Langford-based Olympic women's rugby coach cleared of allegations, but steps down

Former head coach John Tait of Mill Bay has been cleared of harassment and bullying allegations made against him by players on the Langford-based Olympic women’s rugby sevens team, following an independent third-party investigation.

Tait will, however, step down as head coach. Mick Byrne, a consultant to the national team since 2012, will guide the team in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

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“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 Rugby Canada policies,” Tait said in an emailed response to the Times Colonist.

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

Rugby Canada said it hired Win Win HR Solutions Inc. to conduct the investigation.

“The investigator noted the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the 37 national women’s sevens athletes,” said a statement from Rugby Canada.

“However, the investigator determined that the conduct referenced was not behaviour which fell within the policy’s definition of harassment or bullying. 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.”

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.

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 guided the women’s team to the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, to gold medals in the 2015 Toronto and 2019 Lima Pan Am Games, and to the bronze-medal game of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Under Tait’s mentorship, the national side also won a World Cup silver medal and was a consistent top-three nation in the annual World Series circuit.

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

“That success has created a sustainable legacy which will help to grow the game of rugby for female athletes for years to come.

“I am also very grateful to all those that have contributed to our success as a nation over the years, especially all of the staff, for all of their unwavering support, professionalism and integrity, particularly through this challenging process.”

The exact nature of the allegations against the 47-year-old Tait has not been made public.

Sources had previously told the Times Colonist the complaints were not physical in nature, but “technical” in terms of style and coaching approach.

Every Canadian training session going back several years at Westhills (now Starlight) Stadium and Goudy Field has been video recorded, one of the sources noted in support of Tait.

“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,” Tait said.

“I am now choosing to look forward to new challenges and opportunities.”

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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