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'I started crying': Retired Whitecaps player relieved as former women's coach charged with sex offences

Last Updated Dec 10, 2020 at 5:05 pm PST

FILE (Submitted by Ciara McCormack)
Summary

Retired Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack says she's relieved charges have been laid against her former coach

Bob Birarda has been charged with multiple sexual offences spanning two decades

McCormack first went public last year with allegations of abuse dating back to 2008

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A retired Whitecaps women’s team player, who first went public last year with allegations of abuse dating back to 2008, says she feels relieved that charges have been laid against her former coach, Bob Birarda.

“I started crying, I was just so surprised,” said Ciara McCormack, who detailed allegations against Birarda in a blog post in February of 2019, when asked about her initial reaction to this development.

McCormack’s blog launched a closer look at Birarda’s time with the Vancouver Whitecaps and eventually led to the club issuing an apology.

“There was just an element of relief to that as well, that we don’t have to do the heavy lifting anymore, or at least a part of it,” McCormack told NEWS 1130 of her reaction to the approval of charges.

“Just grateful that if people did have things happen to them, they are having an opportunity to have their voices heard, and honestly grateful to the police for doing their job well enough to get it to this point.”

On Thursday, the BC Prosecution Service confirmed to NEWS 1130 that Birarda has been charged with committing sexual offences against four people.

That includes six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault, and one count of child luring.

“I’m just really grateful for the women,” said McCormack. “I’m just really grateful that those people are having their voices and experiences validated, and I really hope that they get the same healing opportunity that I think a lot of us got last year from just having the story finally heard.”

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The charges relate to events that are alleged to have happened between 1988 and into 2008, the same year in which Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps fired Birarda, though did not explain publicly why they had made that decision.

McCormack is making a point of thanking fans for participating in walkouts at Whitecaps games at BC Place, which hundreds did during matches last year in solidarity with the players who had come forward with abuse allegations.

“I don’t think the story would have gotten amplified,” said McCormack, of the support provided by soccer fans. “I think the fans walking out of the game is what amplified the story and that’s what ultimately gave people the courage to come forward….it’s just a massive thank you again for everyone who stepped up and walked out.”

The charges against Birarda have not been tested in court.

He has appeared before a judge in North Vancouver and is scheduled to appear again next month.

Axel Schuster, the Whitecaps FC CEO and sporting director, released a statement Thursday afternoon saying “our thoughts are with the brave women who have come forward and the victims affected.”

He noted Birarda was with the club from 2006 to 2008.

“Today’s developments have reinforced the harm that he brought to women in our program during that time. We should have been better, and for that we are sorry.”