A Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer, who played in four FIFA Women’s World Cups, says a 2008 investigation into a coach’s conduct was inadequate.
Andrea Neil published a commentary on her website March 26, just over a month after former teammate Ciara McCormack went public with allegations of bullying and harassment.
Neil played 132 times over 17 years for Canada and spent six seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the W-League, where she helped the team win the 2004 and 2006 championships. Neil wrote that she began to hear rumours and stories about troubles in the national team and Whitecaps the year after her 2007 retirement. She contacted a high performance national coach to alert him and ended-up playing an intermediary role between affected players and a lawyer hired by the club and Canadian Soccer Association to investigate.
Neil said the system did not support McCormack and her teammates then and she does not believe the system functions better today.
“In a world where non-disclosure agreements and fear of lawsuits silences people from speaking their truth and protecting the vulnerable, I support Ciara for taking the risk in speaking about what she has experienced and seen,” Neil wrote, under the headline “A Game of Two Halves.”
Neil said very few of the athletes involved with the Whitecaps and the national under-20 team were interviewed by the lawyer. Though Neil did not name her, theBreaker.news confirmed the lawyer was Anne Chopra, who declined to comment on the contents of her report.
Neil believes neither the CSA nor Whitecaps contacted parents of athletes who were under 18 at the time, nor did the organizations offer support to those young players.
“In my opinion, the scope of the investigation was actually quite limited, and I think the soccer community deserves to know why the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer chose to conclude it as quickly as they did,” Neil wrote.
“I, like many others, was understandably puzzled when the inquiry then concluded with the ‘mutual decision’ to part ways. Despite what I had been told by the independent fact-finder, in the end the inquiry was brief, the conclusion swift and the outcome seemingly amicable for all parties. All parties except, of course, the players.”
The investigation led to the Oct. 9, 2008 news release that announced the sudden exit of head coach Bob Birarda from the Whitecaps and national under-20 team. The details of why Birarda suddenly left were not disclosed, but the news release said his departure was “in the best interest of both parties.”
More than a year earlier, McCormack and another player begged Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi for both help and anonymity at a May 8, 2007 meeting. McCormack wrote that Lenarduzzi failed to keep their complaints confidential because he subsequently told Birarda. Lenarduzzi declined comment in February, but sent a prepared statement that said the well-being of staff and players is “of paramount importance.”
“As a club, we hold ourselves accountable to a respectful workplace policy of the highest standard and expect the same from our staff and athletes,” said Lenarduzzi’s statement. “Any matter arising which may be in contravention to this policy goes through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken.”
After McCormack’s Feb. 25 blog post, White Rock-based Coastal FC suspended Birarda from coaching an under-17 girls team pending investigation. B.C. Soccer Association announced an independent third-party review that Neil said “stands in stark contrast to the 2008 inquiry in a number of ways, not the least of which is [president Kjeld Brodsgaard’s] commitment to transparency.”
“Whatever happened, we all have a responsibility to seek the truth, take responsibility for healing our community and bring everyone together to go forward,” Neil wrote. “If we do not, whatever the outcome of BC Soccer’s review, we will still be failing our young people.”
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