Rowing Canada Aviron's high-performance programme was found to contain several culture failings ©Getty Images

An independent report into the high-performance programme at Rowing Canada Aviron (RCA) has exposed culture failings including bullying going unchecked, poor communication and a disconnect between the organisation and its athletes.

Law firm Rubin Thomlinson conducted a six-month investigation into RCA's elite programme, which was particularly damning in its view of former national women's coach Dave Thompson.

In a survey of 124 respondents, more than half - 64 - said they had a negative or very negative opinion of the high-performance set-up, compared to less than a quarter who found it positive - just 27 respondents.

Complaints included a disconnect between the organisation and the athletes, with one saying "I don't think RCA even really knew what was going on in the daily training environment".

Poor communication within RCA led to rumour-spreading and a negative environment, with this extending to the high-performance programme itself and often leading to last-minute decisions being made for athletes without taking into consideration their needs, the report said.

Board members who spoke to Rubin Thomlinson added that communication at Board level was not always respectful and conflict was created by a lack of clarity.

A lack of transparency was also addressed in the report, with decisions made in the high-performance programme said to be conducted with little explanation for those impacted. 

This was particularly relevant in selection procedures and establishing the National Training Centre at Lake Quamichan in British Columbia.

Canada's women's coxed eight team won gold at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
Canada's women's coxed eight team won gold at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

Some athletes accused coaches of manipulating results to de-select rowers they did not like, however this is reported to have improved.

Poor leadership and maltreatment by coaches were also highlighted, along with athlete-athlete bullying including violence and verbal harassment.

This bullying was also not stopped by management in the high-performance programme, according to the report.

As a result, several athletes were afraid of whistleblowing, fearing it would be the end of their careers, with no clear reference point of who to report issues to confidentially.

When concerns were raised within the high-performance programme, they were ignored, Rubin Thomlinson found.

Coaches and athletes were also accused of using derogatory terms towards Para rowers .

Many Para rowers who were participants in the survey suggested they were an afterthought in the high-performance programme. 

A lack of female leadership was also cited as a problem.

Para rowers were discriminated against within the high-performance set-up, the report found ©Getty Images
Para rowers were discriminated against within the high-performance set-up, the report found ©Getty Images

One of the country's Olympic women's rowers anonymously spoke of her relationship with former national women's coach Thompson to the Canadian Press and blamed it for developing an eating disorder in 2019.

Thompson was sacked in February 2020 following a 2019 complaint made under Rowing Canada's Prevention of Abuse, Harassment and Bullying Policy.

Thompson has been banned from coaching in Canada and was sanctioned by RCA for bullying and harassment.

RCA is the latest Canadian governing body to be criticised for safeguarding failures.

There have been scandals at Boxing Canada, Hockey Canada, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and Gymnastics Canada, among others.

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has established new requirements whereby organisations will need to meet specific governance, accountability and safe sport criteria to receive Government money in response.

The Canadian Olympic Committee is also pumping CAD10 million (£6.35 million/$7.8 million/€7.4 million) into safeguarding initiatives.