Forge FC players, owner firmly behind assistant coach after racism allegations

The game ball sits on a pedestal ahead of the inaugural soccer match of the Canadian Premier League between Forge FC and York 9 in Hamilton on April 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Lynett

The defending Canadian Premier League champions may not be on the field due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Forge FC‘s players are going on the offensive in response to year-old allegations of racism against their assistant coach.

A letter to club owner Bob Young that was posted on team captain Kyle Bekker’s Instagram account on Saturday afternoon, signed by all 18 players on the Hamilton-based professional soccer team, disputes the allegations against assistant coach Peter Reynders.

“We write this in regard to the unjust accusations and maltreatment that has been brought upon Coach Peter, our coaching staff, the players, and the organization as a whole,” the letter reads. “We are watching people within the Canadian Premier League bubble (fans, media, etc.) use these sensitive times, with heightened attention to the racial injustice ongoing in the world, as an opportunity to attack and disrespect us for something that we know to be false.”

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The Instagram post continues, “Throughout this entire ordeal we as players have sat and watched as our coach’s name and character have been questioned over and over. In turn we now feel that our character as individuals is under fire for not speaking out publicly in support of our coach.”

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Proud to represent this club.

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Canadian Soccer found Reynders, 55, guilty of misconduct and handed him a 45-game suspension after it was alleged that he used racist language following a Canadian Championship match against Calgary-based Cavalry FC on June 4, 2019.

Reynders appealed the suspension and Canada Soccer has sent the issue to a third party to conduct an independent review.

Following the game, Reynders said he tried to diffuse a post-match brawl between the two teams, saying, “I was attempting to act as a peacemaker to calm the situation, not inflame it. I regret that this incident has resulted in the allegation and brought controversy to both the team and the game itself.”

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Reynders and Young, who also owns the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, each issued a statement Saturday in response to the team’s letter on social media.

“The support of our players has been so strong since the allegation was made against me last June,” said a statement from Reynders. “I am truly grateful for the heartfelt effort, courage and thought that went into their letter that they shared publicly today. I remain adamant that the allegation against me is baseless and without any merit whatsoever. I will continue to fight and defend myself during this lengthy process, especially more so now during this difficult period in our world where we must end racism together once and for all.”

In a statement from Bob Young, the team owner, writes: “I, our players with Forge FC Hamilton soccer club, and our organization all believe in equality of opportunity for all. We abhor racism in all its forms. We know Coach Peter is a person of the highest integrity who happens to be a great football coach. My only response to the letter from our Forge players is simply they have my full support.”

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The 2020 CPL season was to kick off April 11 but it was suspended in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, the league and its players agreed to “the structure and concept of a proposed strategy on the possibility of a 2020 CPL season,” which could include a round-robin style tournament in one location starting in mid or late July.

Charlottetown, P.E.I., Vancouver Island and Langford, B.C., have expressed interest in hosting games if the season resumes.

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