Whitecaps supporters plan in-game walkout to protest team’s handling of abuse allegations

The Vancouver Whitecaps slogan is “Our All. Our Honour.”

Now the team’s supporters’ groups are calling on the soccer club to honour its own slogan.

The Vancouver Southsiders, the team’s oldest supporters’ group, is planning to stage an in-game walkout at the 35th minute of Wednesday’s Whitecaps game against Los Angeles FC to highlight their “anger and disgust” at the team’s handling of abuse allegations levelled at the organization by 14 former members of the 2008 women’s Whitecaps and national Under-20 teams.

“Personally, I don’t care for the slogan,” Southsiders vice-president Paul Sabourin-Hertzog said in an email. “But if it is truly a core value and not just a marketing slogan, then I feel that the organization’s executives have to change their behaviour.”

An emotional and damning blog post by former player Ciara McCormack — which alleged numerous instances of coaching misconduct, including bully, harassment and sexually inappropriate behaviour — triggered a wave of former players to come forward and share their stories. A group of 14 players from those teams released a powerful statement calling for an independent investigation into the matter, and Canadian soccer legend Andrea Neil — a member of the Whitecaps Ring of Honour — added her voice to the growing chorus.

But the team and the Canadian Soccer Association have been silent apart from two short corporate statements. The Whitecaps said they forwarded the allegations listed by the U20 team to the Vancouver police through their private-sector VPD liaison.

The Southsiders and members of other supporters groups will walk out of Wednesday’s game, but will return for the second half. The Curva Collective, another group, had previously released their own statement in support of the former players. All the groups wanted to make it clear that the protest is directed at the team’s executives, and not the players, coaches or staff, whom they support fully.

“We feel the Whitecaps and the CSA have effectively been absent from public discourse on the extremely important topic of protecting young athletes from abuse,” said Sabourin-Hertzog, who, along with members of the supporters’ clubs, met with some of the players to hear their stories first-hand Monday.

“Their limited PR statement is not an acceptable response given the depth and detail of the information brought to light by Ciara McCormack, and the former U20/Whitecaps women’s players. Add in the statements by Andrea Neil and (former team manager) Diane Voice and we have a partial picture that seems to poke holes in the limited statement(s) made by the Whitecaps and the CSA.”

The story has gained international attention after coverage by the CBC, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. The Guardian has written extensively on the story, with an article Tuesday saying FIFPro — which is the body that represents players globally — wants the allegations to be investigated “in full.”

The VPD didn’t return a request for comment. The Whitecaps say they haven’t been contacted by FIFPro, but were aware of the plans of the supporters’ groups.

The coach at the centre of the allegations has been suspended by his current club, where he was coaching a girls’ U17 team. The Whitecaps and the CSA “mutually” parted ways with him at the conclusion of an internal review in 2008.

B.C. Soccer, which had announced their own inquiry into the hiring practices that allowed the coach to resume working with young women despite the allegations against him, said Monday that a third-party assessment will be conducted by the Canadian law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP, which specializes in workplace and institutional investigations and assessments.

While B.C. Soccer has oversight of amateur soccer in B.C., it doesn’t have any jurisdiction over national teams or pro clubs. Their goal is to “collect information about individuals’ experiences and perspectives on player safety as it relates to the systemic culture within soccer in B.C.”

“We hope that the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer will really take to heart the three requests made in the … players’ statement,” said Sabourin-Hertzog. “The former players’ bravery in coming forward to share their stories, and their focus on ensuring there is systemic change that will prevent other young girls from experiencing the abuse and trauma that they suffered is really inspiring. B.C. Soccer’s response has been commendable, and is a model of responsive leadership on the vitally important topic of young athlete safety.”

As formal charges have never been filed against the coach named in the allegations, Postmedia News has elected not to name him.

jadams@postmedia.com

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