VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Vancouver Whitecaps did not try to sweep allegations of abuse by a women’s coach in 2008 under the rug, according to an investigation.
That is a key determination of the independent review into how the soccer club managed those and other troubling incidents over the last decade plus.
Using words like “prudent,” Sport Law & Strategy Group has suggested the Whitecaps handled the 2008 situation “reasonably,” investigating incidents at the time before firing the coach.
However, the report highlights the lack of communication by the club to players about the investigation and following the coach’s dismissal.
“Communication tends to be where things break down, and unfortunately the communications…which was called out in the independent report is an area where we can improve,” Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett tells NEWS 1130. “We’ve instituted [communication improvements]…we will continue to be relentless to holding ourselves to a very high standard.”
As for concerns the man at the centre of the claims was allowed to keep coaching elsewhere, the report finds the Whitecaps had no jurisdiction to do anything beyond firing him, which the club did.
One gap in this report is that Sport Law could not make a finding regarding claims by players that the club investigations in 2008 were flawed, because the lawyer hired at the time did not participate in putting this review together, despite Sport Law’s efforts to have her do so.
But there’s little in the way of new information provided by this report, in the assessment of the former Whitecaps women’s team player who first went public with the abuse claims.
Still, Ciara McCormack hopes this whole saga puts a new focus on ensuring athletes are safe when involved with the Whitecaps and other organizations.
“Overall, I think everyone’s talking again,” says McCormack. “That’s what’s important. I think that’s what’s going to really, truly change things moving forward. Nothing really that comes from the report is going to do that. I think it’s going to be just the overall awareness that people have.”
McCormack says she’s taking the report with a “grain of salt” based on the fact the Whitecaps paid Sport Law to carry out this assessment.
The former player is thanking fans and the public for their support after she came forward, and emphasizing the need for multiple pathways to the national team to ensure one club does not have as much influence and power over young athletes.
Beyond the 2008 situation, Sport Law also examined the Whitecaps’ hiring of youth coach Brett Adams in 2013. It found despite the club screening Adams in January of that year, he wasn’t hired until September — without the Whitecaps completing a fresh screening process.
In the interim, allegations of racism had emerged against Adams — accusations that were ultimately found “proven,” and resulted in a suspension.
As part of this report, the Whitecaps accepted the club made an error in not carrying out a secondary screening. In future situations, it has committed to restart vetting processes if there is a similar delay in hiring.
Sport Law also investigated the club’s handling of a 2017 allegation that a youth player was assaulted by teammates in a locker room. The firm again found the Whitecaps responded “reasonably” to the situation, but should have contacted police immediately if anyone at the club suspected a criminal incident.
Instead, there was a 48-hour delay between when the alleged assault happened and when police were contacted, which Sport Law says was “not ideal.”
An anonymous player who took part in the initial process to approve Sport Law as the third party to carry out the independent review says they’ve had time to read the report, and “found it to be very thorough.”
“I am satisfied with the approach the SLSG took by engaging athletes and the community and with the overall finding,” the player says. “I want to ensure current and future athletes have a safe, healthy experience and I believe the recommendations in this report will support that.”
The Whitecaps are promising to implement the recommendations Sport Law has made “expeditiously,” but is providing no timeline.
“It was really the point where the women directly involved in some of these situations who were the ones who were brave to come forward,” Mallet says. “An immense amount of gratitude and personal note for them to do this, because this is taking what was a confusing situation that wasn’t clear and allowed it to be moving towards a positive. So just an extra thanks to them.”
On whether Mallett believes the Whitecaps could have done better, he says, “I think the report stated that we did the right things, moved forward appropriately.
“But whenever there is a situation where something not good happens, you have to take the responsibility, and we are taking the responsibility and moving forward on that to move forward to teach everyone else and put better practices in place, where we can,” Mallett adds.Full Whitecaps report