An independent review by Rowing Canada is demanding the Cambridge Rowing Club and every rowing club in Canada have a safe sport policy in place by April 1 to provide a consistent code of conduct for their members.
The move follows concerns voiced by members of the rowing community in late 2021 and early 2022 against women's national rowing team head coach Dave Thompson.
Thompson was fired in February 2020 as the team was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics.
A 2019 complaint against Thompson led to an investigation that concluded he'd violated Rowing Canada's policy to prevent abuse, harassment, and bullying.
“I don’t think any sport will be spared any scrutiny on this front," said David Coode, vice president at the Cambridge Rowing Club.
"At the Cambridge Rowing Club, we haven’t had these issues historically. But we are making a public statement saying this is what we believe and how we behave."
“We think, we are Canadian. This doesn’t happen here. But it did and it does," he said. "Rowing Canada, our national governing body, put their hand up, not because there were issues in our own rowing community, but they said they are going to set a standard in this.”
Provincial associations have been asked to ensure that all clubs are in compliance with the new policies.
The main driver for the change is to protect youth in sport, Coode said, adding it goes beyond talking about things such as fostering healthy and positive environments, free from harassment and any kind of abuse.
"The policy includes definitions for who could be vulnerable and includes minors. It also includes anyone who is in a position of power, such as a coach. Where there is any power dynamic, this can be called out,” Coode said.
“There’s an independent review panel that will take on any complaint to see if it is reasonable. At the national and provincial level, these things will be handled without bias.”
Other sports are implementing similar policies.
Rugby Canada is undergoing a process to revise its codes of conduct in response to a bullying and harassment complaint filed by past and present members of the women's sevens team.
“This new policy is meant to apply to all Sport Canada sanctioned bodies. Rowing Canada put up their hand and said we want to be a leader, whether first or amongst the first. They wanted to be ahead,” Coode said.
In a typical year, Cambridge Rowing Club has about 100 members.
“The pandemic has had influence on numbers. Many members have had to stay away as the pandemic runs its course. I do anticipate that 2022 should be close to a normal season. If it is, then we should be close to 100 members again,” Coode said.
The Cambridge Rowing Club was formed in 1987 by a group of enthusiastic citizens who had a vision to promote the sport of rowing with a community-based club.
Programs include Learn to Row, and the club offers services for recreational and competitive rowers.
“Rowing requires a certain level of commitment. We do have minors and there is a group of us trying to engage more youth. We are working with the University of Waterloo in implementing a joint program. They come out regularly and add a new dimension to our club,” Coode said.
Coode has been rowing for over 29 years.
“For me, it’s a space away from the madness of the world. I push off the dock into calm water. I’m out there in nature, physically refreshed. Where else do I get to put the phone down and turn off the world. It’s a fantastic sport for generally staying healthy,” Coode said.
“It’s low impact, there’s no danger of concussions and injuries are far and few between. It’s a sport that is fairly easy to get into and nearly impossible to master. So, there is always something to work on,” Coode said.
The Club was given permission by the City of Cambridge to use an existing wooden garage at the Riverbluffs Park as their clubhouse and storage facility.
“The location on the Grand River was natural, and we have support from the city to make sure there is a responsible presence in the park. Some of us go out in the early hours and we don’t think twice. We also host events where people come together and row together,” Coode said.
“We thrive on new members. It’s part of our mandate and agreement with the city who owns the facility we use. Part of the deal is to welcome everyone.”
The Cambridge Rowing Club is in the process of planning for its first in-person class since 2019 in May, with hopes to have their first introductory classes in May and June.
When it comes to high-level training, Coode is pleased to see new policies in place to protect and support athletes.
“I remember when I was involved in high-level sport. I had two different coaches assigned to me at the same time. One would want me to technically do something and the other would want it done another way. These coaches were having a disagreement, but they ran it through the athletes,” Coode said.
“That is not fun and not helpful. This new policy and practice gives athletes a way to raise their concerns, and that didn’t exist before.”
For more information about the Cambridge Rowing Club, visit their website.