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Some Whitecaps season ticket holders cancel over response to abuse allegations

Last Updated Apr 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm PDT

FILE: Vancouver Whitecaps during their warm-up in BC Place in August, 2016. (Kayla Butler, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

Some longtime Whitecaps season ticket holders plan to cancel memberships over how the club has handled abuse allegations

Many season ticket holders feel Whitecaps not appropriately accepting responsibility for handling of accusations

'[We] no longer support the club financially as a result of this situation,' said one Whitecaps season ticket holder

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Disappointed with how the Whitecaps have handled abuse allegations about a former women’s team coach, some longtime season ticket holders plan to respond by cancelling their memberships — while others say they’re very close to making that decision unless something changes.

In interviews with several season ticket holders — not all of whom want to have their names published — the common message is that the soccer club is not appropriately accepting responsibility for its handling of a situation in 2008 which led to a coach leaving the club and the U-20 national team.

RELATED: Whitecaps fan group calls for independent investigation into allegations of abuse

Former players on that team claim that coach touched at least one player inappropriately, sent sexual text messages to players and held private meetings in his apartment and hotel room — in one case, according to the claims, reminding a player she was not in the starting lineup and asking her what she was going to do about it.

These season ticket holders are also upset the Whitecaps were aware that this coach continued to coach young girls at local youth soccer club in the White Rock-Surrey area until his recent suspension.

Scott Graham has cancelled; he calls the club’s statements on this “vague legalese.” He’s also disappointed the Whitecaps made no reference to the allegations and its response to them when the club acknowledged he was cancelling his tickets.

“I had outlined the abuse scandal as my reason for [leaving],” said Graham, who feels there is no way he could continue as a season ticket holder under this leadership group.

“There’s zero acknowledgement of that here. Basically, my wife and I chose to no longer support the club financially as a result of this situation … the club handling this internally is unbelievable and unacceptable.”

Brian Gibbard is a local soccer coach who has been a season ticket holder since 2011 and has also cancelled. He wants someone to accept responsibility for the situation, but isn’t calling for anyone to lose their job.

“The latest letter from the Whitecaps was, for me, almost a slap in the face because it was a rehashing of the previous press releases — it was unsigned and shows no willingness, in my opinion, to take any accountability for 2008 and, again, showed an alarming lack of empathy for what the players went through,” Gibbard said. “I don’t think I can look the parents of my players in the eye and tell them I’m still a Whitecaps supporter in the face of all that. So, we’re out.”

Mike Marvin hasn’t made it official yet but says he won’t return as a season ticket holder if Bob Lenarduzzi remains club president. Marvin has held season tickets since the club’s first MLS season in 2011.

“I’m just stunned that [the club] handled it that way. And throw in that e-mail or the message they sent out — There was no management signing it, it was just … I don’t even understand what was in that letter,” said Marvin when asked about an unsigned letter the club sent out to supporters last week in reference to the 2008 allegations.

“Something needs to be said to these young women from 2008 who made these allegations and then nothing was ever done … that’s a small start.”

Patrick Meehan describes the club statements to date as tone deaf. He hasn’t cancelled his tickets at this point but says he’s seriously considering it.

“I was outraged that this had happened,” said Meehan of first learning of the allegations against this former coach. “But also I just couldn’t believe that this person had been allowed to continue coaching. That’s on the Whitecaps, but it’s also on [Canada Soccer], and it’s also on other organizations that have allowed this to continue. And the Whitecaps seem to have brushed this under the rug and continue to. And I think the women involved were hurt really badly by this, and they deserve to be treated better than this. And they deserve to have support.”

Meehan is particularly upset about former player Ciara McCormack’s account of a meeting she says she had with Lenarduzzi outlining some of her concerns about the coach.

“[Bob Lenarduzzi] had a private meeting with them, and he said he was going to deal with it, and then he told the coach who had complained and what they had complained about,” said Meehan, reflecting on the claims in McCormack’s blog and the moment he started to seriously consider cancelling his season tickets.

“And then the coach blackballed them, and the coach singled them out and the coach gave them harsher treatment because of it. That’s a betrayal of your players that I can’t fathom.”

Kristin Zahynacz says she and her partner have held season tickets since 2011. She says they will not be renewing unless the club follows through on three demands made by the former women’s players, notably that an independent investigation into what happened in 2008 take place and for the findings of that examination to be made public.

Zahynacz calls the club’s unsigned letter to fans on this issue “completely inadequate,” saying it “didn’t address anything.”

“It’s just not something we want to continue to give our money to,” Zahynacz said. “It seems very obvious that the [Whitecaps] are continuing to hope they don’t actually have to address anything or put anything in writing or put a face in front of a camera and they’re just hoping it’s all just going to go away.”

The Whitecaps and Canada Soccer have repeatedly declined interviews on this topic since former players brought allegations forward in February.

The coach at the centre of these allegations has not responded to our efforts to contact him.

RELATED VIDEO: Walkout at Whitecaps Game

 

None of these allegations have been tested in court. The Vancouver Police Department has said it is aware of the allegations outlined in blog posts by former players, but will not confirm whether or not it is carrying out an investigation.