After weeks of backlash, the owners of the Vancouver Whitecaps have issued a statement expressing “sincere regret and empathy” for the harm experienced by female players who have alleged abuse at the hands of a former coach.
In a letter released Wednesday and signed by co-owners Jeff Mallett and Greg Kerfoot, the club said it cares deeply about the women’s “pain and suffering,” while also defending its actions in responding to a series of blog posts this year that resurfaced the allegations from 2008.
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“While we sought and acted on the advice of the best available counsel at the time, it is clear that people were deeply affected,” the letter reads. “For that we are sorry.”
The letter was released along with a timeline of the Whitecaps’ actions starting when the abuse allegations were first reported to management by a player for the women’s team in May 2008.
According to that timeline, executives had not heard any allegations before the initial complaint, and the club appointed an independent ombudsperson to investigate the complaint the day it was made.
The team then acted on the ombudsperson’s recommendations, which included the coach receiving training and signing “a commitment letter” promising to act in accordance with that training.
It was not until the Whitecaps became aware of another complaint made against the same coach while he was heading the Canada’s women’s under-20 national team in September 2008 that the club severed ties, after the same ombudsperson conducted another investigation.
The coach was officially let go from his positions with both the Whitecaps and the Canadian Soccer Association on Oct. 8, 2008, and the club said it had not heard any other complaints since then.
The letter acknowledges a blog post published in February by former player Ciara McCormack, who made similar claims against the coach and said Canada Soccer and the Whitecaps did not adequately address or investigate her concerns.
More allegations came out in a statement issued on April 1 from a group of players for the women’s under-20 national team from 2008.
The claims include that the coach touched one of the players inappropriately, sent at least one text message that was sexual in nature, and held a private meeting with one of the players in his hotel room. None of the allegations have not been proven in court.
The Whitecaps acknowledged in April it had contacted Vancouver police with the latest allegations, and said Wednesday it is in “active communication” with VPD.
The initial response from the Whitecaps sparked anger from fans, who said the club wasn’t acknowledging the alleged victims or its own role in the allegations.
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Supporter clubs including the Vancouver Southsiders led two walkouts at the 35-minute mark at separate matches at BC Place, sending hundreds of fans into the concourse to rally for action.
Paul Sabourin-Hertzog, a spokesperson for the Southsiders, met with club executives and front-office staff on April 27 ahead of the second walkout, and said he appreciated what he heard.
In the letter, the club said it is reviewing its operations “to ensure that we foster and enforce a culture of zero tolerance for any form of harassment or bullying,” along with the actions it took in 2008. The results of those reviews will be made public, the letter added.
Vancouver police have said they are aware of the blog posts, but have not said whether they are actively investigating.
The Southsiders did not immediately comment on the letter, saying they want to review the letter and hear from other fans before issuing a response.
—With files from Jon Azpiri and Robyn Crawford