Yesterday, May 1, 2019, the Whitecaps, led by owners Jeff Mallett and Greg Kerfoot released a statement and timeline regarding the Whitecaps involvement in a situation involving the Whitecaps Women and Canadian U20 National Team in 2007 and 2008.
Keeping this as straight forward as possible, it’s important to add necessary data to the (contradictory) statements released by the Whitecaps thus far about their involvement in this situation.
I believe it is important to re-emphasize the callous disregard that the Whitecaps organization showed vulnerable players and parents when alerted re: Birarda’s behaviour, both in 2007/2008 and in other years since, and point out that many of the same ownership and executive are still involved.
This is to be considered if the public is expected to believe that change can be achieved moving forward.
It is furthermore requiring serious attention, given the extent of the Whitecaps current involvement with young elite players and their continuing preferred placement on the player development pathway for the youth national teams in Canada.
Although having the ownership putting their names to an apology is a good start, the fact that it has taken 2 months, 2 fan walkouts and a 10,000 person drop in attendance to even have a name from the Whitecaps ownership or executive attached to a statement, speaks volumes.
To answer a question that has been asked by many, at no point, as far as I know, have any of the players affected been contacted directly by any of the Whitecaps owners, including myself.
A face-to-face meeting and apology with the affected players by ownership would be an appreciated first step if there is a genuine empathy and sincerity in making things right as Mallett alluded to in his statements yesterday.
It is obvious that only for the incredible efforts of Curva Collective, the Southsiders and the members of the public, that the voices of the players impacted would have been ignored, silenced and our experiences not acknowledged in any kind of a meaningful way.
With that being said, a massive thank you is sent to those groups for allowing our voice to be heard, amplified and unable to be ignored.
Words cannot convey the appreciation.
You are all a part of an awakening that is going to change the sports landscape and the protection of Canadian youth in sport and society moving forward. Thank you for recognizing, and acting on the fact that what happened from 2007 to the present is so far from good enough and it is currently still, so far from good enough.
From conversations behind the scenes, I know myself and other players are committed to making sure things are done better, and the control for player safety is placed in the hands of players and parents and not organizations, who have failed us in this country again and again.
Please see below for added important detail and context to my own personal attempts to reach out in those years alerting the organization of Birarda’s behaviour, not including the exhaustive and ignored efforts of many others, that strongly contradict what was presented in the organization’s timeline in the statement presented on May 1, 2019.
I personally reached out to Rachel Lewis, Dan Lenarduzzi, Bob Lenarduzzi and/or Greg Kerfoot multiple times -both in 2007 and again in 2011 and 2012, all of which is outlined below and was omitted from the timeline in yesterday’s statement.
- MAY 2007 MEETING W BL AND EMAIL TO BOB BIRARDA- CC-ED TO BOB LENARDUZZI
Tuesday, May 8th, 2007 myself and another player (we’ll call her “Susan”) met with Bob Lenarduzzi and told him many concerns about Bob Birarda’s bullying behaviour.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007: I wrote an email to Bob Birarda, cc-ing Bob Lenarduzzi to an email titled “Reasons Behind My Departure” which I outlined in depth the abuse of power and bullying as players we experienced from Birarda.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007 Email to Bob Birarda cc-ed to Bob Lenarduzzi: Click Here
Friday, May 11, 2007: Bob Lenarduzzi called me as I was coaching a session in North Vancouver at approximately 4pm, to tell me that he had told Bob Birarda that myself and “Susan” had gone to meet with him and gave Birarda information we shared in what we thought was a confidential meeting.
**Note: I had already decided prior to meeting with Bob Lenarduzzi on May 8, 2007 that I was leaving to go to Ottawa – I cc-ed Lenarduzzi to an email to Birarda on May 9, 2007 telling Birarda I was leaving, outlining the the bullying and intimidation that went into the decision.
On Friday, May 11, 2007 Lenarduzzi called me to let me know he had told Birarda and had betrayed the confidence and privacy we begged for, in our meeting with him. It was my teammate, “Susan” who was brave enough to come with me to that meeting, that suffered the direct repercussions, as her playing time significantly diminished in 2007 despite being an impact player the previous season. More importantly that violation of privacy sent a clear message to everyone involved with Whitecaps that we would not be protected by management, and had no where to go with our concerns. It confirmed that we were risking significant damage to our playing careers if we spoke up thus giving Birarda even more power in the situation.
2. LETTER SENT TO GREG KERFOOT, RACHEL LEWIS AND DAN LENARDUZZI, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2011
Letter sent to Greg Kerfoot, Rachel Lewis and Dan Lenarduzzi after learning of Birarda still coaching teenage players in the community: Click Here –
Dan Lenarduzzi responded the same day I sent the message and we had a phone conversation later in the week, with the issues I brought up being sidestepped.
3. EMAIL EXCHANGE WITH RACHEL LEWIS JANUARY 12, 2012-FEBRUARY 1, 2012
Email exchange with Rachel Lewis after she reached out “concerned” about the blogging I was doing on my experience with the Whitecaps. I yet again reiterated my concern of Birarda in the community coaching teenage players.: Email Chain Rachel Lewis 2012
Finally, Jeff Mallett, in a press conference, that shut out the majority of media besides the Whitecaps preferred partners, said that “as a father to two girls, the 2008 situation didn’t pass the dad test.”
