A worker cleans windows and doors at B.C. Place stadium, where Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps play their home games, in Vancouver, on Thursday, March 12, 2020. A former coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer's women's teams has been charged with sexual offences involving four people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Former Whitecaps, Canadian women’s soccer coach charged with sexual offences

Former Whitecaps, Canadian women’s soccer coach charged with sexual offences

VANCOUVER — A former coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer’s women’s teams has been charged with sexual offences involving four people.

The B.C. Prosecution Service said in a statement that Bob Birarda is facing six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.

The alleged offences occurred in North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver between January 1988 and March 25, 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 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 made his first appearance in court Wednesday and has been released from custody under strict conditions. His case is scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 28.

Birarda was dismissed by both the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer in October 2008.

Former player Ciara McCormack brought the allegations to public attention with a blog post in February 2019, saying neither the Whitecaps nor Canada Soccer adequately investigated when she complained about Birarda’s behaviour.

The revelations prompted fans to walk out of several Whitecaps games that spring.

Hearing that charges had been laid against her former coach came as a surprise, McCormack told The Canadian Press Thursday.

“It’s been such a long road to get to where we are,” she said, adding that she got emotional when she heard the news.

“I feel like the system failed us the whole way through. So to actually see a system actually work and charges actually happen, I think it’s a bit of a relief.”

The charges empower the people who came forward with stories of harassment and give them a voice, McCormack said.

“There’s a lot of healing that comes with your voice being validated and your experience being validated,” she said.

Andrea Neil, one of Canada’s most decorated soccer stars, issued a statement in March 2019 saying she began hearing “rumours and stories” about trouble within the 2008 U20 squad shortly after her time with the national team ended.

“What happened in 2008 was not right. People got emotionally hurt, and all of us have a responsibility to do something about that,” she said.

Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster issued a statement Thursday saying the charges reinforce the harm that was done to women in the club’s program between 2006 and 2008.

“We should have been better, and for that we are sorry,” the statement said.

Canada Soccer did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Jeff Mallett, co-owner of the team, previously issued an apology to the women involved in May 2019 and thanked them for coming forward.

Last year, the Toronto-based Sport Law & Strategy Group completed a third-party review of how the Whitecaps handled the complaints, noting there was a “lack of effective communication with the players.”

The group’s report also noted that many recommendations as to what the club could have done differently at the time had “already been addressed and are reflected in current policies and practices.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the incorrect date of Ciara McCormack’s blog post.

soccer

Just Posted

Red Deer respiratory therapist Sarah MacKenzie was among the first central Alberta health professionals to receive the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020. Since then, nearly 3.4 million doses have been administered and COVID cases are falling rapidly. Photo by Alberta Health Services
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall sharply

Red Deer cases almost into the double digits after topping more than 900 only five weeks ago

(Advocate file photo.)
Red Deer city council discusses strategies to restore integrated emergency dispatching

Red Deer city councillors discussed additional ways on Tuesday to try to… Continue reading

Local developers who are doing building upgrades or new construction will face less land servicing costs and gain some flexibility. (File photo by Advocate staff)
From left: Montana First Nation councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation councillor Shannon Buffalo and Samson Cree Nation chief Vern Saddleback were present during the painting of the Maskwacis Pride crosswalk. (Contributed photo)
Being gay made him contemplate suicide: Councillor in Maskwacis opens up

Maskwacis got a bit mote colourful over the weekend. Volunteers spent Saturday… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta (44) celebrates with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after Rutta scored against the New York Islanders during the third period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Kucherov shines, Lightning beat Islanders 4-2 in Game 2

Lightning 4 Islanders 2 (Series tied 2-2) TAMPA, Fla. — Brayden Point… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) shoots as Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) defends during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Durant’s sensational performance sends Nets to 3-2 lead

Nets 114 Bucks 108 (Brooklyn leads series 3-2) NEW YORK (AP) —… Continue reading

New York Yankees starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery throws to a Toronto Blue Jays batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Frazier snaps tie, Yankees come back to beat Blue Jays 6-5

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Clint Frazier snapped an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Pornhub says it has removed all content uploaded by non-verified users. The sex website faced accusations it hosted illegal content. The company, which is owned by Montreal-based Mindgeek, says it has suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by one of its content partners or members of its Model Program. THE CANADIAN PRESS
International women’s rights advocates call on Canada to hold Pornhub to account

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her… Continue reading

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2021 file photo, transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000, even as the vaccination drive has drastically slashed daily cases and deaths and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 1, 2019 file photo, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry talks about health care legislation he's backing in the upcoming session, in Baton Rouge, La. The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana. U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)
Federal judge blocks Biden’s pause on new oil, gas leases

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and… Continue reading

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man during clashes that erupted ahead of a planned march by Jewish ultranationalists through east Jerusalem, outside Jerusalem's Old City, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israelis march in east Jerusalem in test for new government

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,”… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) vies for the puck with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Vets Pietrangelo, Perry contributing for Vegas, Montreal

LAS VEGAS — Alex Pietrangelo and Corey Perry had very different free… Continue reading

Most Read