British Columbia·Video

Former Vancouver Whitecaps and Team Canada soccer coach charged with multiple sex offences

Bob Birarda is facing charges of sexual exploitation, sexual assault and child luring.

Bob Birarda is facing charges of sexual exploitation, sexual assault and child luring

Bob Birarda, pictured in a 2007 interview with CBC News, is the former coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team and Team Canada Under-20 women's team. He is facing multiple sex charges related to four alleged victims. (CBC News)

Former Vancouver Whitecaps and Team Canada women's soccer coach Bob Birarda has been charged with several sex offences against four individuals, according to the B.C. Prosecution Service.

The charges include six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.

The offences are alleged to have occurred over a 20-year span between Jan. 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008, at or near North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver.

None of the allegations has been proven in court and the names of the complainants are protected by a publication ban.

Whistleblower and former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack said she was shocked to hear Birarda had been charged. 

"It's obviously been a very long journey for a lot of us," she said. "There's still a part of me that's very upset about all the cover-ups that went on for years and allowed him to be on the field, and all the lives that were negatively impacted by him." 

McCormack is not a complainant in the case but she did bring the story to light in Feb. 2019 in a blog post titled "A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story," which alleged abusive behaviour and harassment on the part of Birarda a decade earlier.

WATCH | Ciara McCormack says she was "surprised" but "grateful" to hear Birarda had been charged:

Whistleblower and former Whitecaps player reacts to criminal charges against former coach

12 months ago
2:25
Former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack said she was "surprised" but "grateful" to learn former women's soccer coach Bob Birarda was charged with multiple sex offences in December 2020. McCormack was among the first to publicly raise allegations of abuse on the part of Birarda. (She is not a complainant in the criminal case.) 2:25

Soon after, a dozen former Team Canada players published a joint statement alleging Birarda had sent sexualized text messages to players, made sexual comments to players, touched players inappropriately and used his position of power to make sexual advances.

Fan backlash

The allegations triggered a public backlash against the Vancouver Whitecaps, with fans staging walkouts during MLS games at BC Place Stadium to protest the club's inaction in addressing the accusations.

"I'm so incredibly grateful," said McCormack. "Because if they hadn't done what they did, our voices wouldn't have been amplified and I don't know if these charges would have even happened."

Birarda was released from his duties as head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team and the U-20 Canadian women's team in 2008 with little explanation. 

At the time the Canadian Soccer Association called it a mutual parting of ways.

Within months he was back coaching girls at a club team in Tsawwassen, B.C.

He continued coaching girls soccer until February 2019, when he was suspended from Surrey, B.C., club Coastal FC after McCormack's blog when viral. 

'The system failed all of us'

McCormack says the Canadian Soccer Association and Whitecaps still have a lot to answer for.

"The individual behaviour of people within both those organizations was disgusting," she said. "The Canadian Soccer Association has not addressed it and his coaching licence has not been suspended."

Ciara McCormack playing for the Republic of Ireland in 2010. She also played for the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team. (submitted by Ciara McCormack)

"The system ... failed all of us and it's still failing players because nothing has changed."

Birarda coached the Whitecaps and U-20 Canadian team in 2007 and 2008. He was also an assistant coach with the Canadian Olympic women's soccer team in 2008.

In a statement sent to CBC, the Canadian Soccer Association said it has the highest regard for the safety of all involved in the sport.

"The incidents experienced by these individuals who have shared their stories are not acceptable and we are sorry that they have had to experience such distress."

Also in a statement, Vancouver Whitecaps CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster called the women who have come forward "brave," writing "we should have been better, and for that we are sorry."

"We maintain our commitment to the Safe Sport process we began last year to fulfil our responsibilities and do everything possible, so this never happens again," the statement read in part.

Birarda made his first appearance in provincial court in North Vancouver on Wednesday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2021.

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