A former captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team said she has no recollection of an investigation into the conduct of the head coach.
Tiffeny Milbrett, the star forward inducted last year to the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, played for the Whitecaps from 2006 to 2008. Bob Birarda was head coach for the same three seasons. The team won the W-League championship in 2006.
“I’m two heads to this,” Milbrett said in a phone interview with theBreaker.news. “I feel fortunate that I was treated respectfully, professionally by him. But it makes me very sad to hear some of these other players explaining how they were treated and what their experience was for them.”
The Whitecaps announced in October 2008 that Birarda suddenly left the team because of a mutual separation. More than a decade later, in late February of this year, ex-player Ciara McCormack went public with allegations of harassment and bullying dating back to 2007. That prompted the May 1 open letter from two of the club’s four owners, Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett, that said the head coach’s contract was terminated after sexualized text messages with a player.
The Whitecaps and the Canadian Soccer Association retained lawyer Anne Chopra to investigate complaints beginning in late May of 2008, but have not released her report. Milbrett said she does not remember Chopra. Nor did anyone ask for her input.
“If there was this supposed investigation, I’m just telling you it didn’t feel like it,” Milbrett said. “I don’t really remember anything remotely close to something of an investigation.”
Milbrett said she did not hear complaints about harassment and bullying. She said she did not socialize with Birarda, beyond sitting with him and his family to watch a Whitecaps men’s game at Swangard Stadium. Milbrett, now 46, said she was not a confidante for any of the players on the predominantly young and Canadian squad. The roster became heavily stocked with national team players. Birarda coached the under-20 national team and was an assistant for the senior team.
“Even though I was the captain of the team, I was completely separated and insulated from probably anything they’re describing now,” Milbrett said.
“I’m very, very thankful that I didn’t experience what they’re saying they experienced, but I also feel in this day and age, I know plenty of players, plenty of stories about coaches, it’s unfortunate that you are to hear about these allegations.”
Midfielder Andrea Neil, who retired from the Whitecaps in 2006 and the national team in 2007, said in late March that she co-operated with Chopra’s investigation, but felt it was incomplete.
“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 on her blog.
“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.”
In April, Diane Voice, who was the W-League team’s manager, told theBreaker.news that a player showed her concerning text messages from Birarda. She said the club “guaranteed they were going to protect her and she would not be blackballed from soccer. My understanding now is she never played soccer again.”
Milbrett is a Portland, Ore. native who scored 100 times in 206 appearances with the U.S. national team. She played key roles in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 1999 Women’s World Cup championship teams. In April, she was hired to be director of player development with the Tampa Bay United Rowdies.
Milbrett said there is a general lack of human resources checks and balances in sports. She said the system often fails people who make complaints and proper investigations are not always undertaken.
“Am I concerned any time there’s a situation where it seems like something wasn’t followed through to the appropriate complaint, or serious allegations were not addressed? Absolutely,” she said. “It makes me very angry and if this was one of those situations, sure, it makes me very angry.”
Birarda was suspended from coaching a teenage girls’ team with Coastal FC in late February and has not commented. B.C. Soccer Association said it would conduct a third-party review. Vancouver Police are aware of the allegations, but have not said whether they are investigating.
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