Today Bob Birarda finally faced justice + a chapter was finally closed, something that should have happened 14 years ago when the first reports of his sexual misconduct came in.
All the credit to the 4 powerful women that disrupted their own lives to share the truth of what happened to them and put themselves at the mercy of the justice system. May the closing of this chapter bring the healing that they all deserve, as well an immense amount of pride that they’ve made a massive impact in ensuring that this never is allowed happen again.
While there is deep gratitude for justice to have finally been served, as well as help finally bestowed on a man, who so obviously needs it, it should not have taken 14 years to come to this point. It should not have taken 11 years of a small group of former players and administrators, reporting over 30 times through pathways that we are told are safe places for the truth to be told and nothing being done. It should not have taken having to risk everything and write and publish blogs because it was the only way the truth was ever going to come out and this nightmare was going to end. I reflect on what we were forced to live through as players with a gatekeeper like Birarda, and the state of trauma so many of us continued to live in for over a decade reporting over and over and over again into an abyss of silence, and I know with certainty I will spend every day til my dying breath to make sure it never happens to anyone ever again.
I reflect on the number of Canadian women’s players through the 2000’s that bravely stood up to the abuse and had everything they ever worked for ripped away. Some of who were the top players to ever come out of this country and others that had fought admirably to be on the brink of their dreams. Players that should have never been put in a position to have to choose between their voice, safety and integrity and the dreams they worked their whole lives towards. I pray this day gives every single one who had to pick up the pieces of their broken dreams, healing and validation that they made the right choice in speaking up. I hope they all have peace knowing they’ve been a part of creating a legacy of safety that is far bigger and more important than anything they could have ever accomplished in soccer.
It is important to acknowledge that after Birarda was fired for sexual misconduct, he did not land on a soccer field for 11 years, without a lot of help.
While Birarda finally faces justice today, the gaslighting continues with a group of people who actively enabled Birarda and callously put players in harms way, carrying on with zero opposition in some of the top positions in world soccer. The McLaren Report outlined clearly how the Executive Committee of Canada Soccer in 2008, including Victor Montagliani and Peter Montopoli, the current President of CONCACAF and the COO of the FIFA World Cup Canada 2026 respectively, were part of the main group who chose to define Birarda’s firing for sexual misconduct as a “mutual parting of ways.” Montagliani went as far as having the audacity to tell the Guardian in 2019 how those of us who had been forced to step forward were “courageous as hell,” while being fully aware that his actions played a role in the harm we were caused and the risk we had to take to step forward in the first place.
While these two enablers of a now convicted sex offender, amongst others, carry on unopposed in positions of power in soccer, the collective silence and inaction of media, player organizations and influential people in the game is deafening. Enablers of abuse have no place in sport and the longer we as a soccer collective don’t speak up the more we are implicitly allowing abuse to continue.
There will unfortunately always be abusers. But they do not survive without enablers. And until we start to have real and active consequences for those who enable abuse, it will continue. We all must speak up and force these abhorrent practices and decisions to cover up abuse, to come to an end.
So much has changed from the day in 2019 that I first published my blog, but so much remains the same. The Whitecaps, a private organization still is inexplicably allowed to be entangled with our national team program, women’s players in Canada still have no professional league, and there is still no safe place for far too many athletes to report abuse. These things have to change. The kids coming behind us have to live in a different world. Ahead lies a long road of work towards real and lasting change, with systems that protect and empower athletes. But that is for another day.
Today is a day to take a deep breath of gratitude: gratitude for justice, for healing and for good winning over evil.
Thank you for everyone who played a role in finally helping us get here and making our voices and story finally heard.
Here’s hoping for a better and different tomorrow.