Three more rowers at the University of Victoria have come forward to The Canadian Press with complaints about the coach and criticism of the university’s handling of a verbal abuse and harassment case. (File photo supplied Rowing Canada Aviron)

Three more rowers at the University of Victoria have come forward to The Canadian Press with complaints about the coach and criticism of the university’s handling of a verbal abuse and harassment case. (File photo supplied Rowing Canada Aviron)

More rowers come forward with complaints about UVic coach

Barney Williams is accused of verbal abuse and harassment

Sarah Craven had her sights set on the Olympics. The 21-year-old was the top lightweight in the University of Victoria rowing program at the start of the 2018-19 season and she says her new coach, Olympic silver medallist Barney Williams, could tell she was eager.

But as the season progressed, Craven says she noticed there was an “inside” and an “outside” to the program. She found herself on the inside, where she says she fielded calls from Williams about what her teammates were doing wrong — information he’d use to “torment” them — and she watched as he berated or ignored others and banished some from the water entirely.

“I feel so guilty that I didn’t do anything and I didn’t protect my teammates,” Craven says. “But at the same time, I kind of needed to protect myself because I wanted to go to the Olympics.

“He took advantage of that. He took advantage of my ambition and my dreams and used that to blind me from what he was doing to these girls.”

An adjudicator hired by the university finished an appeal process last month after three rowers and an assistant coach accused Williams of verbal abuse and harassment. The school warned students in a letter they could face disciplinary action if they breach confidentiality, so they have not spoken publicly about the outcome. Williams is still head coach of the team.

READ MORE: Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Now, three more rowers have come forward to The Canadian Press with complaints about the coach and criticism of the university’s handling of the case. The athletes, including one who says Williams’s comments drove her to extreme methods to lose weight, say the school must improve its policy for dealing with complaints, establish a clear coach’s code of conduct and curb the secrecy around probes.

Craven says she acted as a witness in the university investigation but did not file her own formal complaint. The two others also have not filed formal complaints.

Williams says in a statement that he has fully engaged with the university process, which he feels provided a safe and fair opportunity for all parties to participate.

“I respect the importance of confidentiality in that and any other process,” says Williams. “Unfortunately, I am still unable to provide comment on these matters.”

Several rowers coached by Williams, including four current or former members of the University of Victoria women’s team, have defended him as a dedicated and inspiring leader.

The university’s Equity and Human Rights Office says its discrimination and harassment policy is scheduled for review starting in January and there is “always room for reflection and change.”

The school, whose teams are named the Vikes, adds that confidentiality is part of a fair and judicious process and its athletics department is developing a coach’s code of conduct that aligns with the principles of Safesport, an internationally recognized philosophy meant to prevent abuse.

“Vikes athletics takes the allegations about coach Williams very seriously and has complied fully with the impartial and confidential process overseen by our Equity and Human Rights Office,” says athletics director Clint Hamilton in a statement.

“We know there are areas where we can make improvements. Our goal has always been to provide an environment that supports high-performance athletics and is free of bullying, discrimination and harassment.”

READ MORE: UVic threatens any athletes who speak about rowing coach investigation

Natalie Martin, 19, joined the team last fall. She had been rowing for three weeks when Williams pulled her aside and said she wasn’t “getting it” as much as the other women, she says. She says she was placed on “land squad,” a group that only practised on rowing machines without coaching.

Craven and another team member, Chanel Mandap, recall Martin being on land squad. Craven says the group was fast and competent enough to be in boats but once a rower was exiled to land squad, it was difficult to get off it.

When Martin returned to the water several weeks later, she hadn’t had as much practice as other novices and Williams picked on her more, she says. On one occasion, she says he shouted that she wasn’t pushing hard enough and told everyone else to stop rowing while Martin rowed in circles.

She says she was pushing as hard as she could and felt embarrassed in front of her teammates.

Mandap says she remembers the incident and while the drill Williams was using can be helpful, his way of going about it was not and she could tell Martin was becoming tense.

In December 2018, Martin met with the coach about her performance and she says he told her, “You’re not built like the rest of the girls,” and “Too much weight in the boat weighs it down and we need speed.” She says the message was she was heavier than others and slowed down the boat.

Martin is tall with an athletic, muscular physique that has always served her well in competitive sports, but she says she has struggled with body image her whole life.

“It was like someone had reached inside of me, taken out my deepest insecurity and showed it to me,” she says.

Mandap says she remembers Martin telling her about Williams’s comments after the meeting.

Martin says she began eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day while training hard twice a day, likely burning as many calories as she was consuming.

The young woman was back on land squad and weighed herself before and after every workout, staring in dismay at the scale. She says she sometimes felt light-headed and suffered panic attacks.

“It put me an awful state mentally. I started developing a lot of anxiety symptoms surrounding it,” she says. “I’d have awful sleep and wake up in the morning for practice and be absolutely exhausted.”

