Britt Benn is among 37 players on Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team that is speaking out against abuse and harassment they say they suffered in the centralized training environment.
The Napanee native joined her fellow teammates in issuing a statement on Thursday saying they felt complaints made in January 2021 of psychological abuse, harassment and bullying were not acknowledged by Rugby Canada.
An independent review was conducted following the complaint made by former and current players in January. On April 26 Rugby Canada, which is based in Langford BC, issued a statement on its review.
“The investigator noted the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the 37 (national senior women’s sevens team) athletes. However, the investigator determined that the conduct referenced was not behaviour which fell within the policy’s definition of harassment or bullying,” the statement from Rugby Canada reads.
The investigation also concluded in agreement with both parties that it would no longer be viable for head coach John Tait to continue his coaching duties with the team. The 47-year-old has been at the helm of the team since 2012 when it became centralized in BC. In a statement to CBC Tait called the complaints ‘unfounded’ and didn’t breach any of Rugby Canada’s policies.
“We feel this process lacked transparency, failed to protect us and did not acknowledge the abuse and harassment we suffered,” said Benn of the investigation. “Rugby Canada has not done enough and we refuse to stay silent. Meaningful change begins with accountability at all levels. As soon as we came forward with the issue, we were removed from the training environment for two months. Part of this investigation process required for us to stay silent, but with the lack of transparency in this investigation, it failed to protect us and did not acknowledge the abuse and harassment that we suffered. Rugby Canada has not done enough and we will no longer stay silent.”
The statement issued by the players added “athletes should never have to experience heightened anxiety, depression, racism, eating disorders, low self-worth or mental illness as part of participating in sport at any level.”
Rugby Canada has since approved an update to its safe sport policy and an assessment of the program will begin after the August’s Summer Olympics.
With the support of the players, Rugby Canada announced Mick Byrne would take over as head coach of the team as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are scheduled to begin July 23 through Aug. 8.
“We remain as committed as ever to our work to achieve safe sport and raise awareness,” added Benn. “Our focus is on the future and ensuring we leave the game a better place for the next generation of players who will play for this team and this country. It came to a point where changing the system became more important than our athletic careers and Olympic dream.”