Rugby Canada charts a way forward after scathing leadership review

An independent review of the sport’s national body found a deep lack of trust pervades the organization’s operations

Article content

An independent report commissioned by Rugby Canada spared no words in its criticism of what’s gone wrong with the national sport body in recent years.

advertisement 2

Article content

There have been player revolts. A series of coaches resigned their positions over internal politics. There are ongoing financial issues.

It’s been a bad few years for the national sport organization.

In the wake of all this, a 17-page report released by Rugby Canada last month spared no punches.

“The high-performance program is described as unhealthy or unsafe by many,” the report said.

“Without a strategy to guide it, Rugby Canada appears to be in a constant state of crisis and overall performance suffers as a result. … The dysfunction of the system is ultimately a failure of leadership,” the report added, then pointing a finger directly at senior leadership. “Either through acts of ‘omission or commission’ the leadership of the organization — board, executive, operations and coaches — have not effectively managed the short-term and long-term needs of the high-performance program.”

advertisement 3

Article content

Players said they were poorly treated, felt undervalued and ignored.

Retired men’s sevens star Nathan Hirayama said many of the issues raised in the report weren’t a surprise.

“It was interesting to see them in writing,” he said.

Canada's Nathan Hirayama makes a break for it against Japan at the 2019 Singapore Sevens.  'It's not going to be an overnight fix,' he says of reform at Rugby Canada.
Canada’s Nathan Hirayama makes a break for it against Japan at the 2019 Singapore Sevens. ‘It’s not going to be an overnight fix,’ he says of reform at Rugby Canada. Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant /Getty Imagesfiles

Anyone involved in the Canadian rugby scene will say that problems have been around for years. Players and observers have long said that Rugby Canada’s decision-making processes, revenue generation and expenditures were too opaque.

Hirayama and his men’s sevens teammates at one point organized themselves into a union, looking to get what they believed was a fair cut of revenues. They were accused of only playing for money, a comical accusation to level against players who were training full-time but only being paid a pittance through Sport Canada and Own the Podium funding.

advertisement 4

Article content

Former national women’s sevens team captain Ghislaine Landry said she was heartened by the response she had heard from the rugby public about the report. People have said “finally,” but also “what’s next” after reading the report.

“I think the special thing about rugby is the people that are in the game are very passionate about the game itself and we all want to see the game improve. We want to see people stay in the game and absolutely love their time while they’re in it. And so I think right now what we’re seeing is there’s a lot of people that care a lot about it,” she said.

“Right now there’s a lot of people who want to stand for positive change. We have a lot of people standing for that and collectively can come together. This isn’t a one-person problem, it’s a collective systemic problem. We’ve all been hurt,” Landry said. “But we all need to be part of the fixing.”

advertisement 5

Article content

Ghislaine Landry: 'This isn't a one-person problem, it's a collective systemic problem.'
Ghislaine Landry: ‘This isn’t a one-person problem, it’s a collective systemic problem.’

Landry didn’t want to get into the ouster of former women’s sevens coach John Tait. But the Tait departure is a big part of this story. He had been a highly respected coach who was set to step away from coaching the team after the Tokyo Olympics, but then the Games were delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For whatever reason, a disconnect between him and the players emerged. Allegations of bullying and harassment were ultimately unfounded, but his position was untenable and so he resigned before the Olympics.

Tait hasn’t commented publicly on the situation but many supporters have expressed public criticism of how Rugby Canada’s senior leadership handled the situation from start to finish.

Meanwhile, the women’s team, which won bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, crashed to a ninth-place finish in Tokyo.

advertisement 6

Article content

Plenty of influential people with positive outlooks on the game have walked out Rugby Canada’s doors over the years.

Kieran Crowley, who is now coaching Italy’s men’s team with some impressive results, was committed to Canada and did not want to leave, but had a falling out with management and chose to exercise a release clause in his contract after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Damian McGrath, the former men’s sevens coach who was willing to travel the country far and wide to recruit players, also fell out with management and was dismissed, ostensibly for performance reasons.

François Ratier was successful and popular as the women’s XVs coach. He stepped into Crowley’s shoes as a last-minute temporary replacement in 2016 and guided a very raw post-World Cup men’s team to success. He later became the men’s development coach for Rugby Canada, but resigned his position because of a lack of support for his family situation.

advertisement 7

Article content

Jamie Levchuk has been Rugby Canada’s interim CEO since the departure of former CEO Allen Vansen in January. I have called the report a tough read.

“My response to the report was, let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s go,” Levchuk said.

“We all want to go to the same place in this and it starts with communication. It really does. I think we know we need to do a better job of that, with our community, with our athletes. … We need to rebuild a little bit of trust as well.”

Rugby Canada is nearing the end of its search for a new CEO. Resolving the well-documented leadership issues will surely be at the top of the list.

advertisement 8

Article content

Hirayama, like Levchuk and Landry, is hopeful, though hard work is ahead.

“It’s not going to be an overnight fix. I think if we’re expecting results tomorrow, I don’t think that’s the kind of mindset we need to be under because I think we all kind of have been guilty of that over time, expecting a quick change,” Hirayama said. “I think that kind of mindset may have led to where we’re at now.”

[email protected]

More news, fewer ads, faster load time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to the Vancouver Sun, the Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Subscribe now through the vancouver sun or The Province.

advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your e-mail settings.

Leave a Comment