A former coach for the Whitecaps women’s team and Team Canada has now been charged with several sexual offences against four separate individuals.
The charges against Bob Birarda come after an investigation began following allegations first raised publicly by former Whitecaps women’s player Ciara McCormack in a blog post that alleges misconduct and inappropriate behaviour by the former coach.
“In 2005-2008, if you were female and wanted to play for Canada, you essentially had to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps,” McCormack explained in the blog. “This gave the coaches and the organization an unhealthy amount of power.”
She outlined some of the alleged behaviour by the coach, which included witnessing him “bully a friend into hysterical sobbing” and saying he would make “inappropriate sexually charged comments to players.”
McCormack alleged that some of the players had meetings in their bikinis sitting on his bed at the CONCACAF qualifiers in Mexico in June 2008, and that the coach would allegedly send “sexual innuendo-filled text messages” to her teammates.
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The coach, later confirmed by McCormack to be Bob Birarda, was suspended by Coastal FC pending an investigation launched after the blog post became public.
Of paramount concern is not only the alleged abusive behaviour by Birarda or any other coaches at the time but also a perceived lack of response by people in power.
Birarda was eventually let go from both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian Soccer Association after a 2008 investigation, but the move was announced publicly as a “mutual decision.”
In April 2019, 13 women from the 2007-2008 U20 Canadian national team pool released a joint statement outlining specific damning allegations concerning Birarda.
“We come forward 10 years later because: some of us didn’t know he was still coaching, and we all look back at our experience with Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps and think the situation should have been handled differently,” read the statement.
“During our time as part of the U20’s, we each witnessed incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour toward players.”
The women gave five examples of the alleged behaviour, including:
Example 1: On the way to training, Player witnessed Bob rubbing a teammate’s thigh while in the car.
Example 2: Player was not in the starting 11 for the U20 pool. Near the end of camp Bob invited her into his hotel room for a meeting (one-on-one) and shut the door behind them. He acknowledged she was not a starter, then asked her “what are you going to do about it?” She dismissed herself from the team soon after.
Example 3: Player was shown text messages that her teammate received from Bob, which included sexual connotation in regards to driving close behind her.
Example 4: Bob held meetings one-on-one with Player in coffee shop. The meetings consisted of “small talk” and Bob wanting validation about his appearance and personality. Bob later requested meetings to be held in his apartment, Player thought it was inappropriate. Player began ignoring the messages. He implied that she had to be a “team player.” Once Player stopped replying to text messages, he ignored her in team meetings, at practices, and games. When the internal investigation began, Bob asked Player to meet in the coffee shop, where he became emotional and asked her not to tell anyone about their previous conversations.
Example 5: Bob started communicating with Player extensively over text message. Conversations became more and more inappropriate (sexual in nature). Bob blamed Player for “putting a spell” on him with her looks, maturity, and talent. At half-time during a game, Bob told Player how good her body looked in the wet, white jersey – and that he chose for the team to wear white on a rainy day for this reason. Conversations became more lewd. Player eventually asked Bob to stop this communication. Player was overcome with anxiety and depression from having to “manage” his emotions thereafter, and eventually the residual trauma led to her quitting soccer.
This week, the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) confirmed with Daily Hive that Birarda has been charged with several sexual offences against four separate individuals.
The offences include six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.
The offences are alleged to have generally occurred between January 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008 at or near North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver. Information was sworn on November 30, 2020, and Birarda had his first appearance at a bail hearing in North Vancouver Provincial Court on December 9.
He was released on conditions that will be available at the North Vancouver court registry. His next appearance is set for January 28, 2021.
As the matter is now before the court the BCPS said it will not be providing any further information regarding the accused or the complainants and will have no further comment regarding the investigation or the circumstances of the offences.