British Columbia

Former Whitecaps player 'hopeful' after meeting about alleged harassment

Whitecaps announce they have hired a firm to investigate allegations of abuse and harassment made against a former women's team coach.

Whitecaps have hired a firm to investigate decade-old allegations made against a former women's team coach

Ciara McCormack said a meeting last week between herself, three former teammates and the team owners was intense and emotional, but respectful.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have hired a firm to investigate the club's current and past safe sport policies after intense pressure from a group of former players who went public with allegations of harassment and abuse perpetrated by a former women's team coach. 

Former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack says she's feeling optimistic about potential change after a meeting with club owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallet last week.

"In terms of just how intense the subject matter is, it was very amicable and positive and respectful," said McCormack.

"I think there is a clear sense on both sides that we really want to push things forward in a positive way for the kids coming up, and really make sure that this doesn't happen again."

McCormack was joined in the meeting by three former teammates, including Canadian soccer legend Andrea Neil and former Whitecaps and national team player Eden Hingwing.

The group has been pushing accountability from the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer since McCormack published a blog post in February that alleged inappropriate behaviour by Bob Birarda when he was the head coach of the both the Whitecaps women's team and Canada Soccer's under-20 national team in 2007 and 2008.

McCormack's concerns were echoed by Neil and by a group of 13 former players who said neither Canada Soccer nor the Whitecaps adequately addressed concerns over Birarda's behaviour. 

They also questioned how he was allowed to secure another position coaching girls soon after leaving both the Whitecaps and U-20 national teams in October of 2008.

Birarda has never been charged criminally and has turned down multiple requests from CBC for an interview.

What about Canada Soccer?

McCormack said it's now time for Canada Soccer to step forward and take responsibility for its involvement in 2008.

"Hopefully, they're going to come to the table," said McCormack. "At this point the corporate-speak statements have run their course and it's time for real action and the Whitecaps have set the example."

The group of former players has received unprecedented support from Whitecaps supporter groups, Southsiders and Curva Collective, and their organized fan-walkouts of recent Whitecaps home games.

"I am personally so grateful that they did that because I definitely don't think that meeting what would have happened if [the supporters] hadn't put that kind of pressure on them," said McCormack.

Earlier this month, the Whitecaps issued an apology to former players.

According to McCormack, the firm hired by the Whitecaps will be interviewing former players.