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British Canoeing publish Key Findings and Recommendations from Independent Investigation

In response to a number of historic concerns raised in April 2017, an Independent Investigation was jointly commissioned by British Canoeing and UK Sport, ‘to examine British Canoeing’s governance, corporate responsibility and behaviour with regard to these allegations.’

The Report, commissioned in 2017, has now been formally received.

From the outset, British Canoeing committed to publishing the Key Findings and Recommendations of this Report. These are presented here .

It is on the basis of strong legal advice that neither British Canoeing nor UK Sport can go further and publish the full report.

The Response from British Canoeing

In response to the Report the Chair of British Canoeing Professor John Coyne CBE said;

British Canoeing accepts in full the findings of the Panel and wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologises to all those affected by the past failings of the organisation highlighted in the Report.

“It is clear from the findings of the Report that there were serious organisational deficiencies in the past, which led to the inadequate and deficient investigation of complaints and the poor treatment of those making them.

“We deeply regret that the lack of appropriate processes and the consequent poor handling of complaints at the time created an environment where there was harmful and unacceptable behaviour by some individuals, that was not suitably addressed and they were not held accountable for their actions.

“The Report identifies major governance, process and organisational failures in our all too recent past. To all those harmed by these deficiencies I offer a full apology.

“British Canoeing is committed to ensuring that we learn from these issues by addressing the recommendations made in the Report. The Report recognises that British Canoeing has taken significant steps since 2016 to address these recommendations. However, we recognise this is a continuous process and there is still more work to be done.

“Our community has been very supportive and understanding despite the incidents of the past and we owe it to them to work diligently to build further trust and cooperation. British Canoeing commits to further reviewing and strengthening the provisions already in place to ensure that we are delivering the highest level of governance and creating a culture where everyone feels able to raise concerns freely, without fear of reprisal and safe in the knowledge that they will be heard.”

Recent Progress

British Canoeing has taken many significant actions since 2016 to improve its governance structure, policies, procedures, safeguarding case management and athlete welfare and support. These actions include:

  • The establishment of a clear line of accountability of the Performance Director to the CEO and through the CEO to the Board
  • Regular focus on the World Class Programme within Board Meetings with the Performance Director in attendance
  • Presentation to the Board and analysis of the results from the annual confidential culture health check survey of athletes within the World Class Programme
  • The appointment of a Head of Governance and Compliance in 2016. This is a senior management role, reporting to the CEO and responsible for all matters of governance, policies, procedures, disciplinary and safeguarding matters. This was the first time that a governance professional had been appointed to the staff team within the governing body
  • Since 2016, four more appointments have been made to the Governance and Compliance team;
    • Compliance Case Officer
    • Compliance and Safeguarding Officer
    • Safeguarding Case Officer
    • Performance Wellbeing Coach - The Performance Wellbeing Coach is directly responsible for athlete welfare and provides support to athletes around all elements of wellbeing, including mental health, selection worries and safeguarding concerns.
  • In April 2016 a new Governance Policy was introduced which set out new ways of working for the Board of British Canoeing, including the creation of the Governance and Risk Committee of the Board
  • In March 2016 the number of Independent Non- Executive Directors was increased from two to five. This enabled the appointment of a legally qualified and experienced Director to Chair the Governance and Risk Committee 
  • The Governance and Risk Committee has overseen revisions and improvements of all of the British Canoeing policies and procedures including but not limited to; Selection Policies, Safeguarding Policy and Practices, Disciplinary, Disputes and Complaints Policies, Athlete Grievance Policy, Whistleblowing Policy
  • Since 2017, when the UK Code of Sports Governance was introduced, British Canoeing has been fully compliant
  • In 2017, significant changes to Safeguarding management within British Canoeing were introduced and a new safeguarding Case Management Group was established, with a new Chair supported by independent volunteer members with a range of safeguarding backgrounds and expertise. New and updated safeguarding policies and procedures were introduced in 2017
  • In 2017 British Canoeing created its Performance Wellbeing Group made up of athletes, staff and independent members, with a clear purpose to create and manage a Wellbeing Action Plan focussed on policy and practice improvements to impact on athletes and coaches within the World Class Programme
  • In May 2019, British Canoeing was one of only two Sport National Governing Bodies in England to receive a rating of excellent, the highest standard available, following the annual audit of its safeguarding framework by the Child Protection in Sport Unit
  • Safeguarding training has been undertaken by staff members and also by Non-Executive Directors as part of a learning and development programme for Board Members
  • In 2019 British Canoeing consulted upon and agreed its company-wide values and associated behaviours; Every person matters, Striving for excellence, Always with integrity, Enjoying the journey, Individually committed, Stronger Together.

In addition to making these structural and policy changes since 2016, British Canoeing also recognise the importance of effective stakeholder engagement and has committed to a number of opportunities to hear the voices of athletes and those others involved within the World Class Programmes. These include:

  • Athlete Representatives Group (ARG) established in 2017 and fully operational
  • Regular meetings between Performance Director and  the Chair of ARG and annual meeting between ARG and Board representatives
  • Regular meetings of Athlete Wellbeing Group.

Future Actions

British Canoeing is committed to the following actions, which includes reviewing areas of work already undertaken or underway:

  1. Further review British Canoeing’s dispute resolutions processes to ensure that the Board’s current aims of accessibility, independence, fairness, impartiality and accountability are fully in place and understood whilst also ensuring it remains empowered to govern its sport effectively
  2. Establish and publish a schedule of regular review dates for all relevant policies and procedures by June 2020
  3. Commission an independent review of historic safeguarding cases and current safeguarding practices by July 2020
  4. Review again the record keeping for complaints, safeguarding and disciplinary cases to ensure that if deficiencies are found there are excellent processes put in place by July 2020
  5. Ensure principles of good governance are embedded and an open complaints culture are promoted within the safeguarding training for British Canoeing staff and Board Members
  6. Review the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement and communications in light of the findings of the Report, and report to British Canoeing Board by September 2020
  7. Review the Report with UK Sport to determine whether any further improvements can be made in relation to the partnership and staff and athlete understanding of the partnership by October 2020.


UK Sport CEO Sally Mundy said:

“UK Sport welcomes the publication of the report on the jointly commissioned independent investigation into ‘British Canoeing’s governance, corporate responsibility and behaviour with regard to allegations raised in April 2017 and other associated allegations’, and the full apology British Canoeing has issued to all those affected.

“We recognise that British Canoeing has made significant progress in improving their governance and athlete engagement since this review was commissioned in 2017. We will now support them in their commitment to make the improvements which have been identified within the action plan they have published in response to this Report.

“As well as the advances made at British Canoeing, progress has been made right across the high performance system to improve culture and athlete welfare. This has included the introduction of Culture Health Checks and the Code for Sports Governance with every funded sport, the establishment of an integrity function within UK Sport, the development and roll-out of a system-wide mental health strategy, improved whistleblowing opportunities for athletes and a significant increase in funding for the British Athletes Commission; the independent organisation established to ensure athletes’ interests are heard and represented. 

“The health and welfare of athletes is of paramount importance to UK Sport, and we firmly believe it should never be compromised under any circumstances. We will continue to work alongside all of our funded sports to ensure this athlete-first approach is fully understood and puts athletes at the heart of everything we do.”