Rugby Canada fired Jamie Cudmore, a former star player in charge of developing the next generation of talent, on Friday for a series of social media posts belittling the women's sevens team.
His posts took aim at the sevens squad for its disappointing performance at the Tokyo Olympics.
Much had been expected of the Canadian women in Tokyo, given their performance in Rio and the fact they were tied with Australia on points for second in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings when the pandemic shut down the season last year.
But the Canadian women lost to Fiji and France after beating Brazil to miss out on the quarterfinals. They finished ninth after defeating Kenya 24-10.
Cudmore, an enforcer in the rugby field during his playing days, served as an assistant coach with the Canadian men's 15s team and ran Rugby Canada's national development academy.
The fact that the comments came from within has added to a year of turmoil for the governing body and the sevens women, who launched a formal complaint in January under Rugby Canada's bullying and harassment policy.
Cudmore apologized for the posts but was relieved of his duties soon after. Rugby Canada called the posts "unacceptable and in breach of organization policy."
"It was an emotional event for a good friend and I let that get the better of me," Cudmore said on Twitter. "I’ve always played/coached with my heart on my sleeve for this great country. I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone."
The good friend is former sevens coach John Tait.
In the wake of the complaint filed by 37 current and former team members, an independent review concluded that while the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the athletes, it did not fall within Rugby Canada's policy's definition of harassment or bullying.
Tait, while maintaining he had done nothing wrong, subsequently stepped down.
A former Canadian international, Tait was one of Rugby Canada's most successful coaches, leading the sevens team to the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.
The controversy has divided Rugby Canada, with most of Tait's staff leaving.
It appears Cudmore could not resist taking a shot at the women given their Olympic performance under interim coach Mick Byrne.
"Karma is a bitch! #Survivorsmyass," read a since-deleted Cudmore tweet.
"Rugby Canada stands with our women's 7s athletes," the governing body said in its initial response on social media. "We support the team in their efforts both on and off the rugby pitch and are proud of the way they have represented our country. Rugby Canada is aware of recent social media comments made about the team and worked to ensure they were removed as quickly as possible.
"Our organizational values include solidarity and respect, and everyone on our staff is expected to help create an inclusive environment for all. We condemn any inappropriate comments directed at the team and our leadership will be meeting to address this matter immediately."
Rugby Canada upped the ante hours later, relieving Cudmore of his duties. CEO Allen Vansen said in a series of tweets that the organization had concluded "that immediate action must be taken."
“Rugby Canada’s core values, including integrity and respect, must be exemplified in all our rugby programs and we are determined to promote a healthy, inclusive culture now and in future,” Rugby Canada board chair Sally Dennis said in the statement.
Cudmore won 43 caps for Canada, playing in both the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. The six-foot-five 257-pound lock forward is one of Canada's most famous exports — a hard man on the rugby pitch who was no stranger to suspensions for taking matters into his own hands on the field.
Several of Cudmore's deleted tweets were captured and posted by sevens player Charity Williams.
"I wanted to take this moment to talk about our performance and how proud I am of this team beyond any result," Williams wrote on Instagram. "Because I am, and what we accomplished this year is far greater than one weekend. What this team stands for and who we have become means that young female athletes across Canada can play their sport and feel safe. I’m proud of that.
"But instead I have to sit here once again and share what we’ve been going through as a team. The consistent hatred we have received from people in our own organization. I’m only sharing because this is what we have been dealing with for months. From private texts, to public stalking online and in person. The bullying and harassment that we have received for coming forward is outrageous and scary at times. This is the reason we called for an internal investigation because we haven’t been safe."
In the wake of that probe, the players said they had been let down by Rugby Canada's harassment and bullying policy — which has since been updated and replaced.
Rugby Canada says it plans a "detailed, independent review of all performance rugby programs starting next month with a goal of positioning teams for success in supportive, inclusive environments."
Captain Ghislaine Landry also took to social media from Tokyo.
"We always knew this was about more than rugby, about more than one tournament, even if it’s the Olympics. We knew the last nine months might put our Olympic dream in jeopardy, we had that discussion as a group, and still the decision was clear. We were ready to put our dreams at risk for change.
"This has not been a distraction but it has taken a toll on us. And so, while we are heartbroken not to have been able to play our best, we are proud and united."
In a statement released April 28, the players said their complaint "explained the psychological abuse, harassment and/or bullying these athletes feel they were subjected to in the centralized training environment.''
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press