Vancouver Whitecaps, Major League Soccer and Canada Soccer must take “appropriate action” against anyone who has not responded to the serious allegations against former coaches Bob Birarda and Hubert Busby Jr.
The statement was released Monday by the Professional Football Association of Canada (PFACan) on behalf of former players of the Whitecaps women’s team. He says previous attempts by players to highlight allegations of abuse and inappropriate behavior by Whitecaps coaches and within Canada’s national youth teams have been mismanaged.
The statement also calls on Concacaf President and Fifa Vice President Victor Montagliani to fully cooperate with a newly proposed joint investigation by Canada Soccer and MLS into the allegations against Birarda and Busby. Montagliani was a non-executive member of the board of directors of Canada Soccer at the time of the allegations against Birarda and involved in the operation of the national teams.
The demands contained in the press release constitute a “moral obligation” for the three organizations involved, according to the players’ union.
“We want to trust the MLS investigation, but we are marked by the dishonest process and the silence we have endured over the past decade from the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer,” Ciara McCormack said, a former Whitecaps player at the Guardian.
The statement was released in response to an MLS announcement that it will launch an investigation after the Guardian last month detailed detailed allegations that Busby attempted to solicit sex with a player while he was a coach of the Whitecaps women’s team in 2010 and 2011. Players say Whitecaps management then tried to cover up the allegations after Busby left the club. Busby denies the allegations.
Last month, the Whitecaps admitted that “our communication with players, staff and the soccer community as to why Busby left was… inadequate. We should have done better and we are very sorry for that. The Whitecaps say they have put several executives on leave in response to the Guardian report.
The MLS investigation is to be handled by Rubin Thomlinson, a Toronto-based law firm that specializes in workplace abuse. The statement asks the firm to resume a previously announced investigation by Canada Soccer into the process behind Birarda’s controversial firing.
Birarda was cleared to coach young players after leaving her post with the Whitecaps and Canada in 2008 after internal investigations into her conduct. Birada was arrested last year in Vancouver and charged with six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of luring a child over a 20-year period between 1988 and 2008. The charges charges against Birarda involve at least three former football players. He is currently out on bail and has not yet pleaded.
Fifa is aware of the allegations against Busby, who was suspended as head coach of Jamaica’s national women’s team, after the Guardian report was released. Fifa says it will “decide on the appropriate next steps.”
“Anyone who has been found to be involved in the decision-making regarding the false public statement of why these coaches were fired or are not handling investigations properly, should be fired from their post or forced to sell their team,” said Malloree Enoch, the former Whitecaps player who made the allegations against Busby.
The PFACan statement says the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer have done nothing to let other teams know why Birarda and Busby were released from their coaching duties, despite the allegations made against them.
“After we reached out to the same Vancouver Whitecaps managers and owners for help, their response was to shut us up, quietly investigate without even speaking to the victims, and fire the coaches without any flags or warning for other clubs, “the statement read.
“Canada Soccer was also involved in the secret investigation of Bob Birarda and took no action to prevent him from coaching other players. As a result, these people have returned to coaching vulnerable athletes for much of the past decade.
“The reality is that a negligent leadership model at both Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps has left athletes at risk, and the two organizations have failed to take action to report the misconduct to other clubs. “
The seven-point statement calls on Canada Soccer and MLS to commit to making any reports that emerge from the investigation public. PFACan wants the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer to provide funding for mental health services that any former Birarda or Busby player might need.
“It’s important to tell these stories again, but it’s a heavy emotional burden and it brings back a lot of really bad memories for the players,” said Paul Champ, PFACan legal counsel. “No one has offered mental health support to players in the past.”
A Concacaf spokesperson said Montagliani had no direct oversight of Canada’s national teams at the time of the alleged events, despite being vice-president of the Canada Soccer’s national teams when they occurred. According to the spokesperson, Montagliani’s role was one of fiduciary oversight. Concacaf and Montagliani said they welcomed a review of the 2008 investigation into Birarda.
“There is no legal obligation to respond to any of these requests, but we strongly believe there is a moral obligation,” Champ said. “Time and time again, decisions have been made without taking into account the contribution of the players. No one can be truly sorry if you don’t listen to the players who have been so badly affected.