Whitecaps co-owners say 'sorry' in open letter concerning abuse allegations

May 1 2019, 10:44 pm

For the first time since allegations against a former Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team coach were made public in February, the team has released a statement with actual names put behind it.

Also for the first time, they said “sorry.”

Whitecaps FC co-owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett have signed an open letter addressed to their community, expressing “sincere regret and empathy” for what happened to multiple female players more than a decade ago.

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Unlike an April 17 letter, which was not signed by anyone specific with the Whitecaps, Kerfoot and Mallett’s statement included an apology.

The first letter was universally panned by fans and media, as well as former player Ciara McCormack, whose February 25 blog post titled A horrific Canadian soccer story – The story no one wants to listen to, but everyone needs to hear, first shined a light on subject.

Here’s the full letter from the owners:

To our community,

As we reflect on what happened in 2008 and the blogs that have been published over the last several weeks, we express sincere regret and empathy for the harm that has clearly come to many women who participated in our program at that time. The pain and suffering these women feel is real and something we care deeply about. And while we sought and acted on the advice of the best available counsel at the time, it is clear that people were deeply affected. For that we are sorry.

There’s absolutely no place for any form of harassment or bullying in our club or in society as a whole. That is why, eleven years ago the Whitecaps launched an independent investigation on the same day a serious allegation of misconduct was made against the coach of the Women’s team.

We respect the bravery it took to come forward and entrust us with a complaint of this nature and knew it demanded immediate response. Following a thorough investigation, we terminated our relationship with the coach and adopted an extensive respectful workplace policy.

Upon recently reading in an online blog that there may be new allegations related to 2008, we immediately reported them to the Vancouver Police Department.

It was important that we acted in a timely fashion then. But there is still more work to be done today.

As we stated on April 17 the club will conduct a thorough and independent review of our operations to ensure that we foster and enforce a culture of zero tolerance for any form of harassment or bullying. In addition to reviewing our current respectful workplace policies and procedures, we will also be reviewing the actions we took 11 years ago to determine what we can learn from them going forward. We have already begun interviewing candidates for this very important work. The results of this effort will be shared publicly.

Additionally, we are committed to working closely with our governing bodies and sport partners as, together, we pursue a more active leadership role in safe sport initiatives. Every sport should be safe, and we want to help lead the way.

Society as a whole is making considerable progress on these issues because victims have spoken out and demanded change. We believe in the power of female athletes to change society for the better and we strive to be leaders in changing the culture of sport for women in Canada.

By advocating for those who have been hurt, we can all help clear the way for safer sport for all women and foster an environment free of discrimination and harassment in which girls and women can thrive. This is and must be our highest priority not only for girls and women but for all athletes.

Sincerely,

Greg Kerfoot & Jeff Mallett
Co-owners

Reactions from fans and media online have been considerably more positive than previous club-released statements.

Following the initial blog post by McCormack was a statement from Andrea Neil, a former longtime Canadian national team player and member of the Whitecaps Ring of Honour.

“As someone who experienced some of what happened with the investigation, I feel I need to add my voice to Ciara’s as she continues to challenge some of the systemic issues within the world of youth sport here in BC and beyond,” said Neil.

The most damning allegations came from an April 1 joint-statement released by 13 former players, who claimed they each witnessed incidents of “abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour toward players.” They also included specific examples of his alleged inappropriate conduct, many of which were sexual in nature.

The lack of response by the Whitecaps has resulted in backlash from fans. Supporters groups have responded with walk-out protests during the team’s last two home games.

Those demonstrations got the attention of the club, who organized a meeting between Mallett and representatives of the Southsiders on Saturday.

The Whitecaps play next in Colorado on Friday, before returning home for a derby match against the Portland Timbers a week later on May 10.

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