The president of the University of Guelph has personally apologized to an athlete who was allegedly groomed for sex by the school’s former track and field coach.
On Monday afternoon, Franco Vaccarino contacted Megan Brown, the former high school and University of Guelph standout who has come forward with allegations against her former coach, Dave Scott-Thomas. Mr. Vaccarino said he was “deeply troubled and affected” by the details in a Globe and Mail report in which Ms. Brown described a two-year sexual relationship with her coach, a physical assault on campus and being ostracized from the university by Mr. Scott-Thomas. He was the school’s track and field and cross-country team coach.
“The behaviour reported in the article involved violations of trust and of values we hold so highly at the University of Guelph, especially those of ensuring student safety, health and well-being,” Mr. Vaccarino said in an e-mail to Ms. Brown that she shared with The Globe.
“I commend you for coming forward and for your strength and courage.” The president extended his apology to Ms. Brown’s family, as well. Mr. Vaccarino also released a public statement Monday afternoon in which he publicly apologized to “any current or former student athletes who experienced inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour.”
The school declined to make any senior administrators, including Mr. Vaccarino, available for an interview.
Mr. Scott-Thomas has not responded to several requests from The Globe for interviews. In a brief statement, his lawyer has said that the allegations were unsubstantiated and inaccurate.
Gary Brown, Ms. Brown’s father, notified the school in 2006 of the allegations against Mr. Scott-Thomas. After a brief investigation, the school continued to employ the coach until another complaint surfaced in the fall of 2019. Mr. Scott-Thomas was dismissed by the university in December.
The university is being heavily criticized in the wake of Ms. Brown’s accusations of a sexual relationship that began when she was 17 years old in 2002. Multiple athletes told The Globe that a “win-at-all-costs,” toxic culture prevailed under Mr. Scott-Thomas’s leadership in subsequent years. The coach brought prestige and lucrative partnerships to the university during his 22-year tenure. He has the most wins in Canadian university sports history and has coached multiple Olympians.
The university has not made public whether it has apologized to any other specific athletes.
Mr. Vaccarino promised Ms. Brown in his e-mail that “our current administration has created a new culture in athletics at U of G.”
He did not address the school’s 2006 investigation into the accusations, or provide an update into the university’s internal investigation of the 2019 complaint.
Also on Monday, the athlete oversight group within Athletics Canada released a sharply worded statement criticizing its own organization.
“The Athletics Canada Athletes Council deeply condemns the lack of action taken by Athletics Canada and its leadership at the time that Megan’s family was seeking help and support,” the statement reads.
The athletes council is a group of a dozen representatives from across the Canadian track and field community that operate as a committee within Athletics Canada representing their peers.
Kate Van Buskirk, a Commonwealth Games medalist and one of three co-chairs of the council who authored the statement, said The Globe report has “rocked the athletics community,” and that “[Ms. Brown] was failed at every juncture. After reading Athletics Canada’s statement of response on Saturday, she felt compelled to demand more.
“Trust has been broken between members of the athletics community and our governing body,” Ms. Van Buskirk said after learning that the governing body was made aware of allegations against Mr. Scott-Thomas as far back as 2006. He was later promoted to key roles as a national team coach, including for the 2016 Olympics.
She said the statement came together quickly over WhatsApp, and that they wanted to make sure athletes throughout Canada know that the athlete council is an option for disclosure and seeking help. The statement included a series of links to safe sport resources, as well.
Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, a 2016 Olympian, said he was inspired to co-author the statement because he felt that the Athletics Canada response to the allegations wasn’t good enough. “From an athlete’s standpoint, we were not happy with the lack of public acknowledgement of [Ms. Brown’s] effort, nor the fact that their lack of action was a mistake.”
Mr. Philibert-Thiboutot said the council wanted to “make it clear that the lack of empathy and the deflection of responsibility is not something we endorse.” He said the athletes on the council will nevertheless continue in good faith working with Athletics Canada.
Jenn Brown, a Paralympic discus thrower and the third author of the statement, said the council is motivated by Ms. Brown’s courage, and change must come now to make sport safer.
“We need our athletes to first be safe, healthy and happy as people,” she said. “None of this matters if our athletes aren’t safe.”
The council said it will demand that a third-party system be put in place. “If athletes don’t feel safe to come into the [Athletics Canada] commissioner system we have now, we need to create a place they can go.”