Soccer players call for suspension of high-ranking sport executive pending investigation
Players point to Victor Montagliani's role at Canada Soccer during 2008 allegations against coach
Former players pushing for accountability from Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps in the aftermath of sexual misconduct allegations against two former coaches are calling for the suspension of high-ranking international soccer executive Victor Montagliani, pending the results of an investigation at Canada Soccer.
Montagliani is president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and a FIFA vice-president. He is also a Vancouver native and former president of B.C. Soccer and Canada Soccer.
Montagliani was Canada Soccer director of national teams in 2008 when Canada's under-20 women's team coach Bob Birarda was quietly dismissed due to player complaints of inappropriate behaviour.
Birarda was also released as Whitecaps women's team head coach at the same time.
Canada Soccer did not suspend Birarda's coaching licence and he started coaching girls in the Vancouver area within months. In December 2020, he was charged with nine sexual offences that were alleged to have taken place between 1988 and 2008.
Canada Soccer has said little about the circumstances surrounding Birarda's departure, and only agreed to an investigation after Canada's Olympic gold medal women's soccer team demanded it.
Players told not to speak of coach's dismissal
Former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack, the whistleblower on Birarda in 2019, is a member of the players' group calling for Montagliani's suspension.
So is Malloree Enoch, who last week spoke to the Guardian about being sexually coerced and assaulted by a different Whitecaps women's team coach — Hubert Busby, Jr. — in 2010 and 2011.
Enoch made the Whitecaps aware of many of the allegations in an email sent to the club in April 2011. After an internal investigation, the Whitecaps quietly let Busby go later that year and told the players in an email not to speak of his dismissal.
"We were silenced, told not to speak about it and act like life is normal and move on," Enoch told CBC News in a previous interview.
Like Birarda, Busby moved quickly into other jobs coaching women.
He is currently the head coach of the Jamaican women's national team. The Jamaican Football Federation is scheduled to address the allegations concerning Busby on Tuesday.
Birarda has not responded to several requests for comment. He has not entered a plea and the charges have not been tested in court. CBC was unable to reach Busby for comment. In the Guardian article, he denied all of Enoch's allegations.
In a written statement from CONCACAF on Tuesday, the organization said both Montagliani and CONCACAF will "fully support" Canada Soccer's new review into the 2008 investigation into allegations that the coach sent inappropriate text messages to members of the Canada U20 Women's National Team.
Montagliani was a "non-executive board member" of the Canadian Soccer Association in 2008 and was not responsible for day-to-day operations or supervision, according to the statement, and the board unanimously recommended terminating the coach's employment after the investigation.
"Mr. Montagliani believes that he and his fellow Board members at the time followed the appropriate steps to support the CSA with this very serious matter," the statement said.
Players' group calls for transparency
The players' group is being supported by the Professional Footballers Association of Canada (PFACan).
PFACan counsel Paul Champ said by acting collectively, the players can better address the power imbalance they've experienced historically and presently in seeking answers from Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps.
"We see it as assisting these players on a historical issue, but we also see it as being able to improve the system in Canada for all players going forward," he said.
"There's a lot of pain there. Everyone, except for the players, bears some responsibility. And where we want to work constructively going forward is to ensure that there's transparency about what happened in the past."
Champ said the group will release a formal statement in the next few days.
Whitecaps execs put on leave
Late Friday, Vancouver Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster announced unnamed members of the club's executive team were being put on administrative leave pending an MLS investigation into how the club handled the dismissal of Busby.
Members of the Whitecaps executive in 2011 who remain with the club today include Greg Anderson, Bob Lenarduzzi, Dan Lenarduzzi and Rachel Lewis.
Schuster told CBC it would not be fair to identify which executives have been placed on administrative leave.
McCormack said following Schuster's lead, the players asking for Montagliani's suspension will not be identified.