VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Southsiders fan group is once again meeting with Vancouver Whitecaps executives to get clarity on questions its members still have about the club’s handling of various scandals in recent years.
That includes the 2008 situation involving a former women’s team coach who players claim was abusive, as well as a 2017 case in which a player on the Whitecaps youth team was allegedly sexually assaulted by teammates.
The questions cover topics from 2007, 2008, 2017 and recent events. The list does not represent all of the important issues that need to be discussed. We look forward to seeing the answers from the Whitecaps executives. We will continue to push our club to be the best it can be.
— Vancouver Southsiders (@Southsiders) May 7, 2019
Fans of the soccer team have walked out of the Whitecaps’ last two home matches to protest the club’s handling of various controversies.
Some season ticket holders have also previously threatened to cancel their memberships.
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On May 1, the club issued a statement, apologizing for “for the harm that has clearly come to many women who participated in our program.”
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“We express sincere regret and empathy for the harm that has clearly come to many women who participated in our program at that time,” read the letter. “The pain and suffering these women feel is real and something we care deeply about. And while we sought and acted on the advice of the best available counsel at the time, it is clear that people were deeply affected. For that we are sorry.”
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 1, 2019
Earlier this year, Ciara McCormack, who played for the team during 2002, 2005-06 and 2011, said she witnessed a number of problematic situations during her second and third periods with the squad. She outlined her concerns in a 7,000-word blog post, including accusations of sexual text messages from a coach to underage players and another coach pressuring a player to sleep in his hotel room.
She was joined by 13 other players who also came forward. That’s when the organization says staff “immediately” contacted police.
Timeline of events
In the letter, signed by co-owners Greg Kerfoot and Keff Mallett, the Whitecaps provided the following timeline of events from 2008:
- On Friday, May 23, 2008 the Whitecaps executive team first learned about a complaint made by one player on the Women’s team about text messages with unwelcome sexual overtones that she had been receiving from her team coach.
- Before May 23, 2008 no member of the Whitecaps executive team was ever informed by anyone that any player on the Women’s team had any complaint about any form of sexually inappropriate conduct on the part of the coach.
- On the same day (May 23, 2008) the Whitecaps executive learned of the complaint made by one player, the Whitecaps took the step of retaining an independent Ombudsperson, a respected BC lawyer and workplace consultant, to conduct a thorough and independent investigation of the complaint. The Ombudsperson spoke to the team manager that day and then advised the investigation was to include confidential interviews with the complainant, the team manager and the coach, or others as the Ombudsperson saw fit.
- The Ombudsperson acted expeditiously on those instructions and moved quickly to gather information and conduct interviews on a confidential and anonymous basis, which is consistent with best practices in such investigations.
- By Monday, May 26, 2008 – only three days after being retained – the Ombudsperson provided the results of the initial investigation to the Whitecaps and advised on appropriate steps to address the findings. This included, among other things, specific advice about improvements to workplace policies and about establishing personal boundaries with the coach.
- On June 4, 2008, the Whitecaps notified the CSA of the complaint and subsequent action taken by the Ombudsperson.
- The Whitecaps acted on the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsperson, communicated with the coach, and implemented the recommendations with the assistance of the Ombudsperson. As part of the recommendations of the Ombudsperson, the coach received training which explicitly outlined appropriate boundaries and behaviour – the coach signed a commitment letter agreeing to act in accordance with the standards set out in the training.
- In the period from May 23, 2008 to July 26, 2008 (when the last Whitecaps Women’s team game of the season took place), no other complaint was received by the Whitecaps from any player or any other person about the coach regarding this subject matter. The Whitecaps have recently heard that someone made a complaint about the coach to police during this period. The Whitecaps were never contacted by police nor did they have any knowledge about the substance of that complaint.
- After the end of the Whitecaps women’s team season on July 26, 2008, the Whitecaps team disbanded and the coach concentrated fulltime on the Canadian U-20 Women’s National Team where he worked during August and September, 2008.
- While the coach was with the U-20 Women’s National Team, complaints were made to the Canadian Soccer Association (“CSA”) alleging that he was again sending unwelcome text messages with sexual overtones to certain players. Those complaints were brought to the attention of the Whitecaps executive team in September, 2008 by the CSA. Immediately, the Whitecaps executive and CSA jointly instructed the same Ombudsperson to investigate the allegations. At the conclusion of that renewed investigation, further advice was provided to the Whitecaps executive team and the CSA in late September.
- The Whitecaps executive team and the CSA made the decision to no longer employ the coach effective immediately, October 8, 2008.
- On October 9, 2008 the Whitecaps and CSA informed the news media and the public of the termination of that coach’s relationship with the club and national programs. A senior CSA board member and Whitecaps President along with other executives from the organizations met with the U20 National Team players to inform them of the coach’s replacement, and that the Ombudsperson was available on a permanent on-going basis to speak confidentially regarding any matter or recommendations they may have.
- Since the termination of that coach’s employment in October, 2008, the coach has not been involved in any way, directly or indirectly, with the Whitecaps. The Whitecaps have not received any further complaints of any form of sexually inappropriate conduct on the part of the coach from former players or staff regarding the coach’s time with the Whitecaps.
- In 2008, the investigations carried out by the Ombudsperson of the May 23 complaint and of the complaints made to the CSA in September did not result in a recommendation that law enforcement be notified.
- As a result of additional allegations outlined in the 2019 blogs which have appeared on the internet, the Whitecaps executive team made a decision that it was appropriate to notify the Vancouver Police Department (“VPD”) about the blog, and to invite the police to consider investigating.
- Since notifying the VPD about the blog, Whitecaps have been in active communication with the VPD to offer our full and ongoing support and cooperation.
The Southsiders and Curva Collective supporters groups have held partial walkouts in the last two Whitecaps home matches, leaving their seats for the final ten minutes of the first half of each game in solidarity following the allegations.
None of the allegations against that former Whitecaps women’s coach have been tested in court.