Martin says she ultimately quit in February but continued to grapple with self-image.

Craven says she was aware that some team members raised concerns with James Keogh, the associate director of sport. Lily Copeland says she also complained to Keogh in October 2018 and January 2019 and he promised reviews both times, but she alleges he did nothing apart from sending a survey out to rowers in March.

Copeland and others filed formal complaints in April, but Craven and Mandap say the team was not told about the investigation. Keogh sent an email to rowers saying Williams was taking a personal leave.

Both Craven and Mandap say the university should have found a way to balance privacy issues while providing rowers with information and support, such as directing them to counselling.

Craven learned about the probe from an ex-teammate and agreed to act as a witness. She says she saw Williams repeatedly take Copeland into a small equipment room for heated meetings from which Copeland emerged looking “shell-shocked.”

By fall, rumours were swirling about the case. Craven and Mandap describe a Sept. 17 meeting in which Keogh and Hamilton announced Williams would be reinstated but did not explain why. Team members were told, if anyone asks, to simply respond that a process was underway, the two rowers say.

“There wasn’t any clarity and all we were told was ‘Trust the process,’ ” Mandap says. “They were saying to keep it very hushed, just to keep it internal.”

Hamilton, the athletics director, says he has respected the confidentiality of the complaints and he regrets if his comments were taken otherwise.

Keogh says in a statement he can’t speak about personnel matters but he realizes these circumstances are extremely difficult for many people.

“If any of my comments were regarded as not being supportive of our student athletes, that is not what I intended.”

Rowing Canada Aviron, the national body that licences coaches, is also investigating Williams. Mandap says it was irresponsible for the school to bring Williams back while that probe is underway.

Craven had joined the men’s team to avoid Williams and was distraught at having to see him at the lake where both teams practice. Seeing him at the Canadian University Championships in November was her breaking point, she says, and she quit the sport.

“Since then, I’ve suffered severe depression and anxiety to the point of self-harm and suicidal thoughts,” she says. “I’ve had to leave the sport that has been my life for 11 years.”

The university’s discrimination and harassment policy applies to all school community members but Craven says it doesn’t address the unique power a coach has over an athlete. She also criticized the policy for empowering the administration, rather than an independent third party, to make decisions about discipline.

Cassbreea Dewis, the school’s equity and human rights director, says the review of the policy starting next month will involve consultation. It can and should include those who have engaged with the policy, she says.

Dewis adds that all investigation reports are detailed documents that can lead to change and highlight issues that need attention. The authority for deciding on discipline is at the level of vice-president or president, ensuring the highest level of consideration, she says.

Gretchen Kerr, a University of Toronto professor specializing in athlete maltreatment, says a policy that applies to everyone is worthwhile as long as it recognizes power imbalances. A coach’s code of conduct is crucial, she says, and it should specify banned behaviour and sanctions for violations.

Kerr has advocated for an independent body to investigate complaints at the national team level and she says in any dispute a neutral person should handle its resolution.

Stephen Gillman, an employment lawyer with Samfiru Tumarkin, says there are good reasons for confidentiality but the university policy’s emphasis on it appears to be “self-serving,” particularly when it warns students of discipline for breaching it.

He adds that the policy would be “meaningless” in a human rights tribunal or civil court.

Craven says sport is progressing and it’s “appalling” that the school doesn’t have a coach who is progressing along with it.

“The university is still accepting and promoting this militaristic style of coaching and has policies that are from the dark ages, that don’t address the power dynamics that exist within a sport relationship.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Peterson, owner of Velocity Cycling in Walnut Grove, said it’s still hard to get enough bikes and parts, more than a year into the pandemic-inspired cycling boom. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Langley bike shops still swamped by would-be riders

It can be months to order a simple new bicycle due to COVID-19

Legion branch 265 president Doug Hadley shows off the green space where food service can continue via outdoor dining. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)
Aldergrove legion branch #265 preparing to open patio dining on back lawn

Branch president Doug Hadley said COVID-19 restriction have hurt clientele

Pilots from the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley were unable to take part in the actual Vimy Ridge centennial tribute in France in 2017, and similarly they were grounded today – the 103rd anniversary of the battle. This time due to weather conditions. (Canadian Museum of Flight/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Vimy Ridge flyby tribute just not in the cards?

This time, for a different reason, Canadian Museum of Flight pilots couldn’t take to the air – again

.
LETTER: People must change their actions to slow global warming, Langley student writes

Grade 7 students at Gordon Greenwood Elementary were tasked with writing about climate change.

.
LETTER: Glaciers disappearing faster than in previous decades, Langley student writes

Grade 7 students at Gordon Greenwood Elementary were tasked with writing about climate change.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
1 taken to hospital after plane crash at Metro Vancouver airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Most Read