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The Canadian women’s rugby sevens team says its governing body's harassment and bullying policy failed to help players.

The Canadian Press

The Canadian women’s rugby sevens team, which made a formal complaint in January to its governing body, says it was let down by Rugby Canada’s harassment and bullying policy.

Coach John Tait stepped down Monday in the wake of an independent review that said while the conduct described in the complaint reflected the experiences of the athletes, it did not fall within the policy’s definition of harassment or bullying.

The complaint, filed in January, came from 37 past and present members of the team.

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In a statement released Wednesday by captain Ghislaine Landry, the women say their complaint “explained the psychological abuse, harassment and/or bullying these athletes feel they were subjected to in the centralized training environment.”

“The national team athletes have shown true courage in coming forward to shine a light on what they have experienced in an effort to bring about meaningful change to their sport,” the statement said.

“We followed the procedures outlined in Rugby Canada’s policy, which was put in place in 2013. We feel that this process failed to protect us and did not acknowledge the abuse and harassment that we believe we suffered.”

The statement is signed by the 37 women, three of whom chose to remain anonymous. The team says the 37 represent 55 per cent of the athletes who have been involved in the centralized training program in Langford, B.C.

Nineteen of the 21 women listed by Rugby Canada as members of the current squad put their name to the statement.

In March, Rugby Canada approved what it calls an “updated safe sport policy manual.” And CEO Allen Vansen said Monday the organization will also undertake an independent assessment of the women’s sevens and other programs “to help us understand the journey and experiences of our athletes and staff involved with our national teams.”

“The goal of the assessment will be to deliver recommendations to improve our training and competition environment,” Vansen added.

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The assessment will start after the Summer Olympics and the outcome will be made public, he said.

The independent review into the women’s complaint was not made public by Rugby Canada, which announced its outcome in a six-paragraph release.

Tait has not commented other than in a statement issued Monday.

“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,” he said. “Regardless, I no longer desire to continue as the national team head coach or in the role of high-performance director & have therefore decided to resign.”

The complaint went to an independent review after mediation failed to produce a solution.

In their statement Wednesday, the players said change and accountability are needed.

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“We know firsthand how hard it is to speak out and how hard it is to ask for change. Athletes should never have to experience heightened anxiety, depression, racism, eating disorders, low self-worth or mental illness as part of participating in sport at any level.”

The players called for Rugby Canada “to ensure they understand our experiences and chart a pathway forward to a positive and respectful training environment.”

“We intend to be part of the discussion going forward to ensure that positive changes are implemented within our sport. We have been assured by Rugby Canada that the independent assessment will start immediately and we look forward to working with them.”

Under Tait, the Canadian sevens women won bronze at the 2016 Olympics, silver at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens and gold at the 2015 Pan American Games.

The women’s sevens team has been centralized since 2012 with the 47-year-old Tait, a former Canadian international, in charge.

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