Rowing Canada (RCA) has released their full decision into the conduct of former UVic Women’s Rowing Coach Barney Williams. Williams resigned in a mutual agreement with UVic on April 18.

The panel found that Williams violated the RCA Code of Conduct and the NCCP Code of Ethics in his interactions with former rower Lily Copeland and his assistant coach Sam Heron during the 2018-2019 season. The decision is the product of RCA’s investigation into Williams’ behaviour, following complaints brought forward in August 2019. 

As a result of the decision, Williams is suspended from participating in all RCA activities for 12 months. If Williams wishes to return to coaching during that time, he’ll have to work with a coach evaluator, receive one-on-one mentoring, and complete a remedial training plan through the RCA certification program. 

“Aggressive and unwelcome coaching behaviour is a violation of the standards and obligations spelled out in both the RCA Code of Conduct and the NCCP Code of Ethics,” the decision reads. “It is important to note that several women, many of them promising athletes, testified that Mr. Williams’ coaching led them to leave the sport prematurely to the detriment of the sport and to these athletes.”

Williams’ comments to the RCA panel, which are included in the decision, maintain that he did not view his coaching style as inappropriate. He denies many of the allegations against him.

He asked that the panel not impose any ban or significant sanction, adding that he had already “been through enough” between the UVic investigation against him and the media scrutiny. 

Complainants included former rowers Lily Copeland, Sarah Craven, two other anonymous rowers, and assistant coach Sam Heron. An additional former rower came forward but did not continue to be involved in the investigation. They also heard from 16 witnesses. 

Although RCA opened an investigation into Williams’ conduct in August 2019, it was stalled after Williams took issue with some aspects of the investigation process. An independent panel was appointed in fall 2020, followed by proceedings in December 2020 and January 2021. During this time, Williams continued to coach at UVic. On April 8, Williams texted the team that he was “on vacation,” and “no one was trying to take him down.” He resigned on April 18. 

In the investigation, Williams told the panel “that he was [not] aware of the negative effects his coaching had on the complainants or any of his other athletes.” However, several of the complainants expressed that they were afraid to share their concerns with Williams out of fear of how he might respond. When Copeland voiced concerns about her mental health, for instance, she alleges that Williams did not take them seriously. 

Other evidence in the decision includes allegations that Williams forced athletes to train without proper equipment, excluded certain athletes on the basis of their performance, did not provide constructive feedback to athletes, and created an environment where teammates were pitted against each other. Williams dismissed the majority of these accusations in his comments to the panel, claiming that he only wanted to help athletes “become the best version of themselves.” 

The panel did not conclude that his interactions with Sarah Craven and the other two rowers were violations of the RCA Code of Conduct or the NCCP Code of Ethics, and only concluded that the one-on-one interactions with Copeland and his conduct with Heron at two meetings in 2018 violated these codes. Copeland is also involved in a lawsuit against Williams and UVic. 

The panel specifically noted how Copeland was treated. Copeland alleges Williams would yell at her in a small room after rowing practice. These interactions sometimes left Copeland in tears. Craven told the panel Copeland looked “shell shocked” afterwards. Although Williams denied ever seeing Copeland cry, the panel found that Copeland offered a “compelling and emotional account of those same meetings.” 

Copeland also alleges that Williams dismissed her mental health concerns when she brought them up in a meeting. The panel found this dismissal to go against his responsibilities as a coach. Copeland told the panel that after this meeting, she felt she had to suppress her mental health concerns and push herself harder as a rower. 

In terms of Heron, the panel focused on two of Williams’ interactions with her — both of which took place in 2018. The panel concluded that Williams “engaged in conduct that was unwelcomed and inappropriate particularly given the power dynamic between him and Ms. Heron.” 

Although the panel focussed on the complaints made during the 2018-19 season, others have come forward to the media and UVic with their concerns about his conduct. In total, 17 individuals have alleged Williams was an abusive coach. 

Williams could return to coaching if he follows the conditions of his suspension, but UVic’s recent press release confirms that he will not continue to coach the women’s team. 

“Both the university and Williams determined it was in the best interest of the rowing program for him to step away from his position as women’s rowing head coach so that the circumstances associated with the 2018-19 season are not a continuing distraction for the program,” the press release reads. 

This article will be updated as this story develops. The Martlet has reached out to Williams’ lawyer and UVic for comment but has yet to receive a response. 

This content was originally published here.