CRNZ Statement

Stuff published two articles related to CRNZ’s performance program on Sunday, 30 August. The following is the full text of two statements that we provided to Stuff in response to questions submitted to us.  

Statement by Tom Ashley, CEO

In September and November 2019, two athletes came to us with concerns about our program. Their concerns included dissatisfaction about how decisions had been communicated to them by coaches and about the team and coaching culture more broadly. We closely examined the issues in consultation with the athletes and their support people.

CRNZ and our coaches acknowledge that in some instances coaching and selection matters could have been communicated in a better way. However, we reject the suggestion that there was, or is, a culture of bullying or harassment.

CRNZ has a responsibility to create a supportive environment for athletes and we regret that some athletes have not always had a positive experience in our program. We acknowledge an ongoing need to improve our ability to work together for the benefit of our athletes.

To achieve success, our coaches and athletes must meet exceptionally high standards. High performance sport is a high-pressure environment in which relationships can be strained and tested. At its best, the environment is built on trust. Team culture is the responsibility of everyone: management, coaches and athletes.

We are currently undergoing a process of serious and heartfelt work on improving our culture and performance. This work has the full backing of our coaching team and athletes. Our coaches and athletes, including our former athletes, have the full support of CRNZ.

We are confident that the work we are doing will improve our performance environment so that all athletes can perform at their best.

Several questions submitted to CRNZ by Stuff contain or imply allegations which have never been raised with CRNZ. Among these are questions which call into question the actions and integrity of two of our coaches. Gordon Walker is a highly respected, world-class coach. Jasper Bats is a promising developing coach. Both are valued members of our team. If anybody involved (or formerly involved) in our program has any specific concerns or needs support, we encourage them to approach us using the multiple avenues available for this purpose. Sport New Zealand has a complaints mechanism available to all athletes involved in high performance sport to confidentially raise and address complaints and we encourage anyone to use that if they feel they want to. The NZ Athletes’ Federation also provides an advocacy service for athletes. CRNZ will fully address any concerns raised through these channels.

More about our work on our performance environment 

In May 2020, we engaged Christian Penny of HPSNZ and Cathryn Monro to lead a body of work to improve the performance environment in our women’s squad. This decision was led by Gordon Walker in close collaboration with me and has been fully supported by our coaches, athletes and management. The first phase of this work is in progress and will run until late September. Christian and Cathryn’s approach is grounded in tikanga and aims to improve our team’s ability to work together.

At the conclusion of the first step of this project, we will engage further independent support to review the progress we have made. At this point, we will also engage with athletes who have left our program, if they wish to be involved.

We have also promoted Polly Powrie to the role of Performance Manager and to be part of the leadership team of CRNZ. This will allow the team to benefit from Polly’s experience as an Olympic champion and to add a strong female leadership voice to the training and performance environment.

Statement by Gordon Walker, Technical Director

I strive to base my practice as a coach on respect, empathy and positive energy. I believe there is no place in elite level coaching for bullying or intimidation.

In my coaching philosophy, my number one driver is to understand the athlete fully as a person. This helps me understand their purpose in sport, and allows me to help them progress towards their goals as an athlete at the top level.

High performance sport is a crucible in so many ways. The demands are high, the pressures can be off the dial and the daily requirement to step forward and be better is tough. This can be a supremely fulfilling environment. I am sad to hear that there are people in our programme whose experience has not been positive.

Our team have some lofty goals for the Tokyo Olympics and beyond. I personally am unreservedly committed to the work and effort – and to the learning – that will be needed if we are to achieve those goals, which are so challenging in both the psychological and physical dimensions.

The journey we are on couldn’t be achieved without the full backing of the athletes I coach, High Performance Sport NZ and Canoe Racing NZ.  I am thankful and grateful for their support.