Canadian rugby sevens coach resigns in wake of independent report

Coach John Tait, who led the Canadian women’s rugby sevens team to Pan American gold and Olympic bronze, has resigned in the wake of an independent review into a players complaint.

Rugby Canada, in a six-paragraph release Monday, said the investigation was pursuant to its harassment and bullying policy. And while it appears no breach of rules were unearthed, the complaint seems to have made Tait’s position untenable.

“The investigator noted the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the 37 NSW7s (national senior women’s sevens) athletes. However, the investigator determined that the conduct referenced was not behaviour which fell within the policy’s definition of harassment or bullying,” Rugby Canada said in a six-paragraph release.

“The investigator also concluded, in agreement with both parties, that it would not be viable for John Tait to resume his duties as head coach of the national senior women’s 7s. Mr. Tait has submitted his resignation as both head coach and high-performance director to Rugby Canada to pursue other professional opportunities.”

The exact nature of the allegations against the 47-year-old Tait has not been made public. But the investigation has led to a change in leadership for Rugby Canada’s most successful team.

“I was not surprised that the investigation, which I had requested to be initiated, concluded that the complaints were all unfounded and did not breach any of RC (Rugby Canada) policies,” Tait said in a statement Monday. “Regardless, I no longer desire to continue as the national team head coach or in the role of high-performance director and have therefore decided to resign.”

“This entire experience has been extremely difficult and stressful for my family and I,” he added.

Team captain Ghislaine Landry, in a text to The Canadian Press, said the players would respond Tuesday.

“We will need some time to review and reflect as a group,” she said.

‘Independent third-party investigation’

The complaint was made public Feb. 5 in a five-paragraph Rugby Canada release that did not mention Tait by name. Rugby Canada said Monday the “independent third-party investigation” was conducted by Win Win HR Solutions Inc in response to a complaint received from former and current players on Jan. 31.

Rugby Canada said the investigation “was conducted in accordance with the policy in place at the time the incidents occurred.”

“To protect the interests of all involved and to maintain confidentiality, Rugby Canada is unable to make further comment on investigative or human resource matters,” it added.

Australian Mick Byrne, a specialist coach with both New Zealand and Australia who has consulted remotely with the Canadian sevens side since 2012, is serving as interim women’s seven coach.

The Canadian women are currently back home in quarantine after competing at a pair of invitational events in Dubai.

Tait led the Canadian women to a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, gold at the 2015 Pan-American Games and silver at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

“I am very proud of the growth and success this program has achieved over this past decade,” he said in the statement.

“That success has created a sustainable legacy which will help to grow the game of rugby for female athletes for years to come, including the creation of competition pathways and the development of academies across Canada,” he added.

Tait thanks staff

Tait also thanked his staff “for all of their unwavering support, professionalism and integrity, particularly through this challenging process.”

“As well, I want to recognize all of those many athletes who have continuously supported my family and I during the past two decades of my time at Rugby Canada. I am now choosing to look forward to new challenges and opportunities.”

Tait, an imposing figure at six foot eight, won 37 caps for Canada from 1997 to 2002. He played professionally in Wales with Cardiff and France with CA Brive.

He has been a coaching constant at Rugby Canada for more than a decade, having served as an assistant coach with the men’s 15s team and head coach of the women’s 15s team prior to focusing on the newly centralized sevens women in 2012. In August 2019, the father of three was given additional responsibilities, handed the high-performance role on the women’s side in addition to his sevens head coaching duties.

The Olympic rugby sevens competition is scheduled for July 26-31 in Tokyo.

The Canadian women are a medal threat. They were third in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings when the season shut down after five events last year, having finished runner-up at three events and third at a fourth.

Canada was third overall the previous season, lifting the trophy at the Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan in April 2019. It marked the first cup win for the Canadian women since 2017.

The World Series ground to a halt when the pandemic struck last year.

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