A former coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer’s women’s teams has been charged with sexual offences involving four people.
The B.C. Prosecution Service says Bob Birarda is facing six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring.
The offences allegedly occurred in North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver between January, 1988, and March 25, 2008.
More than a dozen women who played for the Whitecaps and were part of Canada’s under-20 talent pool around 2008 have come forward to allege Birarda, a former coach for both squads, acted inappropriately with members of the team.
The allegations include rubbing a player’s thigh, sending players sexual text messages, making lewd comments and bullying young women who ignored or spoke out against his behaviour.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Birarda made his first appearance in court Wednesday and the case has been put over until Jan. 28. Birada has been released from custody pending his next court date.
He was dismissed by both the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer in October, 2008. Neither organization responded to requests for comment about the charges on Thursday.
Former player Ciara McCormack brought the allegations to public attention with a blog post in February, 2018, saying neither the Whitecaps nor Canada Soccer adequately investigated when she complained about Birarda’s behaviour.
Andrea Neil, one of Canada’s most decorated soccer stars, issued a statement in March, 2019, saying she began hearing “rumours and stories” about trouble within the 2008 U20 squad shortly after her time with the national team ended.
“What happened in 2008 was not right. People got emotionally hurt, and all of us have a responsibility to do something about that,” she said.
News of the allegations prompted fans to walk out of several Whitecaps games in the spring of 2019.
Jeff Mallett, co-owner of the team, issued an apology to the women involved in May, 2019, and thanked them for coming forward.
Last year, the Toronto-based Sport Law & Strategy Group completed a third-party review of how the Whitecaps handled the complaints, noting there was a “lack of effective communication with the players.”
The group’s report also noted that many recommendations as to what the club could have done differently at the time had “already been addressed and are reflected in current policies and practices.”