Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC players play an MLS soccer match with no fans in attendance in Vancouver, on Saturday, September 5, 2020. Major League Soccer says it has hired two lawyers to lead an independent review of how the Vancouver Whitecaps organization handled allegations of misconduct against two former coaches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Former Whitecaps women’s team players support MLS investigation, want further action

Former Whitecaps women’s team players support MLS investigation, want further action

VANCOUVER — A group of former players for the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team says it welcomes a Major League Soccer investigation into how the club handled allegations of abuse, and it wants the findings to be made public.

The Professional Footballers Association Canada released a statement on behalf of former players from the 2008 and 2011 Whitecaps women’s teams Monday, saying Major League Soccer has hired a “highly credible” firm to conduct the investigation, but that the players affected need to have a say in the scope and mandate.

“It is not clear that the MLS investigation and Canada Soccer review will do anything to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes in the system moving forward, which is of paramount concern and motivation to us,” the statement said. “These processes also do not address the collective trauma that we have experienced at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Canada Soccer, by their silence for over a decade.”

The statement comes after the league announced last week that Janice Rubin and Melody Jahanzadeh of Rubin Thomlinson LLP will conduct an independent review of how the Whitecaps dealt with misconduct allegations against former coaches Bob Birarda and Hubert Busby Jr.

Canada Soccer announced late last month that it had agreed to an independent review of its investigation into allegations against Birarda during the time he was employed by the association.

Busby has been accused of pressuring a former player for sex in 2011 when he was head coach of the Whitecaps women’s team. The allegation has not been tested in court.

Busby’s contract with the Whitecaps expired in October 2011 and was not renewed by the team.

Birarda, a former coach for both the Whitecaps women’s team and the Canadian U-20 women’s team, has been charged with six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.

The alleged offences occurred between January 1988 and March 25, 2008. The allegations have not been tested in court.

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

In the PFACan statement, the former players make a number of demands, including that the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer provide all relevant documentation to the investigation, and that any final reports from the investigation are made public.

They also call for the Whitecaps, MLS and Canada Soccer to commit to taking “appropriate action” against anyone currently connected to the organizations who failed to take “effective steps” to stop abusive behaviour.

Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster told The Canadian Press in an interview Monday that he fully supports the requests made of the club in the statement.

He said he will “do everything that is necessary” to support the investigation, including providing any documents that are asked for.

Schuster has previously said members of the club’s executive team who were involved in handling the Busby allegations have been placed on administrative leave.

He added Monday that he is prepared to “take action” if the investigation finds anyone within the organization did not stop abusive behaviour.

“As a voice for the Vancouver Whitecaps, I want to apologize to everyone who has suffered pain in our organization,” Schuster said.

“I really want to encourage everyone who has gone through things like that to help us during this investigation, to speak up, to provide information and to support this investigation so that we really find out what was going on. And we as an organization are fully committed to supporting those (people) while they are going through this process.”

Canada Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2021.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press