VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Sexual text messages from a coach to underage players. Another coach pressuring a player to sleep in his hotel room.
We’re hearing those claims and many others from a former member of the Whitecaps women’s team who feels major systemic change is needed to prevent bullying and potentially worse for elite young Canadian female soccer players.
A coach sending sexual text messages to underage girls, a player pressured to sleep in same hotel room as a different coach & a culture of intimidation. Listen to @NEWS1130 as we hear those claims from a former Whitecaps women's player calling for changes to protect young players
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) February 28, 2019
Ciara McCormack played for the team during three stints (2002, 2005-06 and 2011) and says she witnessed a number of problematic situations during her second and third periods with the squad, and she’s outlined her concerns in detail in a 7000 word blog post.
Given young female players often feel they have to stick around with the Whitecaps if they want to make the national team, McCormack feels the club’s coaches have too much power.
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She wants more pathways to get to the national team — and for the club to call police instead of hiring mediators when potentially criminal situations emerge — pointing to a claim one coach sent underage players inappropriate texts.
“It’s common sense from a human being’s standpoint,” says McCormack. “It’s a potentially criminal situation, or a strong red flag involving an underage player. It should be common sense on a purely human level that you call the cops and bring them in — step back as an organization — and let them get to the bottom of it, without trying to manipulate the situation by bringing in a mediator and portraying it like this is somebody official that’s going to handle the situation, when in reality you’ve just hired a crisis management person to just clear out the smoke quickly and get rid of the fire before it starts on your front doorstep.”
While McCormack’s experiences happened during a period that started more than a decade ago, she points to a situation in the summer of 2017 when claims emerged that the club attempted to deal with things internally following an accusation that two members of the boys youth team sexually assaulted a teammate, rather than immediately contact police.
“I had chills when I was reading that story and saw how it got handled,” says McCormack. “I would love to commend that mother so much for coming forward. I know how hard that environment is and that was so brave of her to come forward, and I’m sure there have been repercussions on her son’s career because of it. But yeah, I saw that, and I thought, ‘oh my God,’ this is almost 10 years later, and it’s the same thing.”
The Whitecaps organization has declined an interview but says an independent ombudsperson is available on an anonymous basis. *The club issued this statement:
The well-being of our staff and athletes is of paramount importance.
As a club, we hold ourselves accountable to a respectful workplace policy of the highest standard and expect the same from every member of the club. This policy includes access to an independent Ombudsperson who is available to all club staff and athletes on an anonymous basis.
Any matter arising which may be in contravention to our policy goes through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken.
The two coaches discussed in McCormack’s blog are still involved in the game. One of them has been suspended this week following the publication of that blog entry — he has been coaching for youth team Coastal FC in South Surrey/White Rock, and this week has been suspended by that club. The other man coaches a college women’s team in the United States.
McCormack was left so disillusioned by her second stint with the Whitecaps that she engineered a move to a team in Ottawa and eventually gave up her dream of playing for the Canadian national team, pursuing an international career with Ireland.
While the Whitecaps no longer have a senior women’s team, its youth program is still a major pathway to Canada’s national team. It’s not unusual for a third or more of a given underage female national team to comprise of members of the Whitecaps FC Girls Elite program.
Canada Soccer has also issued a statement in response to the allegations:
Canada Soccer has the highest regard for the safety of all involved in the game and has established a robust Code of Conduct and Ethics which is mandated to be implemented by our member associations. We have an open and anonymous reporting system which includes a Whistleblower hotline that is managed by a third party. Independent case managers are assigned to each complaint and an independent judicial body investigates where appropriate.
In addition, Canada Soccer has entered into an agreement with Respect in Sport to include training for all coaches who complete Canada Soccer coach education and has established a condition in the Canada Soccer Club Licensing program that all organizations must adhere to the Canada Soccer Guide to Safety.
*A day after this story aired, the Whitecaps wished to update their initial statement to include:
“The well-being of our staff and athletes is of paramount importance.
As a club, we hold ourselves accountable to a respectful workplace policy of the highest standard and expect the same from every member of the club.This policy includes access to an independent Ombudsperson who is available to all club staff and athletes on an anonymous basis. Additionally, all coaching staff are subject to criminal record checks and coaches and players participating in our full time programs receive specialized respectful workplace training.
Our respective leagues also provide training and support services with respect to workplace standards.
Any matter arising which may be in contravention to our policy goes through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken. With respect to the matters raised regarding the Whitecaps Women’s team in 2008:
Complaints regarding behaviour within the program were brought forward to senior club management.
The Club immediately engaged an independent Ombudsperson, who is a leading expert in workplace safety, to do a thorough and impartial investigation into the complaints, which included confidential interviews with players and staff.
Upon conclusion of the extensive investigation, while the Ombudsperson had no recommendations for further action, the club and coach agreed to mutually part ways.”
As for the incident in 2017, the Whitecaps pointed us to statements released that summer:
“June 15, 2017
A serious incident is alleged to have occurred between some male youth players at our Burnaby training facility last week which was in clear contravention of the club’s code of conduct.
Two players involved were immediately put on indefinite suspension by the club and the matter was referred to RCMP. The safety and well-being of our players is our top priority and we have been cooperating fully with the RCMP investigation.
Two minors have since been charged with sexual assault and the matter is now before the courts.
Update July 12, 2017
As you know, there was a serious incident that took place last month between some male youth players at our Burnaby facility. We have concluded an internal review of the incident and the two youth involved, who were previously on indefinite suspension, have now been released from the club.
The safety and well-being of our players is our top priority and we are deeply committed to providing an environment in which all individuals are treated with respect.”
The organization has declined request for an interview, and isn’t saying whether it disagrees with McCormick’s version of events.