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Allegations Levelled Against Former Head Coach of Canada U-20's

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More allegations levelled against former head coach of Canadian U-20 women's soccer team

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12 former players are asking for an investigation into the handling of sexual harassment allegations in 2008

Karin Larsen · CBC News · Posted: Apr 03, 2019 7:00 AM PT | Last Updated: April 3
 
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A group of 12 former players say each of them witnessed 'incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour' by Bob Birarda in 2007 and 2008, when he was in charge of both the U-20 women's national team and the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team. (Shutterstock / makieni)

A group of former Team Canada soccer players is alleging the former head coach of the 2008 Under-20 women's national team sent sexualized text messages to players, made sexual comments to players, touched players inappropriately and used his position of power to make sexual advances.

In a statement, the 12 women say each of them witnessed "incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour" by head coach Bob Birarda in 2007 and 2008, when he was in charge of both the U-20 women's national team and the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team.

The players are calling for an investigation into events in 2008 and say they would like the two organizations to implement better harassment policies and to retract coaching licences of those who demonstrate a pattern of abusive behaviour.

CBC has not independently verified all of the allegations made by the players.

Birarda has not responded to multiple request for comment by CBC on the latest allegations and those levelled against him previously.

Last week, former Canadian team captain and Whitecaps captain Andrea Neil also issued a statement alleging that Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps were lacking accountability when it came to dealing with complaints against Birarda in 2008 

Neil said she wanted to support former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack, who published a blog in February alleging sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour on Birarda's part.

The Vancouver Whitecaps issued a statement saying that in light of the players' allegations, "we are concerned there may be new information related to this matter that did not come forward in 2008 or since."

"We have contacted the VPD to ensure they are aware of [the April 1] blog and can assess if further action is required."

Canada Soccer issued a statement that reads in part: "Canada Soccer is aware that the Vancouver Police Department has been alerted to an anonymous website which allegedly contains further information regarding members of the 2008 Women's U-20 National Team Program.

"Canada Soccer does not have further details about this ongoing matter, or on the contents or accuracy of the website, but will support all efforts should it be determined that further action is required."

'Should have handled the situation differently'

Eden Hingwing, one of the players behind the statement, says the group is coming forward now because of concerns that Birarda has continued to coach girls and young women, even after he was released from Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps in 2008.

"With time, we recognized Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps should have handled the situation differently," said Hingwing. 

Hingwing says she was afraid to speak out about Birarda's behaviour 10 years ago because of the power he held.

 
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Bob Birarda was the head coach of Canada's under-20 women's national team and the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team in 2008.(Canada Soccer)

"Bob Birarda was head coach for U-20 Canada, Whitecaps, and he was a reference for college coaches to call when we were seeking scholarship opportunities. I was afraid it would damage my soccer career if I ever complained," she said.

One player's story

Former national team hopeful Adrienne Ruhe Lischke told CBC that during a U-20 training camp in 2008, Birarda called her to a meeting in his hotel room and closed the door, in contravention of a policy that said players were not to be alone with individual staff.

"I sat on one bed and he sat on the other and we didn't talk about soccer, which makes absolutely no sense," said Ruhe Lischke. " And I just remember him acknowledging that I wasn't in the starting pool and saying to me, 'What are you going to do about it?'"

Ruhe Lischke believes Birarda was making a sexual advance.

"Absolutely. I don't know why that situation would occur for any other reason," she said. "I just remember being really confused and being like, 'I don't know what you mean?' And he would say: 'It's in your control, you're in charge of your own destiny.'"

"I remember being really creeped out," she said. "I've never had a coach ever shut a door on me. I don't know how to explain the feeling — it was just super f--ked up."

Ruhe Lischke left the room and later quit the national team program feeling she had no chance of being selected to the team, regardless of how well she played.

She said she didn't report the incident to Canada Soccer at the time because she felt her complaint would not be taken seriously and that she could potentially suffer consequences in her soccer career.

Ruhe Lischke's father confirms that his daughter told him about the hotel room incident approximately two years after it happened.

CBC sent Ruhe Lischke's specific allegations to Birarda asking for his side of the story. He did not respond. 

'Mutual decision' to part ways

In October 2008, six weeks before the U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile, Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps parted ways with Birarda in what was described by both organizations at the time as a "mutual decision."

Ian Bridge, the coach who took over the teams, told CBC that Birarda's departure was due to "inappropriate communication with players."

CBC has asked Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps to see the independent investigator's report into Birarda's behaviour that was jointly commissioned in September of 2008. Neither organization has responded to the request. 

 

Soon after leaving Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps, Birarda started coaching teenage girls at the Tsawwassen Soccer Club, and later at South Surrey's Coastal FC.

He held the position of girls coach at Coastal FC until February of this year, when he was suspended after McCormack's blog went viral.

Of the 12 women involved in publishing the players' statement, only four are willing to be identified.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Tsawwassen Soccer Club became Coastal FC. In fact, it became part of South Delta United Soccer Club.
    Apr 03, 2019 8:42 AM PT

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