To Whom This May Concern,
We are members of the 2007/2008 U20 Canadian National Team Pool. The majority of us also represented the Vancouver Whitecaps. Bob Birarda was the head coach for these teams, before “leaving” both organizations in October 2008 following an investigation into his conduct.
There have been recent allegations posted online regarding Bob Birarda’s behavior, and the subsequent action, or lack thereof, by the two organizations. We come forward 10 years later because: some of us didn’t know he was still coaching, and we all look back at our experience with Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps and think the situation should have been handled differently.
During our time as part of the U20’s, we each witnessed incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behavior toward players. We gathered some examples of this behavior, each example has been provided by a different person:
- Example 1: On the way to training, Player witnessed Bob rubbing a teammate’s thigh while in the car.
- Example 2: Player was not in the starting 11 for the U20 pool. Near the end of camp Bob invited her into his hotel room for a meeting (one-on-one) and shut the door behind them. He acknowledged she was not a starter, then asked her “what are you going to do about it?”. She dismissed herself from the team soon after.
- Example 3: Player was shown text messages that her teammate received from Bob, which included sexual connotation in regards to driving close behind her.
- Example 4: Bob held meetings one-on-one with Player in coffee shop. The meetings consisted of “small talk” and Bob wanting validation about his appearance and personality. Bob later requested meetings to be held in his apartment, Player thought it was inappropriate. Player began ignoring the messages. He implied that she had to be a “team player”. Once Player stopped replying to text messages, he ignored her in team meetings, at practices, and games. When the internal investigation began, Bob asked Player to meet in the coffee shop, where he became emotional and asked the her not to tell anyone about their previous conversations.
- Example 5: Bob started communicating with Player extensively over text message. Conversations became more and more inappropriate (sexual in nature). Bob blamed Player for “putting a spell” on him with her looks, maturity, and talent. At half time during a game, Bob told Player how good her body looked in the wet, white jersey – and that he chose for the team to wear white on a rainy day for this reason. Conversations became more lewd. Player eventually asked Bob to stop this communication. Player was overcome with anxiety and depression from having to “manage” his emotions thereafter, and eventually the residual trauma led to her quitting soccer.
Bob’s tenure as head coach for both teams suddenly ended several weeks before the 2008 U20 Women’s World Cup. We believe, based on Andrea Neil’s recent statement regarding an internal investigation conducted in 2008, that the CSA and Vancouver Whitecaps were aware of his misconduct.
We, the undersigned, were never informed of the reason for his dismissal, nor were our parents. If an investigation took place, the vast majority of our team was not interviewed nor provided a platform to discuss Bob Birarda’s behaviour. No third-party organization, nor the authorities, stepped in to provide an outlet for these conversations. There was never any follow-up to ensure the health and safety of the athletes on our team.
Below are the statements released by the two organizations, as reported in the Vancouver Sun, October 10th 2008:
- “This was a mutual decision,” the Whitecaps stated in a news release. “The Whitecaps and Mr. Birarda agree that it is in the best interest of both parties.”
- “The departure was a mutual decision which the association and Mr. Birarda agreed was in the best interest of both parties,” the CSA said in news release.”
His misconduct was not mentioned in media releases. We believe his “leaving” was the result his misconduct.
Canada Soccer’s current policies regarding coach misconduct: https://www.canadasoccer.com/files/CSA_Code_of_Conduct_and_Ethics_FINAL_22.09.17.pdf
Section 4: Responsibilities
All parties referred to in Section 3 have a responsibility to
iv.) Maintain and enhance the dignity and self-esteem of Canada Soccer Members and other individuals by…
g) Refraining from the use of power or authority in an attempt to coerce another person to engage in inappropriate activities
Section 4.2: Harassment
ii. Types of behaviour that constitute harassment include, but are not limited to:
a) Written or verbal abuse, threats, or outbursts;
c) Unwelcome remarks, jokes, comments, innuendo, or taunts;
j) Offensive or intimidating phone calls, texts, voice mails or emails;
l) Psychological abuse;
o) Behaviours such as described above that are not directed towards a specific individual or group but have the same effect of creating a negative or hostile environment…
iv. Types of behaviour that constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:
e) Inquiries or comments about a person’s sex life;
f) Unwelcome sexual flirtations, advances, requests, invitations or propositions;
g) Inappropriate sexual touching, advances, suggestions or requests;
h) Unwanted physical contact including, but not limited to, touching, petting, pinching, or kissing”
Section 5.2: Team Personnel
Team personnel (coaches/staff) must also…
iv. Provide athletes (and the parents/guardians of a minor) with the information necessary to be involved in decisions that affect the athlete
x. Not engage in a sexual relationship with an athlete under 18 years old, or an intimate or sexual relationship with an athlete over the age of 18 if in a position of power, trust, or authority over the athlete
The Vancouver Whitecaps code of conduct was not located online.
We, the undersigned, request the following:
1) That Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps implement formal policies using current best practices, that are in line with other elite sports organizations. Hockey Canada lists the following policy on their website: https://cdn.hockeycanada.ca/hockey-canada/Hockey-Programs/Safety/Speak-Out/Downloads/bullying_eng.pdfhas
“It is the policy of Hockey Canada that any Hockey Canada personnel (part-time and full-time staff, volunteer, participant, team official, on ice official) or Hockey Canada partner (parent, guardian) who, has reasonable grounds to suspect that a participant is or may be suffering or may have suffered from emotional, physical abuse and neglect and/or sexual abuse shall immediately report the suspicion and the information on which it is based to the local child protection agency and/or the local police detachment.”
2) Coaches who have behaved inappropriately with players or who demonstrate a pattern of abusive behavior, should not be allowed to retain their coaching licenses.
3) Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps should address what happened in 2008, and why Bob was enabled to coach young girls today. We support the full and thorough investigation BC Soccer has announced they will be conducting, with a truly independent third party organization. We call for Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps to follow in their footsteps, and conduct their own investigations by also using third-party organizations. We ask for the findings of these three investigations to be made public.
We write this collective statement in the hopes of promoting safe training environments for future young athletes.
Twelve Thirteen players from the 2008 U20 Women’s National Team player pool and team
Updated: April 4, 2019