Three former University of Victoria Vikes women’s team rowers have filed complaints to the UVic office of Equity and Human Rights regarding head coach Barney Williams’ methods. The three students have left the team.
Williams declined comment, citing respect for the process.
Williams, a 2004 Athens Olympic silver medallist, was on personal leave from late in March but returned to coach the Vikes again beginning Oct. 7 and will guide the UVic women’s team in the Canadian university championships Nov. 2-3 on Elk Lake.
The UVic Athletic Department directed all inquiries on the matter to the university’s media relations and public affairs department.
“UVic is committed to providing a training and competitive environment for its athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers that is free of abuse, harassment or discrimination,” said Denise Helm, director of media relations and communications for UVic, in a statement.
“If there are allegations of behaviour at UVic contrary to the university’s policies, there are impartial processes for resolution and accountability. We strive to respond in a timely and fair way, and to provide a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for those involved.”
The internal UVic investigative process is continuing.
“The university takes breaches of our policies seriously,” Helm said in her statement.
She said any athlete, coach, official or volunteer who believes they have been subjected to harassment or bullying is encouraged to bring their concerns forward to athletics and recreation’s leadership or to the UVic office of Equity and Human Rights, which administers the discrimination and harassment policy.
The rowers who are filing the complaints, according to a source, do not wish to talk to the Times Colonist or have their names made public until after the process is completed. That is thought to be in November.
UVic said it is unable to offer specifics.
“It’s important to note the university is required to abide by confidentiality provisions due to provincial law and by our own policies,” said Helm.
“Therefore, we cannot provide information about specific situations or measures taken as part of a process. People can be on leave for a variety of reasons and that is considered personal information, which is subject to the confidentiality provisions that the university is required to follow.”
Rowing Canada, the national governing body based at Elk Lake, was asked about the complaints against Williams. It answered with a statement: “It is not our policy to comment on investigations that may or may not be in progress.”
The national organization said it has a zero-tolerance policy regarding abuse, harassment and bullying and procedures to handle such complaints. Rowing Canada did not say if it is investigating directly the UVic situation. Its statement directed media to its Safe Sport policies with links to the federally-funded Canadian Sport Helpline, which is available to all athletes at 1-888-83-SPORT from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT seven days a week and online at abuse-free-sport.ca.
Williams won Olympic silver with the Canadian men’s four at Athens 2004. He competed for the UVic men’s team from 1995 to 1999 and was later assistant coach of the Vikes men’s squad for five years. Williams also coached in the Row to Podium national team program.
The 42-year-old earned his post-graduate business degree from Oxford, and was the Oxford Boat Club president. Williams twice helped row the Blues to the Boat Race title against Cambridge in 2005 and 2006 in the match race on the Thames, as Oxford captain on the second occasion.
Williams, previously the women’s interim head coach in NCAA Div. 1 at Cornell, replaced Rick Crawley as UVic women’s head coach in July of 2018. Crawley retired that spring after producing 29 Olympians, including several medallists, and 11 Canadian university team championships in his 35 years of coaching the Vikes women’s team.