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Angry at club response to abuse allegations, Vancouver Whitecaps fans plan third walkout

The Vancouver Southsiders say the Whitecaps refuse to answer media questions about the 2008 allegations from women players.

Mar 2, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps fans parade before the start of the game against the Minnesota United at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps fans parade before the start of the game against the Minnesota United at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

VANCOUVER, BC — They walked out against LAFC. They did the same against the Philadelphia Union. On Friday, when the Vancouver Whitecaps host Portland Timbers, the Vancouver Southsiders and Curva Collective plan to walk out for the third time. 

The walkouts have been a sign of support for members of two women’s teams, the 2008 Whitecaps and U-20 Canadian national team, who have lodged serious allegations of abuse toward a former coach. The fan groups, in particular, have been unhappy with the club’s conduct in handling the allegations has caused concern among Whitecaps’ supporters.

“The Whitecaps have not materially addressed any of the ongoing concerns of Ciara McCormack and the former U-20 Canadian National Women’s Team player pool members,” a statement on the Southsiders’ official homepage said before the last walkout.

Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett and other club representatives, including President Bob Lenarduzzi, have tried to put a stop to the walkouts. They met with fan groups to discuss the possibility of cancelling the second walkout, but the meeting reached an impasse. After the second walkout took place, the club finally released a signed statement in which Whitecaps owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett attempted to address some of the concerns brought forward by the fan groups. In that letter, the club defended its actions in 2008 but apologized.

“The pain and suffering these women feel is real and something we care deeply about,” the letter says. “And while we sought and acted on the advice of the best available counsel at the time, it is clear that people were deeply affected. For that we are sorry.”

But for Whitecaps supporters, that response has fallen well short. The Southsiders say they have urged the club to answer to the media about the incident and speak with the players involved in the alleged incidents but the club has refused.

Last month, the club hosted a press conference at the club’s headquarters in Gastown but some media that had reported on the allegations, including Pro Soccer USA, were not invited. Others reported not being allowed into the event.

And while the Whitecaps have issued a public apology, the club still has not met with Ciara McCormack whose blog post unearthed the scandal, or any of the other women that have come forward since the initial allegations were published.

“Although having the ownership putting their names to an apology is a good start, the fact that it has taken 2 months, 2 fan walkouts and a 10,000 person drop in attendance to even have a name from the Whitecaps ownership or executive attached to a statement, speaks volumes,” a statement read on McCormack’s blog on May 1. 

On Tuesday, Mallett and Lenarduzzi had another unsuccessful meeting with the Southsiders and Curva Collective to prevent a third walkout.

“We effectively reached an impasse,” long-time Southsiders member and President Peter Czimmermann told Pro Soccer USA on Wednesday. “We tried, we failed. We will keep all the issues in public via the hashtag and private pressure on the club while taking the conversation away from gameday into the public sphere.”

The Southsiders said they asked the Whitecaps executives to be transparent with the media about the issue and meet face-to-face with the former players who were coached by the alleged abuser but the Whitecaps declined to do either. The club’s refusal to reach out to the women that were affected at the time has been of particular concern to the Southsiders.

“They say they remain open to meeting only if the former players initiate contact on their terms … and that any meeting with the players that might follow from that contact is very unlikely to be with ownership alone,” the Southsiders stated on Wednesday. 

McCormack and the other women, however, do not want to go through the board to speak to the ownership of the club directly.

“(Chief Operating Officer) Rachel Lewis, (Bob and Dan) Lenarduzzi/(Greg) Anderson (vice president of soccer operations) were directly involved in 2007/2008/2011 and/or 2017,” McCormack tweeted on Wednesday. “To force the very people that were very negatively impacted by their actions to have to go through them again … I think most reasonable people would understand why this is not an option.”

“The meeting between Ciara and ownership won’t happen without Whitecaps executives present. We agree to disagree that the Whitecaps need to address the public through media,” Czimmermann said via text message. “Consensus among the attendees from (Vancouver Southsiders) and Curva is that we will do another #walkout35 using it as a springboard for starting the positive #safeSportAthletes movement.”

The Southsiders and Curva Collective will not be alone in their walkout, however, as Portland’s largest fan organization, the Timbers Army, has announced their support in an official statement on the fan club’s official homepage.

“We support human rights, and we support our Cascadian rivals in their fight for safe environments for athletes,” the statement read. “To that end, we are sharing this message from Southsiders and Curva Collective — and we encourage our supporters to participate in the walkout of the stadium at the 35th minute (34:00 on the clock) in solidarity.”

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