Vancouver Whitecaps’ Jeff Mallett speaks during a news conference at the MLS soccer team’s training facility in Vancouver this past summer. An independent third-party review of the Vancouver Whitecaps stemming from allegations of harassment and bullying in 2008 against a former women’s team coach has recommended the club improve its communication efforts and take steps to ensure that all complaints are properly documented and addressed. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

Whitecaps release report into harassment, bullying complaints against coach by female players

Alleged incidents included rubbing a player’s thigh, sending players sexual text messages, making lewd comments

An independent third-party review of the Vancouver Whitecaps stemming from allegations of harassment and bullying in 2008 against a former women’s team coach has recommended the club improve its communication efforts and take steps to ensure that all complaints are properly documented and addressed.

In a 32-page report released Wednesday, the Toronto-based Sport Law & Strategy Group identified there was a “lack of effective communication with the players,” but noted many recommendations as to what the club could or should have done differently at that time ”have already been addressed and are reflected in current policies and practices.”

“I look at it as just one piece of a continued building block for not only us as a club at the Whitecaps to improve and be better, but also as hopefully a calling card,” said Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett.

“As we make this public to everybody, which was our promise to the women who brought these issues forward, we’re hoping this can be something we can all learn from and use to focus on safe sport because as you know, there’s lots of room for improvement across Canada both at the youth and professional level on safe sport.”

Former player Ciara McCormack published a blog post last February alleging inappropriate behaviour by Bob Birarda when he was head coach of the Whitecaps women’s team and Canada Soccer’s women’s under-20 talent pool in 2007 and 2008.

The post said neither Canada Soccer nor the Whitecaps adequately addressed or investigated her concerns. More than a dozen other former players later came forward alleging they also witnessed or experienced abuse, harassment or bullying by the coach.

Alleged incidents included rubbing a player’s thigh, sending players sexual text messages, making lewd comments about a player’s wet jersey, and ignoring a player at practices, games and team meetings after she stopped replying to his personal messages.

The allegations have not been proven in court and Birarda did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. He was dismissed by the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer in October 2008.

“Canada Soccer has just received the report and is in the process of taking the necessary time to review its contents,” said Brad Fougere, communications manager for the sport’s domestic governing body.

McCormack, reached in Phuket, Thailand, said she was pleased that there is more awareness about the issues, but felt the review was loaded with “corporate-speak” and short on substance.

“I would say that it basically glosses over the situations and paints the Whitecaps in a favourable light,” she said.

READ MORE: Whitecaps owners apologize, promise review on allegations against South Surrey coach

The Whitecaps issued an apology to the former players last May. Team owners met with McCormack and three of her former teammates that month to discuss the allegations and how the club could move forward.

McCormack said the report was what she had expected.

“It was more just for them to follow through with what they said they were going to do,” she said. “I thought that was really important for them to do. But in terms of content or anything like that, I wasn’t expecting to have my mind blown at all. And I wasn’t.”

The Whitecaps received the SLSG review last Friday.

“We again thank these women for their bravery in coming forward and express our sincere regret and empathy to all those who were affected,” the team said in a statement. “We are truly sorry.”

In addition, the SLSG expanded its review to explore the hiring of a coach in 2013 and an “incident of assault between players” in the Whitecaps’ under-15 boys program in 2017.

The club acknowledged it made an error in its hiring process. According to the review, the Whitecaps interviewed an individual for a coaching position in January 2013, verified references, completed a background check but did not make the hire at that time.

Allegations of racism were levelled against the coach in April 2013. The coach was hired in September 2013, but a new screening process had not been conducted.

The Whitecaps have taken steps to ensure that should such a situation occur again, there will be a further interview and new screening process before hiring, the report said.

The SLSG said it examined the process the Whitecaps used to address an allegation of bullying that led to an assault in June 2017 between players in a youth residency program. Details were not provided since the players were minors at the time, but the SLSG found the Whitecaps handled this incident “reasonably and in accordance with expected practices.”

The review was expected to be completed last summer but was extended on two occasions.

The SLSG recommended the Whitecaps continue to improve efforts to “actively engage their stakeholders, particularly the players,” by intentionally seeking their opinions, involving them in the shaping of policies and processes, and making changes based on their input.

“Continuing to engage players, as well as staff, in this way will provide opportunities to hear about issues first-hand and attempt to resolve those issues before they escalate in a more public manner,” the report said.

The review also recommended the Whitecaps take steps to ensure that all complaints — regardless of the level of programming — be documented and addressed.

“This will ensure a formalized record of all incidents that are brought to the attention of the organization and will provide a comprehensive record of how the organization responded to those incidents and what actions, if any, where taken to address them,” the report said. “If no action is deemed necessary by the organization, the rationale for that decision should be documented and shared with the parties involved.”

In addition, the SLSG recommended the Whitecaps continue to take steps to improve the level of transparency, monitoring and oversight provided during the management of any future complaints.

The Whitecaps club was founded in 1974. The men’s team joined Major League Soccer in 2011.

With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This was the line-up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre at around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The short-up line speaks to the high number of votes, which have already been cast against the backdrop of COVID-19 by mail or in advanced voting. Voters, however, unanimously praised the safety measures in place, as well the convenience of the polling stations. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
‘Slow’ turnout at polls across Saanich North and the Islands

Peter Mason, district electoral officer, expects about 10,000 ballots to be cast

Drive up voting is popular with Victoria-Swan Lake voters at the Craigflower elementary polling station. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Drive up voting popular at Craigflower polling station in Victoria-Swan Lake

Nearly 13,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Victoria-Swan Lake riding

Oak Bay High voting station was slow and steady for the provincial election day, Oct. 24, 2020. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Early voting reduces election day turnout in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

An estimated 15,918 mail-in ballots requested in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

Polls close at 8 p.m. in the Esquimalt-Metchosin riding. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
VIDEO: Esquimalt-Metchosin candidates reflect on campaign as polls close

An estimated 12,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Esquimalt-Metchosin riding

Barb Wright and Cynthia Vance at the District Electoral Office for the Langford-Juan de Fuca (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Polls now closed in Langford-Juan de Fuca

An estimated 12,120 mail-in ballots were requested in the Langford-Juan de Fuca riding

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

Most Read