The Rob Ford campaign is vehemently denying a published report that alleges the mayoral candidate was asked to stop coaching football at a Toronto high school nine years ago because he roughed up a player.
"The story is outrageous. It's slanderous and it's patently incorrect," said Adrienne Batra, Mr. Ford's director of communications. "Councillor Ford did not touch this student, as is written in the piece."
The Etobicoke councillor refused to take questions about the accusations, which were printed in the Toronto Star, during a news conference unveiling his "taxpayer protection plan" Wednesday.
Ms. Batra later said lawyers advised the candidate to stay mum because he is considering suing the newspaper.
The Toronto Star story quoted Chris Spence, director of education at the Toronto District School Board, as saying that Mr. Ford was "no longer welcome to coach" at Newtonbrook Secondary School in North York after an altercation with a player during an away game in Oakville in 2001.
The story goes on to quote two unnamed witnesses -- a parent and a team member -- who said Mr. Ford manhandled the player.
Ms. Batra described the incident differently. She said Mr. Ford pulled the player out of the game because he was underperforming, prompting the player to swear at his coach. Three days later, she said, Mr. Ford "quit voluntarily."
"Councillor Ford adamantly denies anything with respect to abusing a football player, someone he had coached for a couple of years," she said.
Mr. Spence, a former football player who became director of education at the public school board in 2009, could not be reached immediately for comment.
However, Kelly Baker, a spokeswoman for the Toronto District School Board, said she doesn't know who told Mr. Spence that Mr. Ford had been fired from his coaching duties at Newtonbrook.
"We've been talking to our athletics people and the head athletics person doesn't seem to have information about this right now," she said Wednesday morning. "Right now I don't have any information about it."
Mr. Ford has since moved on to coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke. He also runs a charitable foundation that raises money to buy football equipment for schools in low-income neighbourhoods.
The latest polls indicate Mr. Ford is in either first place or a dead heat with former deputy premier George Smitherman. The famously tight-fisted councillor has gained ground with his single-minded focus on serving customers and cutting waste at City Hall.
At his news conference Wednesday, Mr. Ford promised protection for whistleblowers who uncover waste and mismanagement at City Hall. He also rehashed pledges to cut nearly $3-million from the mayor's office and councillors' office and staffing budgets and to make public the expenses of city staff.
The announcement was nearly derailed when Winnie Li, the director of council and support services, ordered Mr. Ford and his entourage out of Nathan Phillips Square.
"It's a city facility and a city facility is not to be used for election-related activities," Ms. Li told Mr. Ford's campaign staff.
The Ford campaign plowed ahead with the event anyway, pointing out that several of Mr. Ford's rivals have held news conferences on the square and that Mr. Smitherman actually held one inside the city hall rotunda.