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

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

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, updates British Columbians about COVID-19 at a press conference earlier this week. (B.C. Government image)
B.C.’s 1st case of COVID-19 confirmed a year ago today

Here’s a look at some of the key dates in the province’s fight against the novel coronavirus

The second of two massive hydro-electric turbines headed to the Site C Dam project near Fort St. John sits in Prince Rupert ready for the Jan. 27 trek across the province. The load is so large and heavy it needs counterweights on the 120 ft transport truck and trailer (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Second of two giant turbines and multi-vehicle convoy hit the road to Site C Dam

Massive turbine load from Prince Rupert needs one truck pulling it and two trucks to push it

John Rustad, MLA Nechako Lakes. (Submitted photo)
Nechako Lakes MLA questions vaccine supply shift

John Rustad wonders why elderly aren’t being vaccinated while younger people are

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Saik’uz First Nation forced to change initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan

The First Nation community is looking at vaccinating elders 80 + only

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

A lone passenger stands outside the International Arrivals area at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on foreign arrivals, Health Canada data suggest a growing number of infections directly connected to international travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Holiday season vacations coincide with rise in COVID-19 travel-related cases

Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 27, 86,953 people flew into Canada from the United States

Gov.Gen Julie Payette walks in the chamber after greeting Senators before delivering the Speech from the Throne, at the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Report details yelling, screaming and aggressive conduct at Rideau Hall under Payette

Report says employees did not feel they had a place to go with their complaints

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple accused of flying to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine to appear in court

If convicted, the pair could serve up to six months in jail

Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)
University of Victoria study shows stress impact on B.C. nurses

Stress may be impacting sleep, heart health of hospital nurses in Victoria region

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Vancouver Island woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny rescue operation

Amy McLaughlin has rescued more than 400 bunnies, pushing for the capacity to help more

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Most Read