A former coach with Canada’s national women’s soccer team and the W-League’s Vancouver Whitecaps has been charged with multiple sex crimes for incidents that allegedly took place during two decades.
Robert Steven (Bob) Birarda appeared in North Vancouver Provincial Court Dec. 9. He was charged with offences against four individuals between Jan. 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008 on the North Shore and in Burnaby.
Birarda faces six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.
According to documents obtained by Jon Woodward of CTV News Vancouver (and shared with theBreaker.news), Delta-resident Birarda appeared before Judge Lyndsay Smith on the morning of Dec. 9. Smith released him on several bail conditions. Birarda is prohibited from communicating with or contacting the four alleged victims, cannot be in the presence of anyone under 18 and must not to be in a soccer field, park or recreation facility. He was ordered to report by phone to a bail supervisor.
Birarda’s next scheduled appearance is Jan. 28. There is a publication ban on evidence and the identities of the alleged victims.
In the late 1980s, Birarda worked for late-Whitecaps and Canadian World Cup team coach Tony Waiters at his coaching education company in West Vancouver. Birarda coached in the 1990s with Capilano College in North Vancouver.
Birarda coached the Whitecaps women’s team to the 2006 W-League championship, missed the 2007 playoffs and advanced to the conference finals in 2008. He headed the under-20 national women’s team and assisted on Canada’s team that lost on penalty kicks to the U.S. in the quarter-finals of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.
In February 2019, former Whitecap and national team player Ciara McCormack blew the whistle on Birarda’s return to youth coaching with Coastal FC in South Surrey. Birarda was suspended.
She is not among the four alleged victims. On her blog, McCormack recounted how she unsuccessfully complained to club president Bob Lenarduzzi in 2007 about Birarda bullying and harassing players.
It took until May 2008 for the Whitecaps to hire a lawyer to act as an ombudsperson. Birarda was eventually let go in October 2008 by the Whitecaps and Canadian Soccer Association on the same day. A news release at the time said Birarda’s departure was mutual and “in the best interest of both parties.” The club made no mention of any alleged misconduct by Birarda at the time.
McCormack’s blog post went viral. A dozen players from the 2008 Whitecaps and national team issued a public statement, alleging “incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour” by Birarda in 2007 and 2008.
Whitecaps supporters grew unhappy with the team’s response and organized match boycotts and first half walkouts at Major League Soccer games in B.C. Place in spring 2019. Owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett eventually apologized to the players and admitted that Birarda’s contract was cancelled in 2008 due to sexualized text messages with a player.
They ordered an internal review by a Toronto law firm and forwarded the players’ complaints to the Vancouver Police Department. VPD, in turn, forwarded the file to the North Vancouver RCMP which was actively investigating in summer 2019.
In August 2019, Lenarduzzi was demoted from president to club liaison.
“I had lost faith in the system,” McCormack told theBreaker.news. “This is unexpected.”
“I hope this serves as a huge wakeup call, our system is not safe and all the changes that need to happen.”
McCormack said she hopes the victims can heal, have a voice and that the case against Birarda can be “impetus for people to speak up and not have to go through this.”
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