(Wikimedia Commons)

Whitecaps supporters groups continue protests over abuse, harassment allegations

Protests at two previous home games were effective in drawing the attention of the organization

Some soccer fans say an apology from the Vancouver Whitecaps is a step forward, but are still calling for the club to further address allegations of bullying and harassment by a former coach.

Two of the team’s supporters groups are planning to stage another in-game protest during Friday’s match against the Portland Timbers, leaving their seats in the 35th minute to show solidarity with female players impacted by the alleged abuse.

They’ll be joined by members of Portland’s supporters group, Timbers Army, who issued a statement on Wednesday saying the issue is bigger than a rivalry.

“We support human rights, and we support our Cascadian rivals in their fight for safe environments for athletes,” the statement said.

Protests at two previous Vancouver home games were effective in drawing the attention of the Whitecaps organization, said Paul Sabourin-Hertzog, vice president of the Vancouver Southsiders.

“We are providing feedback that the club is definitely acting on,” he said. ”But we all on the supporters side want to see more openness, more accountability, more answers to the various questions that we have.”

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

Sabourin-Hertzog said the groups saw some of their concerns addressed in a statement released by the club last week. Co-signed by club owners Jeff Mallett and Greg Kerfoot, the statement apologized for pain and suffering experienced by women who were involved with the team around 2008.

More than a dozen women who played for the Whitecaps and were part of Canada’s under-20 talent pool around 2008 have come forward to allege Bob Birarda, a former coach for both squads, acted inappropriately with members of the team.

The allegations include rubbing a player’s thigh, sending players sexual text messages, making lewd comments and bullying young women who ignored or spoke out against his behaviour.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Birarda has not responded to a request for comment on the allegations.

Both the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer parted ways with the coach in October 2008.

Supporters groups met with Whitecaps executives and Mallett on Tuesday, looking to talk about some key issues and ask some questions that lingered after last week’s apology.

Sabourin-Hertzog said the groups wanted to move forward with setting up a meeting between the former players and Whitecaps ownership, but without the club’s executives present.

Some of the executives currently with the Whitecaps are the same people the former players brought their concerns to more than a decade ago, so those individuals have become “synonymous with the abuse and harassment that they suffered,” he said.

The club did not seem willing to set up such a meeting on Tuesday, Sabourin-Hertzog said.

Whitecaps spokesman Tom Plasteras said on Thursday that the club is open to a meeting with former players and has not mandated that any specific people must be in attendance.

The supporters groups also want to see a report done by an ombudswoman in 2008 released to the former players.

Plasteras said recommendations in the report and actions taken by the club were released last week. He added that the Whitecaps are hiring an independent group to review the actions taken in 2008, and results of that review will be made public.

“We are 100 per cent focused on our commitment to safe sport and the work we have already begun doing around this. I believe we all want the same thing — safe sport for all where there is zero tolerance for bullying and harassment,” Plasteras said in an email on Thursday.

Still, Sabourin-Hertzog said there’s a disconnect between what the supporters groups are calling for and what the Whitecaps are willing to provide.

“We understand each other’s positions clearly and there’s things that we don’t agree on,” he said. “So we need to now focus on what can be done moving forward.”

Balancing support for the former players with support for the team on the field isn’t always easy, he added, but the goal is to make sports safer for all athletes.

“There’s a problem with sport and the value that we place on success compared to the value that we place on having healthy and safe athletes,” he said.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, 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

Man pleads guilty to stabbing woman, off-duty cop outside North Delta elementary school

The suspect, whose name is under a publication ban, faced 10 charges in relation to this incident

Surrey RCMP boss Brian Edwards on moving forward, and what keeps him awake at night

Edwards spoke with Now-Leader reporter Tom Zytaruk about what he’s learning and hopes to accomplish as Surrey’s top cop

PHOTOS: Cloverdale’s Coldest Night of the Year charity walk raises $125K

Annual event sees more than 500 walkers take part

All-Surrey battle for South Fraser boys basketball title

At Tamanawis, the top four teams will go to provincials

Hopes are for ‘focus on Surrey investments’ when Horgan speaks in March

Luncheon at golf course planned by Surrey Board of Trade

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

UPDATE: Protesters dismantle blockade on Maple Ridge tracks

West Coast Express train service is expected to run again Tuesday morning

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

Motorists were ‘driving like their own Indy 500’ before fatal Abbotsford crash, court hears

Family member declares defence request for 90-day jail sentence a ‘joke’

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

RCMP pull office from Wet’suwet’en territory, but hereditary chiefs still want patrols to end

Chief says temporary closure of field office not enough as Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute drags on

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Most Read

l -->