(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

Just Posted

This summer Masset RCMP will give positive tickets to youths

More than a dozen community partners are involved in encouraging good behaviour once school is out

New Seven Sisters replacement confirmed

Mental health facility will have 25 beds, up from 20 in current facility

Terrace hospital’s business plan approved

Health Minister’s announcement opens door to construction phase

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

Concerns over democracy as Senate committee votes to nix oil tanker ban

Critics of the Senate’s recommendation to kill Bill C-48 say it goes against popular will

Kelowna toddler suffers cracked skull after fall from balcony

Neighbour who found the two-year-old boy said he has a bump the size of a golf ball on his head

RCMP probe if teen was intentionally hit with ski pole by mystery skier on B.C. mountain

The incident happened on March 20 on Grouse Mountain. Police are urging witnesses to come forward

Support growing for orphaned Okanagan child after father dies in highway crash

Family thanks emergency crews for assistance in traumatic incident

Pipeline protester chimes in on Justin Trudeau’s B.C. fundraising speech

The government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion

Baby boom seniors putting pressure on B.C. long-term care: report

B.C. leads Canada in growth of dementia, dependence on care

UPDATED: B.C. man says he’ll take People’s Party lawsuit as far as he can

Federal judge shut down Satinder Dhillon’s ‘nonsensical’ motion to bar use of PPC name in byelection

Canada stripping citizenship from Chinese man over alleged marriage fraud

The move comes amid severely strained relations between Ottawa and Beijing

Nevada court orders former Vancouver man to pay back $21.7M to investors

The commission says Michael Lathigee committed fraud over a decade ago

Most Read