June 03, 2008

Another Vernon update

I have not found it easy to make sense of what has been happening in the past two months. But an update is overdue. Here is my, probably inadequate, attempt at an explanation.

National coach Derek Brown, who was in overall charge of the Scottish squad at the Ford World Women's Curling Championship in Vernon, British Columbia, in March, will face a Royal Club 'Conduct Panel' next Monday. This results from the complaint lodged against him by Gail Munro and Lyndsay Wilson, who were initially blamed by Brown for the fiasco which saw Scotland field just three players for the last two round robin matches in Canada.

Brown had lodged complaints against Munro and Wilson, and the two women will also face a 'Conduct Panel'.

The investigation into the complaints has been led by Frank Gill, a lawyer with Anderson Strathern, who was asked to take this role as the 'responsible officer', as RCCC Vice-president Matt Murdoch had to declare a conflict of interest (see previous post here).

The procedures being followed are laid out in a document entitled: 'Ethics Manual:
RCCC's policies and procedures for an ethical sport'. There is a section therein which relates to 'Policy and procedure for dealing with the conduct of participants'.

There is no precedent. Nothing like this has happened in recent years.

Gill had to decide whether the complaints had merit. If so he had two choices - either to investigate further, or that 'disciplinary action against the participant is warranted', in which case he had to call a formal hearing or 'Conduct Panel'. He has apparently decided on the latter course of action.

Note the use of the words 'disciplinary action' here. I find this strange. It implies that Gill, acting as the RCCC's responsible officer, has already acted as judge and jury and that both parties are 'guilty' of something. However the role of the Conduct Panel is wide ranging to investigate the complaints. It would appear that everything is still at an investigation stage. Witnesses can be present or submit written evidence to the Conduct Panel.

Gill's last act has been to select the members of the Panel from a list of qualified individuals made up from curlers, Board members, Area Standing Committee and Ladies Standing Committee members. His choice to take things further are Sheriff Richard Scott (formerly Sheriff of Borders and Lothians at Edinburgh, and founder member of Abbotsford Curling Society), Ewan Malcolm (a lawyer, now with Consensus Mediation and a former Murrayfield coach) and Pam MacKay (director of curlingshoes.com, a well respected curling supply business).

That's Gill's job over, apparently.

When the Conduct Panel has finished its investigation it can apply wide disciplinary sanctions, ranging from a written reprimand to termination of RCCC membership, or indeed 'Any other sanction(s) deemed appropriate in the circumstances'.

The stakes then are high. Munro and Wilson's future participation in the sport. Brown's credibility to continue as National Coach.

Will we know anything immediately after the Conduct Panel first hearing next Monday, or even before the Royal Club AGM on June 14? This is not likely, as the procedures say, 'No publication of a decision or sanction shall take place until the time for appeal has expired or an appeal has been decided.' And the Ethics Manual has an appeals procedure, with timelines. But if it goes to appeals, any anouncement could be delayed considerably.

What concerns me is that nowhere in all this has there been the promised 'independent enquiry' into what went wrong in Vernon - why it happened, and what lessons can be learned so that such a thing never happens again. That's what curlers in Scotland want to know.

I asked RCCC Board Chairman Mike Ferguson where we are with this. He says, "After the proceedings are fully complete, the Board will be conducting a comprehensive review, seeking advice as required. I am sure you can appreciate timings cannot be confirmed at this stage, however both the recommendations and any subsequent alterations to our procedures will be published."

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