Whitecaps respond to claims they didn't adequately protect female players

Apr 17 2019, 9:41 pm

The Vancouver Whitecaps have provided a public response regarding allegations that the club didn’t do all it could have to protect a number of female soccer players more than a decade ago.

A letter addressed to the “Whitecaps FC Community” was published on its website Wednesday, a day after the club’s largest supporters group announced plans for an in-stadium protest at this evening’s match at BC Place Stadium.

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The Vancouver Southsiders are planning to leave their seats during the final 10 minutes of the first half, and encourage other fans to do the same.

“We feel compelled to express ourselves to show a visible sign of our anger and disgust at how these women were treated, and the continued silence from the same Whitecaps executives responsible for the original insufficient actions of the club,” Southsiders vice president Paul Sabourin-Hertzog told Daily Hive.

The letter acknowledges that senior club management was made aware of “complaints” in 2008. The Whitecaps said they immediately “engaged an independent Ombudsperson,” who had “no recommendations for further action.”

The team also revealed that they contacted Vancouver Police and have been in active communication with them since a statement by 13 former members of the Canadian women’s U20 national team on April 1.

Here’s today’s full statement from Whitecaps FC:

Dear Whitecaps FC Community,

There is no higher priority at Vancouver Whitecaps than the safety and well-being of our staff and athletes. We have noted recent blogs and commentary in respect to the Whitecaps Women’s Team of 2008 and the club’s ongoing leadership in such matters.

The following builds on the statement the club issued February 26, 2019 and subsequently updated April 1, 2019.

Let us start by saying that as a club we hold ourselves accountable to ensuring there is a respectful, progressive workplace policy of the highest standard in place, and expect full compliance from every member of the club. The club’s respectful workplace policies and procedures were developed in collaboration with leading experts in the industry.

This policy includes access to an independent Ombudsperson who is available to all club staff and athletes on an anonymous, confidential basis. Additionally, all coaching staff are subject to criminal record checks and coaches and players participating in our full-time programs receive specialized, mandatory respectful workplace training. Our respective leagues and governing bodies also provide further training and support services with respect to workplace standards.

Any matter arising which may contravene our policy is advanced through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken. The club’s respectful workplace policies are reviewed annually to ensure they continue to meet or exceed best standards.

As part of our commitment to the safety and well-being of our players and staff, we are initiating an independent third-party review and assessment of our respectful workplace policies and procedures to ensure they are timely and up to date and are achieving the highest level of leadership and performance in this area. Over the coming weeks we will work to identify the most qualified experts to lead this important evaluation and will provide a further update once this appointment is made.

With respect to the matters raised regarding the Whitecaps Women’s team in 2008:

Complaints in respect to behaviour within the program were brought forward to senior club management at that time. The club immediately engaged an independent Ombudsperson, a leading expert in workplace safety and a respected lawyer who specializes in this field, to do a thorough and impartial investigation into the complaints.

As you would expect, the Ombudsperson had access to players and staff to conduct confidential interviews and gather information on an anonymous basis. Upon conclusion of the investigation, while the Ombudsperson had no recommendations for further action, the club and coach parted ways.

In light of the specific details contained in a blog dated April 1, 2019, we were concerned there may be new information related to this matter that did not come forward in 2008 or since. Therefore, we immediately contacted the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to ensure they were aware of the blog and could assess if further action or review is required. Since then, we have been in active communication with the VPD to offer our full and ongoing support and cooperation. As the matter is now with the authorities we encourage anyone with information that may be helpful to reach out to VPD directly.

Finally, as a professional club we respect the very important role that coaches play in our sport. While we are not involved in the certification or licensing of soccer coaches, which falls under the jurisdiction of soccer’s governing bodies, we support any efforts they are making or may make to ensure the highest coaching standards are being met across our sport.

As a club, we know that the trust of our players, staff, supporters, and partners is fundamental to our commitment to the community and to growing our sport. We take very seriously our duty to set an example by acting in ways that our community can be proud. We are, as always, thankful for the ongoing input, support and encouragement we receive from our fans and the broader sport community.

Thank you,

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Whitecaps management has come under fire recently for how they handled abuse allegations first made public by Ciara McCormack, a former member of their women’s team, in a February 25 blog post titled A horrific Canadian soccer story – The story no one wants to listen to, but everyone needs to hear.

Longtime former Canadian national team member Andrea Neil has also backed McCormack’s allegations in a statement posted on her website on March 26. So have 13 former players, who revealed the most damning allegations earlier this month.

Bob Birarda, a former coach involved with the Whitecaps women’s team and Canada Soccer that was let go in 2008, has since been suspended by Coastal FC pending an investigation.

The story was big enough to grab the attention of The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom on April 11 and the club has faced increased pressure to speak about the matter publicly.

Today’s letter has failed to satisfy a number of people, including McCormack, who let the team know about it on social media.

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