A complaint from members of the Canadian women's sevens team has prompted Rugby Canada to call in an independent investigator and revamp the team coaching staff.
The sevens side is coached by John Tait, a former Canadian international who serves as Rugby Canada's director of women's high performance. The 47-year-old coached the sevens women to a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and gold at the 2015 Pan-American Games.
In its five-paragraph release Friday, Rugby Canada did not name Tait, say who was the subject of the investigation or specify the complaint. But Tait does not figure in the new-look coaching setup.
"Of course, matters of employment and confidentiality are really important to us. I would ask you to draw your own conclusions," Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen said in an interview when asked if Tait was involved in the complaint.
In a subsequent email, he said: "matters related to employees are confidential."
Vansen said he could not provide further details about the complaint other than to say: "I can certainly share that the complaints are from multiple individuals."
Tait, in a text to The Canadian Press, said he can't comment at this time but hoped to be able to speak on the matter in the coming weeks.
"It's surreal," he said.
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 taking over the sevens women. Last August, 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.
Team captain Ghislaine Landry confirmed that the complaint was made by members of the team but declined further comment.
In the statement, Vansen said: “Rugby Canada is taking these concerns very seriously. We are following our internal policies and procedures that are in alignment with established national response guidelines, and in a manner that reflects our values."
He said he hoped the investigator's report will be completed by the end of March. "And we have been assured it will be no later than mid-April."
The clock is ticking. The Olympic rugby sevens competition is scheduled for July 26-31 in Tokyo. And reputations are at stake.
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.
Sandro Fiorino, head coach of the women's 15s team, has temporarily moved from Ontario to Langford, B.C., to serve as interim sevens coach with help from Maria Gallo, an assistant coach with the 15s team.
Mick Byrne, a specialist coach with both New Zealand and Australia who has consulted remotely with the Canadian sevens side since 2012, "will assume the role of national senior women’s sevens interim head coach through to the Olympic Games." Rugby Canada said in the statement.
Byrne is not currently in Canada. Vansen said Rugby Canada is working on the necessary paperwork to get him into the country.
"We remain united and focused on our goal of winning a medal at the Olympic Games." Landry said in email to The Canadian Press. "We are training together and are confident in the interim plan. We look forward to working with Mick, Sandro and Maria."
The World Series ground to a halt when the pandemic stuck. Rugby Canada says the women are expected to travel to a tournament in early April with Byrne expected to join the team on the trip.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press