Just as the flames began to fade from the recent firing of Rowing Canada coach Mike Spracklen on Oct. 1, it appears some embers are still burning strong.
This week a group of 29 national team rowers, past and present, issued a letter of protest regarding the recent decisions of Rowing Canada.
“Though most of the group are supporters of (Spracklen), we are in agreement (his situation) is the symptom of a larger problem,” said Domenic Seiterle.
Seiterle, who is based out of Oak Bay, and Kyle Hamilton, now a Victoria lawyer, were part of the 2008 men’s heavyweight eight that rowed to gold at the Beijing Olympics. The pair are at the forefront of the group which signed an open letter to Rowing Canada’s president Michael Murphy, and the media, on Tuesday (Oct. 16).
The letter singled out the titles, but not the names, of high performance director Peter Cookson, and executive director Donna Atkinson.
“We received the letter,” said Cookson, who was traveling to a talent identification centre in Peterborough, Ont., on Wednesday.
“We are conducting an independent review and we will consider all feedback very carefully, including that from the group who signed the letter.”
The letter also outlines specific areas the group would like addressed in Rowing Canada’s operations. Chief among them, transparency of the high performance review process and the “chronic reappointment of underperforming coaches.”
“They got rid of a gold medal winning coach with Spracklen, yet they’re recycling coaches because they get along with everyone. It’s great that they get along, but that can be the worry sometimes,” Seiterle said. “We’re not pointing fingers but performance is pretty transparent, you win or you don’t.”
“It seems backwards to make massive changes prior to the upcoming review (this fall),” Hamilton said. “To me it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Hamilton spent most of the past two years on Rowing Canada’s board of directors as the athlete representative, as chosen by the athletes. He stepped down on Oct. 2 in disagreement with the Oct. 1 “restructuring,” a term that’s becoming common among national sport bodies.
Among the Oct. 1 changes with Rowing Canada were dismissal of Spracklen and the appointment of his subsequent successor, Martin McElroy, who will assume leadership of the men’s heavyweight program in January, and removal of Terry Paul as lead coach for the men’s small boats (four, two and single). Instead, Paul becomes McElroy’s assistant. And with the transfer of the men’s lightweight program to London, Ont., the heavyweight men become the lone tenants of the Victoria Training Centre at Elk Lake.
“It’s great that they’re doing a third party review but why fire one coach, demote a coach, and hire another before the review?,” Hamilton said. “Why review the last four years, after you’ve gotten rid of the major players from the last four years?”
The letter was signed by 29 rowers in all, including 1990s alumni Silken Laummen and Derek Porter, as well as six of the nine members from the London 2012 silver medal winning men’s eight.
Among those who abstained from signing the letter are Malcolm Howard and coxswain Brian Price, who were part of Seiterle’s and Hamilton’s 2008 Olympic gold medal crew.
Oct. 12: An Open Letter to Dr. Michael F. Murphy and the Board of Directors
Rowing Canada Aviron321 -‐ 4371 Interurban Rd.Victoria, B.C. V9E 2C5
Dear Dr. Murphy and the Board of Directors,
As a direct result of the failure of Rowing Canada Executive Director, High Performance Director, and VP High Performance, (collectively, representation and transparency of process to its stakeholders, we, the undersigned hereby request a full third party review of the HP Executive Team.
Despite their implications to the contrary, the HP Executive Team is also accountable for the poor showing of the Rowing Team at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The recent action to terminate the contract of Heavyweight coach Mike Spracklen, despite his prominent recent and long-‐term successes, and the manner in which this and other coaching appointments were undertaken, are only a few examples of the Executive Team not honouring RCA values and its high performance mandate.
We, the undersigned, cite chronic lapses in judgement by the HP Executive Team which now risk both appears as if power and politics repeatedly take precedence over team performance within RCA. Specifically, this review should analyze why High Performance decisions have: been based on self-‐interest, demonstrated a lack of transparency, not included adequate athlete consultation, and been deficient in due-‐process and evidence.
Examples include the:
Lack of transparency in the 2011 review of the heavyweight program;Chronic reappointment of underperforming coaches; Appointment of new coaching staff without consultation with the affected athletes, in contravention of the values professed by RCA; Creation of a training atmosphere not conducive towards high-‐performance, but rather catering to executive self-‐interest.
We understand that RCA has already hired a third-‐party consultant to review the High-‐Performance program later this fall. Despite the backwardness of overhauling the High-‐Performance coaching staff weeks before conducting what is claimed to be a “thorough and impartial review”, we the undersigned, request the following steps to be taken with regard to this review:
1) That the reviewer be mutually agreed upon by the Board and a representative of the undersigned;2) That the qualifications of the reviewer and terms of reference for this review be made available to the membership and the undersigned; 3) That such terms of reference include a thorough review of the HP Executive Team, their role in the “failures” of this past quadrennial, and their roles in the above-‐mentioned coaching overhaul;4) That the reasons are identified for the lack of consultation with current athletes;5) That the consultative process of this review include all athletes from this past quadrennial and all coaches from this past quadrennial; 6) That the results of this review be made available to the membership and the undersigned.
As stated in the RCA press release of October 1, 2012, two medals at an Olympic Games does not meet expectations. Likewise, an HP Executive Team which makes crucial decisions for the next four years without consulting those people most affected by these decisions does not meet expectations either.
We, the undersigned, ask that the Board immediately pursue this independent review to protect the integrity of RCA, the interest of the athletes and the success of future High-‐Performance teams.
Respectfully yours (RC athlete, world and Olympic accomplishments),
Cameron Baerg Gold: 2003; Silver: 2004 Kevin Light Gold: 2008, 2007, 2003, 2002Gabe Bergen Silver: 2012, 2009; Bronze: 2011 Rob Marland Gold: 1992; Silver: 1991, 1990Jeremiah Brown Silver: 2012; Bronze: 2011 Conlin McCabe Silver: 2012; Bronze: 2011Andrew Byrnes Gold: 2008, 2007; Silver: 2012;Bronze: 2011 Patricia Obee Silver: 2011Andrew Crosby Gold: 1992; Silver: 1990, 1991 Derek PorterGold: 1993, 1992;Silver: 1999, 1991, 1990;Bronze: 1999Will Crothers Silver: 2012, 2006; Bronze: 2011Jeff Powell Gold: 2003, 2002Doug Csima Silver: 2012, 2009; Bronze: 2011 Bruce Robertson Gold: 1992; Silver: 1991, 1990Michael Forgeron Gold: 1992 John Sasi Training CentreKyle Hamilton Gold: 2008, 2007, 2003, 2002 Dominic Seiterle Gold: 2008, 2007Andrew Hoskins Gold: 2003, 2002 Joe Stankevicius Gold: 2003, 2002Lindsay Jennerich Gold: 2010; Silver: 2011 Steven van Knotsenburg Silver: 2009; Bronze: 2011Matt Jensen Bronze: 2010, 2005 Douglas Vandor Bronze: 2005, 2002Adam Kreek Gold: 2008, 2007, 2003, 2002 John Wallace Gold: 1992; Silver: 1991, 1990Silken Laumann Gold: 1991; Silver: 1996; Bronze: 1992, 1984 Jake Wetzel Gold 2008, 2007, 2003, 1999; Silver: 2003Mike Lewis Bronze: 2008, 2004