Harassment allegations against a coach in British Columbia have sparked the Canadian province to urge universities to create coaching codes of conduct.
According to the National Post, the University of Victoria developed a code after verbal harassment allegations were made against women’s rowing coach Barney Williams. However, the University of Victoria’s code doesn’t specifically address sports, instead using a campus-wide discrimination and harassment policy.
That’s common in British Columbia, where 14 of the 25 public post-secondary institutions have competitive sports teams, but only seven have a coaching code of conduct. According to the National Post, most of those codes rely on general policies that relate to every employee.
“Workplace codes may be more general and not take into account some of the specific kinds of circumstances that might arise in sport,” said Paul Melia, president of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
The governing bodies of Canadian sports have said that they can’t mandate codes of conduct, as staff conduct is the jurisdiction of the university. However, there is outside pressure to adopt codes that fit the sporting world.
“Your policy allows for a coach to lock our daughter in a small room … and aggressively berate and humiliate her until she was so scared she cried and bore her nails into her palms, drawing blood, to try to withstand the trauma,” Joanna Waterman, the mother of Lily Copeland, one of the rowers to initially file a complaint against Williams, said in a letter to the University of Victoria president. “Your policy allowed for him to publicly humiliate, fat shame and torment her about her mental health.”
University of Victoria athletic director Clint Hamilton said school officials are in the midst of developing a new code of conduct that has clear expectations for coaches and aligns with safe sport principles. He expects it to be adopted by the fall of 2020.
The issue began with a November report by The Star that detailed three athletes and an assistant coach filing complaints against Williams, a former Olympic silver medalist, to the university and Rowing Canada Aviron. Three more rowers came forward to The Canadian Press in December.
The rowers alleged verbal harassment that was destructive, including leading athletes to anxiety, depression and extreme methods to lose weight.
Other members of the team have stood up for Williams, who is in his second year as the women’s rowing coach and has said he regards “coaching as a privilege that comes with responsibility, and am committed to continued professional.”
The university hired an adjudicator to look into the incident. University spokesman Paul Marck said he can’t legally discuss the adjudicator’s report, while Waterman said that the adjudicator found that Williams didn’t breach the harassment policy but “may not meet a coach’s code of conduct” or “safe sport guidelines.”