Toronto axe-throwing company responds to allegations of racism and sexism

After a recent backlash against a Toronto’s Backyard Axe Throwing League (BATL) Black Lives Matter post, the company is now strengthening its anti-racism training.

BATL has an unscrupulous past — back in 2010 a Vice story described BATL’s founding in Toronto as a place where league players chanted a “primal man” oath and used homophobic slurs.

While the company has since grown, the experience of some customers and staff at BATL had them calling out a Black Lives Matter post a few weeks ago.

“I’d really like to see some actionable steps outline as to how you will be doing better. As a BATL member who used to throw twice a week it did not feel a space where I could discuss issues of racism and sexism openly and be supported,” one person commented on the BLM Instagram post.

Others suggested there were ongoing issues.

“We’ve all watched this grow from a backyard to a national organization — you have the voice and the supporters to make a change, so what is that change going to look like?” another person said.

A few people pointed to BATL’s past problems dealing with racism and sexism.

“When will BATL address these concerns? I stopped throwing 5 years ago and the issues being brought up then still haven't been addressed. There were calls to address racism, sexism and sexual harassment that were constantly met with resistance and condescension,” another person said.

“You can't just post support for Black Lives Matter without addressing the issues within your own organization.

About a week later, a letter from the company’s founder, Matt Wilson, was posted.

BATL has evolved since those early days, Jamieson Cochrane, chief talent and culture officer for BATL told blogTO.

“A lot of those things people are talking about happened quite some time ago and our company has grown considerably and matured,” said Cochrane.

More recently BATL posted an update to indicate they have been working on the issue.

Jamieson said he was recruited to BATL about a year and a half ago and, at first, was confused by the job offer.

“I don’t understand how I, an out, gay man, would work in this culture,” said Jamieson. “But I didn’t know anything about BATL I was just going on stereotypes.”

Cochrane admits the Vice story was shocking.

“It felt like someone kicked me in the gut when I read that but we weren’t even a company at that point,” he said.

He learned more about the company and said people were warm and welcoming. They have 19 venues across Canada and the U.S. and needed formal core values and a code of conduct — both were released in 2019.

There is a structure in place to report incidents for staff, he said.

But he admits there is still work to do and BATL has hired, on a temporary basis, a woman who commented on the Black Lives Matter Instagram post to help in policies training for staff.

“As a Black woman who identifies as Queer, she can help me see beyond my own viewpoint and the viewpoint of others who are reviewing the materials.”

There will be more in-depth staff training on anti-racism, diversity, inclusion and belonging and identifying bias when staff comes back after lockdown orders are lifted, he said.

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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