I’m sure both the dads and moms of the players on that 2008 Whitecaps and Canadian U20 team and those that were vulnerable later as the Whitecaps and CSA released this coach out into the community to unknowing parents, would have a few questions of both the Whitecaps owners and executive and CSA, as do I:
- “Terminating” the coaches contract as described in the May 1, 2019 Whitecaps statement, is very different to the “parting ways” terminology that was used in the April 17, 2019 and other prior statements, as well as when he was released back in 2008 by the Whitecaps and CSA. “Terminating” the contract suggests that there was just cause, which has been subsequently described by multiple people to have included sexually inappropriate text messages. Is there not then a subsequent duty of care by both the Whitecaps and the CSA to make sure that the termination would be known to the parents and clubs that would potentially employ this coach later?
- It is important to note that the CSA was involved in terminating this coach’s contract. If he was not deemed good enough to be coaching the Canadian team, how and why was he let back into the community without any repercussions to his coaching licence?
- Why, if as outlined in the statement, that in May 2008 the Whitecaps was notified of text messages with sexual undertones to a minor player, was this coach allowed to continue coaching and not fired immediately?
And I have a few questions for Jeff Mallett since he brought up his own daughters in the press conference yesterday:
Would you as a parent be ok with how the situation was handled in 2008?
If it was one of your daughters, would you be ok with how the organization has essentially done nothing of substance since this information was released besides ignore the players affected?
If it was your child, would you be ok with only grandiose, toothless statements of best practices and policy reforms, and think it was subsequently sufficient to leave the same people in charge who showed such woeful disregard for player safety over the last 11 years?
If it was your child would you feel comfortable with a business, answerable to no one, to have such serious control over your child’s pathway to the national team, instead of having the protection that a NSO or PSO, as a public institution, answerable to taxpayers would provide?
If you had kids playing under the Whitecaps currently, based on what has happened both over the last decade and how the club has handled this over the last 2 months since the blog was released, would you feel comfortable with leaving their care in the Whitecaps hands?
Does the well-being of other people’s children not matter?
While the apology yesterday is appreciated, it does not take away that there is still a great deal that needs to be addressed and examined from what happened in 2008. If the Whitecaps are genuine, I challenge them to allow us, the players to choose the group that investigates this, who reports the findings to us, and have the Whitecaps executive cooperate fully and truthfully with that person. There is understandably every reason based on the past, for us not to trust the Whitecaps investigative procedures and abilities.
That being said, the good news is, as shown by the very real step of groups such as Southsiders, Curva Collective and other members of the public stepping up and supporting this important matter that people are taking notice, and realizing that these women could have been their wife, their daughter, their sister or their friend and responding accordingly and strongly.
Different to the past, the public is now empowered, educated and these abstract, fluffy statements that worked in the past are not going to work anymore.
The positive in the awareness of this terrible situation, is that the public now, and not just players affected, are demanding tangible, concrete solutions. To no longer be shouting from rooftops alone is comforting and gives hope, that perhaps this time, real change is possible.
While the above is my own personal feelings, the group of players that was incredibly impacted by this, are continuing to meet behind the scenes, and we will come together and dictate what will happen as we move forward. We invite the Whitecaps, BC Soccer and the CSA to join us once we decide as a group what those asks will be.
I personally hope that it’s a collaborative effort involving all the groups that let us down.
While the Whitecaps have not apologized directly to us, or given us the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting with owners that they gave their supporters group, we will not stop until there is significant, meaningful steps taken to ensure the safety of future players. What I will guarantee is that I personally will not stop fighting until these steps go well-beyond abstract concepts or grandiose toothless statements of respectful workplace environments, or whistleblower hotlines or ombudsmen that do nothing besides protect the organizations that have hired them.
We are far too educated now on how organizations such as the CSA and Whitecaps look to protect themselves, their bottom lines and reputations first, far ahead of the players. In conversations with some of the other players affected, we are determined that the education that this unfortunate situation and its aftermath have given us, will be passed on and acted upon to ensure that future young players are protected.
There is the desire that this awful situation that we faced as players will be turned into a positive.
Once everyone that has a story to share has been given the opportunity to make their truth known, we will give concrete, updated steps on what our goals are moving forward as we look towards real protection of players and their safety.
Because everyone’s children deserve to be treated and protected as one’s own.
Ciara, I want to commend you for coming forward and more importantly continuing your fight. I have a daughter who plays soccer and because of your actions, you are making a difference for her and all youth athletes (both female and male).
For years I have been critical of how the Vancouver Whitecaps are run as an organization. I was an inaugural season ticket holder but cancelled after the un-professionalism actions from the club. Let’s not forget how they tried to cover up the sexual assault that happened to one of their male youth players by then team mates.
If Jeff Mallet and Greg Kerfoot don’t have the stones to fire their “executive leaders” (Bobby Lenarduzzi & Rachel Lewis) then they should sell the team to an ownership group that puts people first and would not stand for this type of behaviour to ever happen again. This club needs a new identity in the front office!
I have reached out to the club on a couple of occasions and spoken to Bobby L directly on air, with a promise to call me back but not surprisingly, never heard from him. There is absolutely ZERO leadership in the organization at the executive level; no one takes responsibility. It’s is unfortunate for the current players and coaching staff (which I do admire) because they have been thrown into this situation and as long as the current “executive team” is in place, they will never be getting my support. I hope some of the sponsors feel as strongly as myself (and the thousands of fans that have walked out or just not show up) and withdraw their support. It seems that this may be the only way for the current ownership to wake up and make the changes.