Vikes initiatives focused on supporting student-athletes, but administration still short on answers about oversight and prevention of abuse
In October 2019, the Martlet reported on allegations of abuse and harassment made against Vikes Women’s Rowing Head Coach Barney Williams and the resulting investigation by UVic. Former Vikes athletes shared stories of verbal and emotional abuse and physical injuries, with some questioning the university’s handling of the investigation and whether Williams should return to coaching.
In the aftermath of the investigation into Williams’ conduct — which drew national attention due to coverage first by the Martlet and then the Canadian Press — Vikes Athletics and Recreation claim to have conducted reviews of processes and structures, and to have researched policies across the country. The department says it is making changes to provide increased support for student-athletes, particularly varsity athletes.
“Work is progressing on the educational and support tools to better define the varsity performance sport experience and expectations for UVic varsity student athletes and the important support mechanisms in place for these high performing athletes,”said Clint Hamilton, Director of Athletics and Recreation.
These initiatives include the creation of new Varsity Student Support Coordinator and Student Support Manager positions, a student-athlete handbook, improved communication regarding abuse and harassment, and an online orientation program. At time of publication, these materials are not yet fully developed.
Prior to the allegations against Williams, UVic did not have a coaches’ code of conduct — only a general discrimination and harassment policy which is universally applied. Vikes is now developing a Professional Coaching Code for the Sep. 2020 season which Hamilton says will be in alignment with the standards set by Canadian sports and UVic policies.
The Vikes administration has not been willing to describe a firm strategy for overseeing coaches’ behaviour and preventing the bullying conduct of which Williams was accused.
Though Hamilton says evaluation of coaching staff will continue to be a priority and that individual and group education opportunities for coaches will be made available, he did not answer questions regarding whether UVic will undertake periodic reviews of coaches’ conduct and practices or if training in up-to-date coaching practices will be made mandatory.
In a meeting with the rowing team held the day the initial Martlet investigation was published, Hamilton expressed his desire to support students and understand their experiences. Assistant Director of Sport James Keogh said at the same meeting that each student’s perception of their experience is their own. Neither spoke at the time about how behaviour like Williams’ alleged conduct would be prevented.
UVic’s investigation into the allegations against Williams ended in November 2019. The results have been kept confidential, and UVic has declined to acknowledge the potential impact that knowledge (or lack thereof) of Williams’ coaching conduct could have on the athletic decisions of current and future students, citing privacy legislation.
On Nov. 22 the Canadian Press reported that the former Vikes involved in UVic’s investigation were “threatened” with disciplinary action if they spoke about the process or the results. According to Cassbreea Dewis, the executive director of Equity and Human Rights (EQHR), the office often uses confidentiality agreements if a third party administers part of a process.
The language of the agreement specifies civil lawsuits as the potential result of revealing confidential information. Though a complainant is free to talk about their own experiences, they cannot reveal information learned as a result of an investigation or discuss the results. A student who broke confidentiality would be investigated for non-academic misconduct.
The confidential nature of the investigative process has not only caused frustrations among the complainants, but also among current members of the Vikes women’s rowing team. Current team members were upset about having been kept in the dark regarding the existence of allegations against their coach and the progress of the investigation, saying that the Vikes varsity rowing program felt unstable.
UVic has confirmed that Williams is still the head coach of the Vikes women’s rowing team.