional picture of Rugby Canada

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An independent review of Rugby Canada’s high performance programs paints a damning picture of a dysfunctional organization at odds with its athletes, staff and fans.

An independent review of Rugby Canada’s high performance programs paints a damning picture of a dysfunctional organization at odds with its athletes, staff and fans.

The review paints a governing body too busy fighting fires to have a long term strategy and the athletes ‘shocked’ by how poorly they are treated when they join the high performance program and feel undervalued and ignored.

“Rugby Canada’s culture and high performance program are described as ’empty’ or ‘non-existent,'” the report said. “In this culture and leadership vacuum, bad behavior is taking hold in all areas of the program. The high performance program is described as unhealthy or dangerous by many.

“Current and former High Performance Program players say they are not proud to wear the Rugby Canada jersey.”

The review was commissioned by Rugby Canada following complaints raised by past and current members of the women’s 7-a side and the men’s 15-a-side team’s first-ever failure to qualify for the World Cup.

The 17-page report is full of punches.

“Without a strategy to guide it, Rugby Canada seems to be in a constant state of crisis and the overall performance is suffering,” he said.

Rugby Canada is no stranger to criticism, with a history of ordering them in after failure to meet on-field goals – with coaches typically sidelined as a result.

And for many members of a Canadian rugby community reeling on and off the pitch due to the pandemic, poor international results, inadequate funding, infighting and irritation at progress or failure. n the absence of progress from Rugby Canada, the negative view of the landscape will come as no surprise.

But this report pulls a few punches.

“The dysfunction of the system is ultimately a failure of leadership,” he says. “Either through acts of ‘omission or commission’, the management of the organization – Board, Executive, Operations and Coaches – failed to effectively manage the short and long term needs of the high school program. management has also failed to cultivate and nurture an environment that truly supports and empowers high performance athletes.

“As it stands, Rugby Canada’s top athletes, support staff and even coaches are effectively revolting against the program system, leading to increasing organizational dysfunction and continued deterioration of top-level results. level.”

It’s never a good sign in a high performance review when one of its first “key ideas” is “Rugby Canada doesn’t have a high performance strategy”.

Among other findings:

— Development paths are not always effective;

— Rugby Canada’s “unclear national governance role” limits the effectiveness of the high performance program;

— The current organizational structure and resources of Rugby Canada are not able to support four high performance teams;

— Ineffective corporate and organizational governance exposes Rugby Canada to significant risks;

— Rugby Canada has failed to create a healthy and effective high performance culture;

— Athletes do not view the high performance program as a safe and inclusive environment;

— Rugby Canada’s poor relationship with the Canadian rugby community is a constraint on the high performance program.

Of the report’s 12 key ideas, only one is positive. “Change is possible and many hope to be part of it.”

The report cites the back-and-forth tension within Rugby Canada between the U7s and 15s programs, which comes with different funding masters (World Rugby for the 15s and Own the Podium for the U7s) as well as the debate over the need for separate pathways. for the two distinct forms of the game.

The women’s 15-year-old team, Canada’s most competitive high performance unit currently ranked fourth in the world, receives the smallest share of funding.

“Rugby Canada appears to be avoiding making decisions about its high performance priorities,” the review said.

The review says Rugby Canada’s high performance program “is at a critical crossroads” with rival Tier 2 and Tier 3 nations continuing to “evolve and improve”.

“The organization has arrived at this time due to challenges both on and off the pitch: failure of the 15-year-old men’s team to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, disappointing results at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and several recent internal teams facing public issues.”

Recommendations from the review include hiring a high performance director separate from coaching roles and establishing a clear national high performance strategy and governance role. He also cites issues with Rugby Canada which bases its operations and athletes in Langford on Vancouver Island.

“Langford is not seen as a positive place to live, as it is touted as ‘expensive’ and ‘isolated’,” he says.

In a five-paragraph press release on the report, Rugby Canada President Sally Dennis said: “The findings confirmed the validity of a number of concerns about our high performance environment and culture that have triggered the exam.

“Some have already been addressed, but the picture painted by the report confirms that significant changes need to be made. We have listened and will now use this report as a stepping stone to a stronger and better organization.”

Rugby Canada “will set in motion an inclusive and collaborative process to respond to the findings of the report with representation from staff, athletes and key external stakeholders,” she added. “I look forward to coming together as a rugby community to effect transformational change. The report’s findings are only the first step in this process.

There is a lot of work to do for the new CEO who has not yet been hired. But the review concludes that Rugby Canada can change for the better.

“The review revealed some hard truths about the current state of the program, but the fact remains that there is broad interest in the Canadian rugby community to help put the program on the right track.

“With the right leadership and committed action, this community can be mobilized to support the writing of a positive new chapter in Rugby Canada’s proud history.

The review urges Rugby Canada “to communicate this report fully and transparently both in response and in respect of the time allotted to its stakeholders across Canada.”

“This first step is intended to demonstrate Rugby Canada’s willingness to take responsibility, its willingness to change and its commitment to move forward with inclusive intentions. The journey ahead will be difficult and likely to get worse before it gets better. improve”, but with constant effort. Rugby Canada can chart a brighter future for the high performance program. »

The study was conducted by a review committee comprised of representatives from Straad Consulting, a Calgary-based management consulting firm, as well as Own the Podium High Performance Advisor Mel Davidson (former coach and administrator of Hockey Canada) and high performance consultant Mike McGovern.

The panel conducted over 50 interviews/focus groups, involving approximately 80 people, and received 108 survey responses.

A review committee – made up of Dennis, Rugby Canada board members David Fortier and Bill Webb, former CEO Allen Vansen, University of Ottawa director of varsity athletics Sue Hylland and Penn State Professor Robert Boland – was trained “to assist in the flow of information to the review board and ensure it has access to relevant stakeholders and participants while ensuring that the the whole process remains inclusive and independent.”

Rugby Canada acting CEO Jamie Levchuk said the report was written by Straad “with input from subject matter experts on the review panel.

“Independent review board members were given the opportunity to provide feedback to the review board on a previous draft, but all decisions on its final content were made by Straad,” he added.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 23, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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