What did FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani know about a coach’s misconduct? When did he know it?
Those are questions that players from the 2008 W-League Vancouver Whitecaps and national women’s soccer teams want answered.
Montagliani was on the Canadian Soccer Association board when Bob Birarda was the Whitecaps’ women’s team coach and an assistant with Canada’s entry in the Beijing 2008 Olympics tournament. When Birarda was fired from both jobs in fall 2008, both organizations called it a mutual parting of ways. The reasons were kept secret until former player Ciara McCormack blew the whistle in early 2019.
Birarda was charged in late 2020 with sexual exploitation, sexual assault and child luring from 1998 to 2008.
Since then, another former player, Malloree Enoch, blew the whistle on former Whitecaps’ coach Hubert Busby Jr., for allegedly soliciting her for sex while recruiting her for the team in 2011. Busby departed the Whitecaps in similar fashion as Birarda in 2012.
The Professional Footballers of Canada (PFCan) published a statement Nov. 8 on behalf of players from the 2008 and 2011 Whitecaps’ women’s teams. Among the seven demands are for Montagliani, the president of FIFA’s North and Central American and Caribbean zone (Concacaf), to “fully co-operate” with an investigation of the Birarda coverup.
Major League Soccer hired lawyers Janice Rubin and Melody Jahanzadeh of the law firm Rubin Thomlinson to investigate in the wake of the allegations about Busby. Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster said executives still with the club were placed on administrative leave, but he did not identify them.
A statement from Concacaf said Montagliani “welcomes and supports” the CSA review of the 2008 circumstances, but the statement does not say whether Montagliani will co-operate. Concacaf said Montagliani and the CSA board took the allegations seriously in summer 2008 and unanimously agreed to fire Birarda.
“Mr. Montagliani believes that he and his fellow Board members at the time followed the appropriate steps to support the CSA with this very serious matter,” the statement said.
Paul Champ, an Ottawa human rights lawyer who represents PFCan, said he is hopeful the Rubin Thomlinson investigation will lead to transparency, accountability and increased safety for athletes at risk of exploitation and abuse by coaches.
He is disappointed that Canadian national team and club officials have moved slower than their counterparts in the U.S., where the National Women’s Soccer League’s North Carolina Courage fired coach Paul Riley in late September over allegations he coerced players to have sex with him.
“When you see the strong action the NWSL has taken with different clubs and executives related to those incidents, I think it’s fair to ask why hasn’t there been more accountability at the Whitecaps?” Champ said. “The MLS has recognized this moment, and full credit to the Canadian women’s national team, many of whom play in the NWSL.”
theBreaker.news reported in 2018 that Montagliani bought a $6.6 million West Vancouver mansion in 2017, mortgaged by Concacaf sponsor Scotiabank. Montagliani was paid $2.6 million that year, $500,000 more than FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
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