Alan Thompson, pictured here in 2009, is a two-time Olympic champion and long-time sports coach and volunteer.
The acrimonious battle between Canoe Racing NZ and one of the sport’s greats is heading towards a costly showdown in the High Court.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Alan Thompson is legally challenging his expulsion from the sport and last week sought judicial review in Auckland High Court.
Thompson, a former life member of Canoe Racing NZ, was banned from the sport in December 2021 following a year-long investigation into historic allegations of sexual harassment.
The investigation, led by Wellington QC Victoria Casey, centered on complaints from 2014 and 1998, in which Thompson allegedly made “inappropriate sexualized remarks” to female athletes. A third complaint related to a 1991 incident in which Thompson exposed himself to a female paddler while touring Europe.
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Casey’s investigation found that the alleged conduct had occurred and was “unbecoming of a CRNZ member and contrary to the purposes of CRNZ”.
Thompson denied the allegations “in the strongest terms possible.”
The three-time Olympian said he was unable to go into details about his case when contacted by Thingsbut claims the process undertaken by Canoe Racing NZ was “fundamentally flawed”.
“It’s such a shame it’s come to this, it’s not where I wanted it to end, but it’s the only avenue I have. The main thing is to have someone review the process, [which] was extremely one-sided and unfair,” he says.
“The way the investigation was orchestrated and conducted and the slander of my character beforehand was in no way fair. I was not given the opportunity to properly defend myself against the allegations.
Canoe Racing NZ managing director Tom Ashley declined to comment but confirmed the national body would defend the claim.
Complaints against Thompson surfaced following the publication of a Things is investigating allegations of harassment and intimidation within Canoe Racing NZ’s elite women’s program which contributed to the departure of six athletes over an 18-month period. One of those athletes was Thompson’s daughter, Kim.
In October 2020, Thompson joined a group of past and present athletes and former staff to make legal threats against Canoe Racing NZ over its handling of bullying allegations in the women’s programme.
In the same month, Canoe Racing NZ engaged Casey to investigate three separate complaints against Thompson – specific details of which have not been made public to protect complainants.
Based on Casey’s findings, the Canoe Racing NZ board moved a special resolution to expel Thompson, a central figure in an exciting and pioneering time in the sport in the 1980s alongside Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald.
Announcing the decision on its website, Canoe Racing NZ said it was taking an extraordinary step due to a number of factors including the nature of the remarks, the impact of riding on women and the guarantee of a “safe environment for all athletes who participate in canoe races and NZRC activities”.
Delegates from Canoe Racing NZ’s 16 member clubs voted to expel Thompson at a special general meeting three days before Christmas.
The case in the High Court is unlikely to challenge the merits of the complaints, but rather test the process undertaken by the national body.
According to information provided by the Ministry of Justice, in a judicial review procedure, the judge is responsible for examining whether the decision was taken in accordance with the law, and not whether it was the “right” decision.
“For a judicial review to be successful for the plaintiff, the Court will have to be satisfied, based on the evidence, that the decision-maker did not lawfully follow the proper decision-making process,” the department’s guidelines state.
A hearing date for the case has not yet been set.