For the first time, after a months-long scandal, it seems that all sides are satisfied with the direction the Vancouver Whitecaps are headed in off the pitch.
To say the club handled the abuse allegations – which involve a former coach and Whitecaps women’s team players more than a decade ago – in a less than ideal way would be an understatement.
It all began with a February 25 blog post by former Whitecaps women’s player Ciara McCormack titled A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story – The Story No One Wants to Listen To, But Everyone Needs to Hear. In the blog, McCormack alleges that a former coach engaged in inappropriate and abusive behaviour.
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The blog post was later backed by Whitecaps Ring of Honour member Andrea Neil, before 13 former players released a joint statement outlining specific damning allegations concerning a former coach.
The story eventually drew international attention in April and the club was criticized heavily for remaining quiet.
Whitecaps supporters groups, the Southsiders and Curva Collective, began responding with in-match protests to shine a light on the matter. Timbers Army, a supporters group from Portland, also joined the protest in a match played at BC Place on May 10.
Whitecaps ownership met with supporters on multiple occasions, but the fans refused to end their protest until the former players were adequately listened to.
That appears to have happened last week.
Whitecaps co-owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett apologized in an open letter on May 1, the first statement by the club that had names attached to it. It was an important first step, but more needed to be done.
Kerfoot and Mallett spoke to McCormack and three other former female players last week, and it appears all sides are satisfied with the result.
“For the first time in 12 years since this situation started, I felt heard by people in a position of power who seemed to have a genuine desire to do something, and for that I am incredibly grateful,” McCormack said in a new blog post on Monday.
McCormack, who called the meeting a “step in the right direction,” says her and her teammates “had a chance to voice our individual and collective experiences, and our desires in what we want moving forward.”
“For me I would like transparency from our situation in 2007-08 so that something like it can never happen again,” McCormack wrote. “I would like anyone that didn’t protect us to be held accountable. If something bad happens to players moving forward, I want them to know exactly what they need to do to report it, and to not lose anything they’ve worked so hard for.”
McCormack says the former players have been included by the Whitecaps on the investigation that they are conducting and will be given the chance to vet and approve the group that will conduct it.
Supporters will now go back to cheering for their team from the stands for the entire match, beginning with the Whitecaps’ next game on Friday against Toronto FC.
We'll be paying close attention to the review being commissioned by @WhitecapsFC. This review will of course take time.
For now, we look forward to returning to supporting the players & coaches on the pitch without need for protest.
— Vancouver Southsiders (@Southsiders) May 27, 2019
The Whitecaps also made a detailed announcement on Monday, outlining that a third party will conduct a thorough review of the club’s current and past safe sport policies and procedures.
“Our primary objective throughout the club is to provide a safe and supportive environment for athletes to practice, learn, compete, and achieve their best,” said Jeff Mallett, co-owner of Whitecaps FC through a media release. “Our commitment to athlete safety is at the heart of what we do. By engaging the Sport Law & Strategy Group to do this important work, we welcome experienced insights, best practices, and recommended deliverables to ensure we are recognized as a leader in safe sport practices throughout Canada.”
“I am appreciative of having the opportunity to sit down with Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett and share both what was experienced in the past and what our goals are moving forward,” said McCormack. “We were invited to review the scope of the investigation of 2008 and also had the opportunity to vet the group that the Whitecaps have chosen to lead the audit. It is obvious that we all share the common goal of making Canadian sport safer moving forward and I look forward to working together to make that happen.”
“Several of us recently spoke with Jeff Mallett and Greg Kerfoot,” added Eden Hingwing, a member of the 2008 Whitecaps FC women’s team and U-20 women’s national team. “As a follow up to that, I contacted the SLSG and was satisfied with their level of expertise. I am supportive of their appointment to conduct the review and believe it is the right way to move forward with efforts to create a safer sport environment for soccer players in Vancouver. My hope is that the level of responsibility being shown by Mr. Mallett and Mr. Kerfoot will continue and be an example to others, so that we will be able to create a better environment for athletes than what I experienced.”
“I think that the move to bring in SLSG is a strong one,” said Neil. “Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett clearly want to make sure that the events of the past are not repeated and have the club grow in a healthy and positive direction. I think the commitment to having an outside group with SLSG’s expertise come in and give an honest evaluation is a great first step.”
“We continue to be grateful to the brave women who came forward and shared their stories,” added Mallett. “This is a collective effort for all involved and we know we have the opportunity and responsibility to set the new standard for sports organizations to follow in years to come.”
“In the interest of transparency, we will be sharing SLSG’s recommendations publicly as well as the action steps we will be taking to safeguard our commitment to maintaining a safe and supportive environment.”