(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

Abbotsford parents invited to anti-gang education session

Presenters to discern myth from reality, offer warning signs that youths are getting into gangs

Welcome to 89 years at the same Abbotsford address

Philip Sheffield lunch brings past students together one more time

Abbotsford firefighters knock down house fire before it can spread

No one believed to be inside structure at the time of the fire on Clayburn Road Saturday morning

Abbotsford youths grill mayor on environmental policy at rally

Local youths continued climate strike as worldwide action takes place in hundreds of cities

Stolen stamp collection has been returned to owners in Abbotsford

Good Samaritan found the stamps hidden away in some bushes and turned them over to police

Police release photos of suspect in daytime sex assault at Vancouver woman’s home

A young woman, in hers 20s, was followed home by the man, before he violently attacked her inside

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen Bhavkiran Dhesi

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say boy, 11, missing for two days found safe

Dominic Mattie was last seen at 5 p.m. in the 13500-block of Gateway Drive in Surrey

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

PHOTOS: First responders in Fernie rescue baby owl who fell from nest

The baby owl’s inability to fly back to its nest prompted a rescue by first responders

Most Read