A White Rock youth soccer association has suspended the head coach of an under-17 girls team after allegations surfaced that he bullied and harassed players when he helmed the Vancouver Whitecaps W-League and Canadian junior national teams more than a decade ago.
Coastal FC said it is deeply concerned about the allegations, which were published on former Whitecap and national team player Ciara McCormack’s blog. The club has suspended Bob Birarda pending an investigation.
“We are seeing this information for the first time,” said a statement on the club’s website. “We were not privy to any of this information at any point during the application and appointment process of the coach in question.”
Executive director Chris Murphy declined comment.
McCormack did not mention Birarda by name, but referred to the Oct. 9, 2008 news release that announced the Canadian Soccer Association and Birarda had agreed to a mutual parting “in the best interest of both parties.” The Whitecaps and Birarda also split on the same day. He had coached the Whitecaps to the 2006 W-League championship, missed the 2007 playoffs and advanced to the conference finals in 2008.
McCormack wrote that Birarda, who she called “Coach Billy” on her blog, was “charismatic and charming, and a very, very good coach. In my early 20’s he built a training environment that I often participated in, and loved.”
When he became the Whitecaps and national under-20 coach, things changed.
“Over time, with this immense amount of power, he started to bully and manipulate people and created a shitty, fearful environment. For those of us on the fringe of the national team, we were also on the Whitecaps, and so we were shuffled back and forth and at Coach Billy’s mercy,” McCormack wrote.
“He reminded us often, that he was the reason we were training with the national team, with the obvious underlying insinuation that he gave us the opportunity and he could also take it away.”
McCormack alleged that Whitecaps’ ownership and senior management mishandled complaints. She recounted a May 8, 2007 meeting with president Bob Lenarduzzi in a North Vancouver coffee shop. McCormack and another player begged Lenarduzzi for both help and anonymity. “We told him we didn’t know where else to turn.”
She wrote that Lenarduzzi failed to keep their complaints confidential, that he told Birarda everything.
“I was terrified and speechless that he’d put us in this situation when we were already so vulnerable and we’d begged him not to,” she wrote.
McCormack went to play with the Ottawa Fury instead that summer. After blowing the whistle on Birarda, McCormack never played again for Canada. She found a spot with the Irish national team and a club team in Norway, but ex-teammates back in Vancouver continued to complain to her of inappropriate behaviour by Birarda. She said the police should have been involved, but instead the CSA and Whitecaps hired a mediator in 2008 and eventually cut ties with Birarda.
CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli did not respond. Lenarduzzi declined comment, 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. Any matter arising which may be in contravention to this policy goes through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken.”
Birarda has not responded for comment.
UPDATE (March 1): Meanwhile, B.C. Soccer Association president Kjeld Brodsgaard posted a statement on the association’s website March 1, after a Feb. 27 emergency meeting of the board of directors. Brodsgaard wrote that the board launched a third-party review to determine “whether there are systemic cultural behaviours affecting the safety of players.”
The outcome and recommendations will be shared with the association’s membership. Brodsgaard also publicized Canada Soccer’s third-party-operated whistleblower hotline (1-800-661-9675 and firstname.lastname@example.org).
Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.