The Canadian women's rugby sevens team, already embroiled in an ugly split with its coach arising from a formal complaint under Rugby Canada's harassment and bullying policy, is now dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19.
Rugby Canada board chair Tim Powers said "a few" members of the program tested positive for COVID-19 while completing quarantine after returning from competing in Dubai.
"Most are currently asymptomatic, and all athletes and staff are in good health," Rugby Canada said in a statement. "The team is being closely monitored by Rugby Canada’s chief medical officer and has been provided medical support to ensure the best care possible."
Nineteen players and five staff members spent five weeks in Dubai, training and competing in two invitational tournaments.
They returned to Vancouver on April 25, moving to the mandatory government quarantine hotel at Vancouver International Airport after testing on landing. After receiving negative test results on Day 3, the travelling party left via private bus "directly to a rural, isolated site outside of Squamish" that could house the group for the remaining 11 days of quarantine.
The venue was provided to government health agencies in advance of their arrival, Rugby Canada said.
When positive test results were returned around Day 8, local health services were notified and the group returned to a quarantine hotel in the Vancouver area "via private transport."
While Rugby Canada looks to ensure the women get the medical help and support they need, it is also dealing with fallout from the players' complaint.
An independent review subsequently concluded that while the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the athletes, it did not fall within Rugby Canada's policy's definition of harassment or bullying.
Head coach John Tait, while maintaining he had done nothing wrong, subsequently stepped down. He has since said he supports release of the review, as do many of his supporters. Rugby Canada, however, says its policy does not allow making it public.
Tait has said he is not allowed to comment on the complaint or the review. The players, meanwhile, say they were let down by Rugby Canada's harassment and bullying policy — which has been updated and replaced since their complaint was made in January.
In a statement released April 28, the players said their complaint "explained the psychological abuse, harassment and/or bullying these athletes feel they were subjected to in the centralized training environment.''
The blowback from all sides prompted Rugby Canada to issue a statement Thursday.
"This is a very difficult time for our women’s 7s program, particularly for the athletes and staff, past and present, who were involved in the recent complaint process," Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen said in the statement.
"Our immediate priority is providing support for the mental health and well-being of everyone directly impacted by the investigation, as well as the physical health of those affected by the recent positive COVID tests.”
Rugby Canada has promised to commission "an inclusive and transparent review of performance rugby programs" following this summer's Tokyo Olympics "as part of our commitment to better understand the complexities of the training and competition environment."
"As is our practice, if new matters should become known related to this program or any other Rugby Canada performance team, we will assess expediently and act accordingly,” said Vansen,
Powers, who has recovered from a non-related bout of COVID-19 himself, pledged that Rugby Canada will make "the necessary changes for the good of our game.”
"We acknowledge the rugby community’s passion for our sport and its values, and everyone’s right to express their views," he said in a statement. "We understand the desire to debate, discuss and in some cases look to assign blame. For the well-being of all involved in this process, we encourage reasonable, compassionate and respectful engagement now more than ever."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press