Twenty-nine of Canada’s top rowers, including Olympic and world champions, have asked Rowing Canada’s board of directors for an independent review in the wake of Mike Spracklen’s dismissal as coach of the men’s eight.
The review, as requested by current and former rowers, would examine “the failures of [Rowing Canada’s] high performance executive team” and include “a focus on the rationale and process behind decisions made over the last quadrennial.” That would include Spracklen’s ousting and Tuesday’s announcement that Martin McElroy had been hired as performance director of the men’s program.
The 74-year-old Spracklen guided the men’s eight crew to Olympic gold in 2008 and silver in 2012 but was not asked to stay with the program after his contract expired last month. That produced a wave of support from rowers, who wanted to know why Spracklen was not asked to return. Many of them signed off on the letter to Rowing Canada, asking their input be included.
“Mike’s dismissal was a symptom of a greater problem,” said rower Dominic Seiterle, an Olympic and world champion. “We did a get response [to the letter] from Dr. Michael Murphy, the president of Rowing Canada. He said there’s going to be a board meeting in November. It looks like the status quo for Rowing Canada, which is frustrating. What we cited in the letter was the need for an independent review.”
Several athletes, including members of the men’s eight crew that competed in London, spoke out against Rowing Canada’s decision to cut ties with Spracklen. The 29 who signed a letter include Silken Laumann and Olympic gold medalists Derek Porter, Adam Kreek, Andrew Byrnes, Jake Wetzel, Kevin Light and Kyle Hamilton, among others.
In their letter to the board and its president, the rowers stated: “We are concerned that Rowing Canada has said that they are going to undertake a review of aspects of the High Performance program, yet they have already made decisions that we feel will impact athletes’ performances and the overall success of the program before such a review has even taken place,” Seiterle said. “It is important that they are as accountable to the athletes as the athletes are to their performance on the water. Any review conducted should be open and transparent in process and result and should cover the whole high performance team – from coaches to executives. The review should also answer the question why recent significant decisions were made without complete information.”
The rowers said the review should centre on 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.”
Rowing Canada is looking at its high-performance program after winning only two medals in London, a pair of silvers by the men’s and women’s eight crews. Rowing Canada said it did consult with some athletes before deciding not to retain Spracklen as coach, a decision that resulted in Kyle Hamilton’s resignation as the athletes’ representative on the Rowing Canada board.
McElroy led the British men’s eight to a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and recently served as performance director for Rowing Ireland.