Canada Soccer botched handling of harassment case, review finds

Friday, 29 Jul 2022 7:24 AM MYT

OTTAWA, July 29 — The Canadian Soccer Association botched its response to sexual harassment allegations made against former Under-20 women’s national team coach Bob Birarda, a review into the scandal revealed on Thursday.

The review, led by Canadian professor Richard McLaren, found that Canadian football authorities mishandled allegations made against Birarda, who left his post in 2008. “This review spells out in black and white how the CSA mishandled the 2008 harassment allegations,” McLaren said.

“It provides a timeline of actions, details how policies were not followed, and outlines a pattern of not documenting decisions that has ultimately resulted in frustration and anger by players that continues today.” The review found that despite a vote by the CSA’s executive committee to terminate Birarda’s employment after an investigator recommended he should no longer be allowed to coach, the organisation instead announced a “mutual parting of ways”.

“By not following through with the vote to terminate Birarda for cause, the CSA did a disservice to the players by not acknowledging his harassment as the reason for his removal,” McLaren said.

“There was no acknowledgement of the complaints or their impact on the players. Moreover, failure to terminate Birarda allowed him to continue coaching, putting other players at potential risk.” Birarda is awaiting sentencing in Canada after pleading guilty in February to four counts of sexual assault and sexual touching relating to four teenage players he coached between 1988 and 2008.

McLaren’s review found that while Canadian football had harassment policies in place in 2008, senior officials were unfamiliar with how the policy worked.

Players were also confused at how allegations of harassment should be reported.

“We hope that our review can be a stepping stone to rebuilding trust amongst players and Canada Soccer,” McLaren said.

In a statement, Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said the organisation had let players down.

“We acknowledge that the matters we are speaking about today involve real people and have a real impact on human lives,” Cochrane said.

“We unequivocally apologise for the Safe Sport challenges within our sport in 2008 and for letting participants down.

“Harassment, improper texting, bullying, sexual misconduct or any other form of maltreatment or abuse has no place in soccer, at any level in our country.” Canada Soccer has since implemented a range of measures designed to avoid a repeat of the scandal, including a whistleblower policy and a national soccer registry, and an enhanced disciplinary code which sets out clearly how misconduct complaints should be reported and handled. — AFP