(Instagram)

Former Whitecaps player ‘optimistic’ after meeting about alleged harassment

Alleged incidents included rubbing a player’s thigh, sending players sexual text messages, making lewd comments

Months after she spoke out about alleged harassment and bullying by a former coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps, a former player says she’s optimistic about the potential for change.

Ciara McCormack and three of her former teammates met with Whitecaps owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett for about four hours last week to discuss the allegations and how the club could move forward.

The meeting was intense and emotional but respectful, McCormack said.

“It felt good to finally just feel like we’d been heard,” she said.

“I think the end goal for all of us is to move things forward in a productive way to make sure it never happens again and to make sure that, moving forward, players have a safe place to play.”

McCormack published a blog post in February, alleging inappropriate behaviour by Bob Birarda when he was the head coach of the Whitecaps women’s team and Canada Soccer’s women’s under-20 talent pool in 2007 and 2008. The post said neither Canada Soccer nor the Whitecaps adequately addressed or investigated her concerns.

READ MORE: Whitecaps inform police of allegations against South Surrey coach

More than a dozen other former players later came forward alleging they also witnessed or experienced abuse, harassment or bullying by the coach. The alleged incidents included rubbing a player’s thigh, sending players sexual text messages, making lewd comments about a player’s wet jersey and ignoring a player at practices, games and team meetings after she stopped replying to his personal messages.

Birarda did not respond to a request for comment and the allegations have not been proven in court. He was dismissed by the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer in October 2008.

News of the allegations prompted anger from soccer fans in Vancouver. Two Whitecaps supporters groups stagged mass in-game walkouts at four consecutive home games to protest the club’s perceived inaction over the allegations.

The demonstrations of support helped McCormack feel as if she and the other former players were being heard.

“We would not have gotten to this point without the weight of the public stepping forward,” she said. “I still get emotional thinking about the things that everybody did. It’s honestly because of what everybody did that we were allowed to be heard.”

The Whitecaps issued an apology to the former players earlier this month.

The club also said an investigation will be conducted into actions taken in 2008 and it was announced on Monday that Sport Law & Strategy Group has been hired to conduct the review.

“Our primary objective throughout the club is to provide a safe and supportive environment for athletes to practice, learn, compete, and achieve their best,” Mallett said in a statement. “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.”

The review is slated to be complete by the end of August. The Whitecaps said recommendations made by the company will be made public, as will any steps the club plans to take going forward.

McCormack said she’s optimistic about what the club is doing and wants to see Canada Soccer take similar steps.

“I think the Whitecaps have set a good example in terms of taking responsibility and stepping up,” she said. “So hopefully the Canadian Soccer Association follows their lead and does the same.”

The Whitecaps story has shone a “massive spotlight” on the issue of athlete abuse and harassment not only in Vancouver soccer but in sports across the country, McCormack said.

In recent months, she’s heard stories from all sorts of athletes about their experiences and she’s looking forward to creating lasting change.

“I don’t think there’ll be the same ability to brush things under the rug as there were before,” McCormack said. ”And I think people will be more empowered, just sort of knowing that organizations aren’t going to take care of them and they really need to make sure they take care of themselves.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Report of gunshots leads to discovery of man’s body in Campbell River

Police conduct investigation in the south end of Campbell River

Community garden offers learning experience for all

Cedar Elementary converts former playground site into community garden

Wind warning issued for Campbell River

Wind could reach speeds of up to 70km/h: Environment Canada

‘World-class’ dinner on offer at NIC’s The Bistro

Meal prepared by Culinary Team BC as tune-up before 2020 World Culinary Olympics competition

RCMP Emergency Response Team called in to arrest man at Black Creek General Store

42-year-old Campbell River man facing numerous charges

VIDEO: U.S. officials refute British couple’s ‘accidental’ border-crossing claim

Authorities say couple was arrested after illegal entry from B.C., with $16,000 and marijuana

Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths continue to spike

Carfentanil, an illicit drug more powerful than fentanyl, causing more deaths than ever

Two RCMP vehicles vandalized in Duncan over long weekend

Local Mounties asking for help in finding culprits

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

Suspect hits woman with pipe, jumps into waiting truck in downtown Nanaimo

Police say victim believes ‘vicious assault’ was an attempted purse-snatching

ICBC willing to loosen grip on driver claim data, David Eby says

Private insurers say claims record monopoly keeps them out

Most Read